Sunday, June 3, 2012

World class or greasy spoon?

The majority of Spaniards believe that Spain has the best cuisine in the World. The fact that there have been four Spanish restaurants in the top ten of the World's Best 50 Restaurants competition over the last couple of years helps to support their claim. On the other hand anyone who has eaten a lot of the 10€ set meals up and down the country might have to agree with an English friend who describes Spanish cuisine as nothing but chop and chips.

 Spaniards are not quite so certain when they are questioned about the status of Spanish food as a world cuisine. Normally, after blustering about the qualities of a local dish for a while, they try to argue that their ham or paella are worldwide favourites. They know though that neither can compare to super-hits such as pizza, pasta, kebab, chilli con carne, hamburger, fajitas, moussaka or curry. 

Everyone in Spain is proud of their local food. We were in Asturias one Easter. Asturias is on the North coast of Spain just a bit across and down from Cornwall. We went to visit the village of Lastres where a TV programme that we liked, Doctor Mateo, was filmed. Doctor Mateo is based on the British TV series Doc Martin. Asturias is spectacular to look at but Lastres was a bit grotty to be honest and the few restaurants that we we found there were remarkably pricey. Instead we went for lunch in Colunga just a few kilometres along the coast.

In Colunga we had Fabada Asturiana which is the local traditional food; a bean stew with black pudding, spicy chorizo blood sausage and a fatty bacon like meat called panceta. We drank cider along with it as cider is the traditional drink in Asturias.

 Everywhere in Spain boasts traditional food and drink based on local produce. Whenever Spanish tourists visit a region they ask for that regional speciality. So, in Valencia, they would order a paella or maybe a fideua. In Extremadura it would be migas (breadcrumbs and fatty pork), in Galicia it often seems there is no choice but to eat either octopus or pimientos de Padrón (small salted fried peppers) whilst in Salamanca it's farinato (an aniseed flavoured sausage) mashed up with fried eggs. And so it goes on all around Spain. Now this is fine, exciting even, if you pop out for lunch to Segovia one day and want to try the famous (and delicious) suckling pig or you are near the Mar Menor and their rice and fish based caldero tickles your fancy. On the other hand if you are travelling around an area it can become wearing to be offered the same food over and over in every restaurant day in day out.

 We were only in Asturias for a couple of days which meant two lunches so we were able to vary our diet with the other regional speciality - chorizo in cider. On the homeward journey we were crossing through Guadalajara province at lunchtime. I wondered what we would be offered and I was mightily pleased when that all time classic egg and chips was billed as a local speciality. Now that really is food to be proud of and a true international hit.

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