I’m excited to share with you the first of what will hopefully be many guest blog posts on La Tortuga Viajera. This first one comes from Christine from Christine|in|Spain – a Seattlite who left the American Northwest behind to give a shot at life in Southern Spain. A girl after my own heart, she’s fallen in love with her new home in Iberia. More important – she’s also fallen in love with the cuisine. Below, Christine shares some of the South’s most famous dishes. Hope you’re not hungry, or else this might be a bit painful.
Almost two years ago, I stepped onto a plane heading to the southernmost region in continental Spain; Andalucía.
I had no idea just how little prepared I was.
Not only did I not speak a word of Spanish aside from simple niceties like “hello, how are you?” and “fine, thank you very much,” I also had no idea that my palate was going to be taken hostage–and Andalusian food and wine were my captors.
From nutty jamón Ibérico, to sweet sherry wines, allow me to introduce you to Andalucía’s most mouth-watering, steeped-in-tradition, foods and wines:
This hot, southern region likes their cold summer soups, and gazpacho reigns king. The most traditional recipes call for fresh tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil, though it is made in hundreds of different ways and ingredients vary.
If gazpacho is king, salmorejo is its thicker, more filling queen. Made with more bread, but essentially with the same ingredients, salmorejo is typically eaten during the summer, served cold.
Spain really won me over with this. Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian Ham, is a dry-cured ham from acorn-fed black, Iberian pigs. Though jamón Ibérico isn’t a strictly Andalusian speciality, this region arguably offers some of the highest-quality ham to be found in Spain. Served alone, or as I prefer, with a drizzle of olive oil and picos (small breadsticks), jamón Ibérico is a point of Andalucía’s–and Spain’s– culinary pride and joy.
Crispy, fried baby squid. I first tried these at a chiringuito in Zahara de los Atunes earlier this summer. I’m not a huge seafood lover, but their crunchy texture and salty-meets-lemony flavor were hard to resist. Puntillitas now make regular appearances on my dinner table when I go out to eat.
If you know Andalusian cuisine well, then you know the sheer amount of fried (in olive oil) food typical here beats out the fish n’ chips of England any day. The fried fish of Andalucía dominate most seaside menus.
Spain produces a large majority of the world’s olive oil, but the Jaén province, produces the most olive oil in Spain. It claims over 150 million olive trees. A recent drive through this province easily proved these numbers. The rolling red hills are dotted with lines upon lines of olive trees as far as your eyes can see.
Though I studied in Athens, and Greek olive oil was my first love, Spanish olive oil has taken over my heart. I use it in cooking instead of butter, and toss it into my salads with a bit of sherry vinegar instead of fatty salad dressings.
North African influence on Andalusian cuisine is noted in migas, a dish that could be a cousin to cous cous. Made with a base of bread crumbs, the recipe differs greatly around Andalucía and Spain, but I prefer it with bacon, sausage, olive oil, garlic and dried red pepper.
Sherry is popular the world over and has been mentioned everywhere from centuries-old Greek texts to Shakespeare. What makes sherry different from other wines is that it is fortified with brandy. It comes in ten recognized varieties ranging from light to dark and dry to sweet. Though purists may disagree, I think sherry is best-enjoyed in the form of a rebujito–a 50/50 mix of sherry and Sprite, and wildly popular at the férias (fairs).
These powdery, crumbly desserts are especially popular around Christmastime and are most highly produced in Andalucía, but enjoyed throughout Latin America and the Philippines. They’re made with flour, milk, sugar, and nuts; sweet and simple.
So now that you’ve virtually sampled and surely drooled over typical Andalusian fare–what would be on the top of your list to try while in Spain’s south?