Traditional food to taste in the Spanish Mediterranean Coast
Spain's Mediterranean coast contains some of the most amazing places to be found: Catalonia, the Valencian Community or Murcia teem with magical corners blessed with enviable weather which invites us to go out, walk along the beach and, especially, enjoy the local gastronomy in a cosy terrace.
The world-renown "Mediterranean diet" is on itself one of the most highly praised in the world, and if to that we were to add the tradition of enjoying said gastronomy next to the fireplace where it is cooked then the result cannot be anything less than delicious.
Along Spain's east coast a variety of landscapes abounds. On one side the Ebro's riverbed when crossing Tarragona (Catalonia) and the Albufera National Park in Valencia contain two of the three biggest ricefields of the country, thus rice plays a prominent role in the local gastronomy and appears, almost by decree, in most of the recipes.
On the other side, if we go southwards, we meet Murcia, a province deeply tied to orchards and the land's produce. Wonderful vegetables are grown here as in Andalusia, another community located partly in the Mediterranean but for which we will write an entire blog-entry and where the best greens feature likewise.
Lastly we must point out that all those charming enclaves are brimmed by the peaceful Mediterranean, thus the locals have always benefited from the boon of fishing. All this results in a quick trip which still manages to make us enjoy rice, vegetable and fish: three prominent delicacies!
The Valencian Paella.
The Spanish cuisine's most famous dish worldwide is, of course, one of the commonest countrywide and, unsurprisingly, scores of versions and culinary variations are created. Debate around the paella goes on about what ingredients should be used in its preparation, what constitutes an authentic paella... What we can all settle on is that whoever wants to taste the real deal must go to the place where it was invented and such place is called "Valencia".
In the Valencian Community people speak simply of "paella" given that the term "Valencian paella" would be redundant for them. According to local master cookers only one proper way of cooking paella exists and it involves a distinct set of ingredients as traditionally agreed upon by the inhabitants of Valencia.
The authentic paella, having born around the freshwater sea of "La Albufera" has humble origins and gets its name from the pan used to cook it. But how shall we distinguish the real paella from the fake when we taste it? The ingredients tell us a lot about it: olive oil, salt, water, chicken and rabbit meat, tomatoes, paprika, saffron threads, bomba rice, snails (upon seasonal availability), haricot beans ("bajoquetas"), white beans ("tavellas") and butter beans. In some regions of Valencia red peppers, ribs or artichoke are also added to the classic ingredients. But whenever we find a paella whose ingredients are faithful to the tradition chances are that we will be enjoying the real Valencian recipe. Are you up for cooking your own paella? One of our inspirations was conceived specially for that.
Rice and "fideuá" in Alicante.
The mastery with rice exhibited by the people of the Mediterranean is not confined to those of Valencia. To the south, in the province of Alicante, there is also devotion to this ingredient and the related recipes are no less varied
The culture of rice thrives in Alicante. The types of rice cooked there go from the "dry" ones (which are similar to the Valencian paella) to the "creamy" (wherein the cooking stops before all the broth evaporates), the "soupy" or even the short pasta noodles known locally as "fideuá" which work wonders as substitute for rice. All recipes have in common their use of the best produce across the region, be it fish, seafood, meat, mushrooms, greens... A real homage to this land based so much on living gastronomy, without hurdles or taboos, and always evolving.
Among the most famous dishes in Alicante we can mention the following:
Arroz a banda
Rice on the side: Rice cooked with the most special of broths (the "fumet") to which different types of fish are added, notably monkfish and hake, along with seafood-scrapes to gift it with the delicious and intense flavour of the sea.
Arroz del senyoret
Rice for the gentleman: Named "for the gentleman" because every ingredient comes already dehusked and ready to eat with a fork: cuttlefish, prawns, mussels and the likes are the most used ingredients in this traditional recipe of Alicante.
Black rice: An easily-recognizable recipe due to the black hue that acquires when squid-ink is poured all over it.
Arroz de magro y verduras
Rice with pork-loin and greens: An easy, yet delicious, recipe with pork-meat and the best produce of local orchards.
Arroz con bogavante
Rice with lobsters: Often cooked soggy and sticky, with the characteristic red-hue and intense flavour that lobsters confer.
There is, undoubtedly, many candidates to represent Catalan cuisine, but we have decided to talk about the green onions called "calçots" in Catalonia given how unique the way to prepare -and eat!- them is.
Calçots are tender green onions with an elongated white head to be cooked directly under the fire and to be peeled and eaten without using external implements (that is, just using your hands!). This simplicity in cooking contains surprising sappiness and character thanks to the abrasive fire used therein and the posterior cooling-off process in which the calçots are wrapped in newspaper sheets. To top everything off an accompanying romesco sauce is made with tomatoes, dried peppers and almonds or hazelnut.
But regardless of those quaint cuisine aspects the calçots have yet another claim to fame: during calçot season (from November to April) social gatherings called "calçotadas" are arranged among families and friends to relish both the cuisine and the Catalan traditions in the best of environments. A fantastic prospect to add to your preferred trip among the ones we offer around Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona...
The region of Murcia is known as "Spain's orchard" because its geography unites the perfect conditions for optimal vegetable and fruit crops. No wonder then how prominently local produce features in local cuisine, having even managed to dethrone the "usual protagonists" or rice elsewhere, namely fish and meat.
A good example thereof is "zarangollo", a vegetarian dish who has become one of the most typical in Murcia, as simple as it is delicious. For it we just need zucchini, onions and eggs, and we can eat it ready-made, warm or even cold. In its simplicity, however, zarangollo blends the best of Murcia's orchard, which is to say, the best of the national orchards. The zucchini skin is used here too in order to add crunchiness to the recipe and, of course, make it even more nutritious. The secret of a great zarangollo is the texture that is has to achieve in our palates: it shouldn't be too oily, nor too dry, it MUST be juicy in the right measure!
This is but the beginning into the gastronomic route across Spain that we want you to undertake with us.
In the next installment we will go southward along the Mediterranean to explore a paradise made of folklore, culture and, of course, tasty food: