I can't leave Spain without showing just a few food related photos. As I noted in an earlier post, this really is a country for 'foodies' and while we didn't try to eat at any famous restaurants, we didn't need to.
Ham is the national dish, and nearly every bar or restaurant has one or more hams strapped into a cradlelike structure which is called a jamonera. While I have not grown up to be a fancier of ham, it was difficult not to be fascinated by the extensive amount of ham on display and being eaten. On our last night, we came across 'ham paradise', a restaurant that reminded me of some of Montreal's smoked meat delicatessens. I couldn't resist, but am likely off meat for a while!The other national dish is paella, and we tried a few. We never had a great one, but Sally had a good one on the docks of a small town south of Barcelona. There are a number of large chain restaurants serving a variety of paellas...with chicken, with seafood, vegetarian, etc. But the one we are used to, with a bit of everything is not served.We had some amazing experiences with fish. In Begur, we discovered that you didn't buy fish in the fish market during the day...it was usually all gone. You had to be there at 7pm when the crates of fish were delivered. One of our most interesting evenings was standing around with the locals, waiting for the fish to arrive. And when it did, I discovered that the price per pound was often three or four times the price for the same fish in a supermarket. When I discussed this with some merchants, they explained that the supermarket fish was often a couple of days old. I tried to tell them that where I come from, the 'fresh fish' is often a week old!We had wonderful snails and cockles and various types of prawns and langoustines. The crab we had was a bit disappointing, but that's because it wasn't cooked live, like we are used to. But we did find some wonderful 'utensils' for eating crab, lobster and other shellfish that we purchased and brought home. They crack and cut the shell. I'm sure they are available here, but we hadn't seen them before. They were actually made in Spain.
Many popular dishes are made with salted cod. While I passed it up in Newfoundland many times, I tried it here. It was surprisingly mild tasting.When it came to meat we had a variety of experiences. Our first home cooked barbecued steak, which cost 26 euros at the butcher, was so tough we couldn't eat it. Sally eventually turned it into a casserole, but it was still too tough. On the recommendation of our home exchange partners, we tried a restaurant in Begur known for its steak. I ordered the 500 gram special. When asked how I wanted it cooked, medium or well done, I chose medium. I'm glad I didn't ask for medium rare, since my medium steak was 'bleu'. I had to send it back to be cooked some more, it was still bleu. Here's how it looked after being re-cooked!A lot of the beef is really veal. It too can be tasty, but I can't wait for a good steak in Vancouver.
We tried a lot of local dishes: squid in its own ink, clams and mushrooms, partridge and other stews. But we also had some very elegant meals , especially in Barcelona where our best meal featured a degustation menu that included veal sirloin tataki, tandoori and tosu-zu sauce; watermelon , preserved sardines and citronella vinaigrette; green asparagus emulsion, oil ice cream and wild alaska salmon; and sweet foie mi-cuit, with mango, orange sauce and rocket cream. The meal had a lot of 'foam', as my friend Bruce Bentley calls it, but it was definitely a grand experience.The wines are also outstanding, and cheap. In many restaurants, with the fixed menu, you had a choice between a bottle of water, or a bottle of the house wine for the same price. The wine was always better. Our one regret. We didn't take a small guide book, like we once had in Australia. I would recommend this since there is just so much choice, at very affordable prices. Now I have to adjust to paying $45 for a wine that sells for 7 Euros in Spain!Finally, when I wasn't drinking wine, I often had a very popular beer over here....lemon beer. That's right. All of the major companies have bottled their own lemon beer and it's very refreshing and presumably less alcoholic. I predict it will be popular in Canada in a few years.