In accordance with the traditional map of the Spanish cuisine, the lands of Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country and Cantabria represent the
area of the sauces. The truth is that the common denominator of the cuisine there is none other than quality and abundance. The fish and seafood
of the Cantabrian sea dominate the menus with unforgettable recipes in which the excellence of the raw material stands out with refined simplicity.
The meat cannot be ignored either for this is the only area of the country where the vast pasture land remains green all through the year.
The stews are tasty and are made with alubias, the large white beans, rather than chickpeas, which is the ingredient in the rest of the peninsula.
The wines accompanying the food are mild and light and very different from the inland produce, especially cider which is made from apples.
Galician cooking is one of the most widespread in the country due to the abundance of restaurants and taverns which the Galician people have brought to the
far-away routes of emigration. The cuisine takes its ingredients from the sea as well as from the land.
Octopus is a very popular dish in Galicia, cooked a feira, the way it is done on the romerías,
the festive-religious excursions to a Saint's shrine, ie cooked whole and then cut into pieces after beating to soften it.
It is seasoned with oil, paprika and salt. The empanada or crusted pie is symbolic of Galicia. It
may be filled with an endless variety of different meat and fish as well as a lot of onion, all of which is placed between two thin layers of oily saffron-coloured pastry so that the latter does not become dry.
However, the most solemn and famous dish offered to the visitor of Galicia is lacón con grelos (salted ham with turnip tops). Lacón is pork from the cooked front leg and grelos are
the budding top leaves of small turnips. These elements are boiled and served together with a chorizo, the piquant Spanish sausage, and potatoes called cachelos. It tastes slightly bitter
and certainly unmistakable because of the vegetable.
Caldo gallego is a common dish for the Galicians. It is designed to fight humidity and cold and consists of cabbage, potatoes, beans and, depending on the cook's purse, ham, chorizo, spare ribs, etc..
Then there is the long and delicious chapter on seafood which is the best in the country. Galicia even supplies the capital of the country with seafood and has been exporting abroad for centuries. La Coruña and Vigo,
and more specifically the village of El Grove, are a paradise where oysters, sea-spiders, goose barnacles, clams and lobsters abound and can be enjoyed, simply boiled and reasonably priced.
In this chapter special mention must be made of a very typical dish, the vieira or scallop served in its shell (the one the pilgrims who went to Compostela wore on their cloaks). It is prepared by chopping onions, parsley
and bread crumbs, to cover the shell which is then put into the oven.
As far as meat is concerned beef is excellent, while the fattened chickens from Villalba are a veritable institution. They are fattened with wheat, wine and chestnuts. And for dessert, the Galicians are very fond of sweets and
enjoy the following: fruit-covered cakes (which are called Episcopal cakes), almond cakes, like the one called Santiago, filoas, a kind of sweet pancake, rosquillas (biscuits)..
In the chapter on wines, Galicia has a very typical wine, the Ribeiro, which is served in porcelain cups and is slightly sour. But above what is typical, there is the quality wine called Albariño: and excellent
white which comes from vines initially brought by monks from the Rhine and Moselle.
In addition, the land produces the famous orujo, an eau-de-vie (made from the dregs of grapes) used to prepare the most popular drink there: la queimada, ie burning orujo
in an earthenware vessel, adding lemon, sugar and some grains of cofee.
Among the cheeses produced in the region, the San Simón or Perilla cheese is outstanding. It is strong and smoked. The tetilla is made with cow's milk, has a thin crust and a mild flavour.
Few are the places in Spain where the traveller can eat as well and where so little fuss is made about the exquisite quality of the food. In fact, one of the most universal dishes of the Spanish cuisine comes from here:
the famous fabada, which is so successful that it is tinned and exported to all parts of America.
Fabada is genuinely Asturian and thus hard to imitate. It consists of white beans called fabes in the region,
which are especially mild and exquisite, and different pork products: cured and salted ham bones,
bacon and morcilla, black pudding. The touch of genius in this glorious stew are the fabes, after which the dish is named, and the dry, wrinkled Asturian morcilla which miraculously comes to life in the
fabada. It is a one-course meal served in huge quantities, which also goes for all the other dishes in the North of Spain.
Apart from the extraordinary fabada, Asturias has other stews in which the peerless fabes are a major ingredient and which the traveler should not miss. There are the delicious fabes with clams, chicken, hare,
partridge or other game. All these dishes are typical, though of more recent origin.
The fish dishes are based on some really tasty recipes in Asturias with mild and unmistakable flavours. At the top of the list, there is the caldereta, a combination of seafood in a harmonious mixture. In the towns and villages
of the coast, this dish is prepared best though it is not as easy to find as the fabada, which is served in almost every restaurant.
Hake in cider, merluza a la sidra, on the other hand, can be found with relative ease.
Its secret lies in the quality of the raw material, ie the exquisite hake of Cantabria
and its accompaniament, the cider, which is the typical drink of Asturias, made from apples.
The ideal companion at table in Asturias is the light, dry cider, which is also the most popular drink in the local bars. Drinking it is almost a ritual because it must be served by raising the bottle
high and letting the liquid drop slowly into the glass without spilling a drop.
And in order to round off the itinerary along the Asturian coast, there are different ways of preparing tuna fish (bonito) (in dishes like ventrisca, el rollo ..) and there is the great star for tourists and of the
cuisine: the salmon. Asturias is the largest salmon-producing region in Spain. The rivers Nalón and Sella are the most important for salmon fishing, while the classical recipe with which this speciality is prepared in Asturias
is called a la ribereña, which includes a touch of cider.
At dessert time in these parts, there is no avoiding the local rice pudding, which claims to be the best in the whole of Spain and has a layer of toasted sugar on top. Apart from the rice pudding, there is a great variety of sweets such as
tocinillo de cielo (a sweet made with egg yolk and sugar), fayules, frixuelos, carajitos del profesor, casadielles, etc.. The strongest Spanish cheese, perhaps stronger than any other foreign cheese as well, is
found here: the famous Cabrales, which can be clearly distinguished from other no less exquisite ones, such as the one from Gamonedo, Peñamellera, afuega'l pitu, etc..
The Basque Country
The Basque cuisine ranks first in the national cuisine despite the fact that its fame is relatively recent, but no one will argue that it is a gourmet's paradise. It is rare to find a Basque
who is not an expert with regard to the cuisine. The passion, care and eating capacity of the Basques at table are proverbial. There is no time limit to eating nor is an occasion for it ever passed up.
Institutionalized are the amarretaco or lunch at ten in the morning, the amaicataco, lunch at eleven, and the apalaurreaudiak, which is a tremendous tea-time-cum-dinner meal. The first
societies in gastronomy in the country were also founded here.
It is a traditional cuisine which has been improved by refinements
of urban and modern origin. Among these dishes the humble cod (bacalao) takes first place: like so many other great dishes of the peninsula, Bacalao a la vizcaina is
a miracle because of the few ingredients required. It only contains cod, dried peppers and onions. The same can be said for Bacalao al pil-pil which is cod fried with garlic and oil until the gelatine of the fish is set free and turns into a
delicious jelly. That jelly and the sauce with it are one of the greatest discoveries of the Basque cuisine. It is used with many other fish dishes.
Other famous sauces of this land are la salsa verde or green sauce to accompany hake and the black sauce which is served with squid.
Apart from cod, there is hake for which the Basques have different names depending on its size and origin. As with many other Basque food products, there is strong local competition between Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya when a decision is required
about where the best hake comes from. The truth is that the rest of Spain has no equal compared with either region, be it al pil-pil, in a green sauce or simply fried or dipped in batter. A refined delicacy is prepared with the small barbels
of this fish. The dish is called kokotxas and is perhaps the tastiest of all hake dishes.
Sea bream, besugo, comes next. it is served grilled, cut in half and prepared with a slight touch of oil and garlic. Among the luxuries of this cuisine, there is baby eel, angulas, briefly dipped in boiling oil with garlic and piquant red pepper and then eaten with a wooden fork.
Of a more popular type are el marmitako, a tuna fish and potato stew, and the sardines,
which are a symbol of the north of Spain. There the sardines are roasted as they are brought in from the sea, preferably in the month of August when they are smallest and
at their tastiest. Sardines require courage. Their flavour is strong, and they should be eaten using one's fingers and outdoors of course, where the fresh air will take away their smell which may otherwise cling to one's clothes.
And after this itinerary along the coast and exclusively concerned with fish, it is time to come out in praise of the different types of meat, which are of excellent quality and are generally served roasted in huge portions.
The Berritz chops are famous, and there are poultry dishes of course which are varied but not as typical.
The txakolí is a wine of the coastal area in the north of Euskadi. It is a white wine with a high degree of acidity, a perfect companion with fish and shellfish. It must also be remembered that the Rioja wines from Alava are in great demand in Euskadi. These
wines are plentiful and of fine quality, in tune with the excellent cooking of this region.
Idiazabal holds a place of honour among the cheeses. It is a strong cheese made from goat's milk and has a smoky flavour. As for sweet dishes, this is not really the land of people with a sweet tooth, but the stuffed Vergara biscuits, Bilbao canutillos, and pears prepared in the oven are typical.
This is a region in which it is very difficult to define the cuisine clearly because it really consists of what has come from the surrounding areas, with which it shares the raw materials. It is also a region which has absorbed many of the Castilian cooking habits. It is a
place where one can eat very well, which is true everywhere in the North. Here again we find tuna, hake, sea bream, and salmon, which is prepared in an absolute unique fashion: el arroz santanderino, which is rice with salmon and milk. There are also sardines and anchovies,
the latter either in a stew or crusted pie, in a yellow sauce or in a batter. Another typical dish consists of rabas, ie squid chopped up and fried. A splendid marmita is served on the coast.
The best known types of cheese are the ones from Tresviso, the smoked cheese from Aliva and others called quesucos which are generally of the cream cheese type.
However, it is in the chapter of desserts where the cuisine of Santander offers the most original dishes such as custard, which is extraordinary thanks to the natural flavour of the ingredients, ie only milk and eggs; and los sobaos pasiegos, ie pastry rich in butter and eggs.
Both of these are at the top of the list, together with la quesada, one of the most popular of the national sweets, made with fresh cheese, honey and butter, the only problem being the limited time for which it can be kept.