Although 10am is a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking in Spain, God help you if you try to get a drink at 4pm. That’s because Spain shuts down in the afternoon, or at least the eating and drinking part of it, in preparation for the nightly phantasmagorical sensory onslaught and debauch known as ‘dinner.’ Dinner can be pretty much anything you want, but for my part, the chief reason to eat in Spain is tapas, also known as pintxos in Basque country.
The rules of tapas are delightful and elegant. After around 8pm you enter a tapas bar and select a bunch of bite-sized morsels from the arsenal of choices spread across the bar (or written up on the chalkboard), and then you order a glass of wine. Not ordering a glass of wine will earn you frowns. You eat tapas and drink your wine, leave, and enter the next tapas bar down the street. Repeat until insensate, which occurs around midnight. At that point, the nightclubs start to open…
I never really had true tapas before. I have eaten at tapas restaurants in Australia and the US (Toro Bravo, in Portland, being the most notable) but there the experience is slightly different, since you tend to be sitting down and ordering from a menu. In other words, not really any different from any other restaurant except the portions are smaller. Also, tapas can be staggeringly simple, such as a piece of Iberian ham on a slice of baguette, which I suspect would not fly in the US. Jamon iberic0, of course, is so good you can buy it in little French fry-style cartons to eat by itself, but you have to go to Spain to discover that, because that’s where they sell it.
Boquerones are a very tender white anchovy, locally caught, that has been marinated in vinegar. The Basques are fiercely proud of their anchovies (but then the Basques are fiercely proud of pretty much anything remotely Basque). Like jamon, you really can just eat them on their own. And I must work on a gazpacho recipe next, because it’s so good it’s brutal.
Jamon served wrapped around sausage, and jamon served on its own. To repeat myself, Jamon iberico really is the finest ham in the world, made from black pigs fed only acorns, salted and dried by the winds of the Spanish sierra and all the rest. It does not bear much resemblance to other forms of ham, so I suppose it should not be compared. I will miss it. A lot. That’s a boquerone under the egg slice, by the way. Like jamon, they go with anything.
An example of how seriously the Spanish take their jamon. Honestly, jamon-tasting bars were a common sight.
A fried quail’s egg on top of a slice of morcilla (blood sausage) on top of a slice of jamon on top of baguette. At the back, boquerones on top of jamon. Do you like anchovies and ham? Yes I like them, Sam I am!
How’s this for breakfast? Pimentos Padron (fried green peppers), razor clams, patatas bravas (potatoes with spicy red sauce) and, of course, cafe con leche.
Getting a bit fancier here – veal cheeks in wine, pig ears in chimichurri, and foie gras terrine. Hey, you only live once.
And the opposite of fancy, what to my mind is one of the finest breakfasts in the world, pan con tomate.
Pan con Tomate
1 large tomato
2 slices good crusty bread
1 clove garlic, halved
good extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt, to taste
- Puree the tomato in a food processor or blender until mostly smooth. I don’t bother peeling it but I suppose you could.
- Toast the bread until browned and rub each slice with a garlic half (it’s easier if you don’t peel the garlic first).
- Top with tomato, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.