Food Heaven Is A Place On Earth (And That Place Is Spain)

Hola amigos!! I just got back from a week in Spain, which was basically one big sangria-fuelled tapas-filled pintxos-munching foodgasm. When I stepped into my first pintxos bar, I was actually mildly concerned I had died without realising, and transcended to the culinary afterlife. That concern melted away with my first bite of grilled chorizo washed down with icy cold Spanish beer – if it was the afterlife, and I was stuck there for eternity, I was ok with that.

A typical pintxos bar in San Sebastián

So, let’s talk about pintxos. Pronounced pinch-oss, they are a specialty of the Basque region. They are small dishes, just two or three bites’ worth, and served on bread. Pintxos bars have all of their food laid out on the bar – you grab a plate, take what you want, and pay at the end, and it’s never very expensive. We spent our first three days in San Sebastián, which is not only the pintxos capital of Spain, but considered one of the food capitals of the WORLD.

Now THAT’s how you pour a beer. Photo by Mitch Lovell

I was walking on sunshine the entire time we were there (although the actual weather was not great. It rains a lot there.) The trick in a pintxos bar (my dad wised me up to this) is not to go crazy like you want to. Just have one or two, then move on to the next place. There are hundreds of bars – you want to try as many as possible! You can even order a special mini-beer, just enough to go with a pintxo or two, called a zurito. Utter perfection.

pintxos and zuritos!

After San Sebastián we spent a few days in Barcelona. I’d started to fall in love with Spain already, but by the end of my time in Barcelona, “learn Spanish” and “COME BACK HERE ASAP” had rocketed to the top of my to-do list. Spain wooed me with paella, churros, patatas bravas, jamon serrano, olives, marinated octopus, sizzling prawns in fresh salsa, aubergine chips with goat’s cheese and honey, blood sausage topped with quail’s egg, garlic roasted mushrooms and jugs full of fruity, luscious sangria. For someone like me (easily bored, constantly craving new flavours, never wants to stop eating, you know the type) tapas-style eating is a dream come true.

Chorizo and sangria!

Another thing that delighted me: after a year of paying Paris prices for everything, by contrast, Spain was SO affordable. A pint of beer for €3.50? A good coffee for €1.80?? An entire fresh and delicious meal for less than €10??? SI POR FAVOR. Ok, to finish this, I’m going to outline my perfect Spanish day to you, and if it doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and jump on the next flight there, then I owe you a cerveza.

Tapas!

You wake up at a leisurely time, and stroll down to your local cafe, and have a delicious coffee and a pintxo or two for breakfast. (You might even have a whole wheel of hot soft cheese, wrapped in bacon, with some homemade pepper jam and a basket of fresh bread. If you’re really hungry… like I was).

Yes, yes I did eat this for breakfast. Don’t expect me to be ashamed, ’cause I’m not.

After breakfast you head to the beach, and enjoy some sunbathing and a refreshing swim. When you’ve worked up your appetite again, you go pintxo-bar-hopping, enjoying some sautéed prawns at one bar, spicy grilled vegetables at the next, then cheesy croquettes and a couple of mystery items that you’re brave enough to give a crack (you still have no idea what they are after you’ve eaten them, but they were so good). These are all washed down with your choice of beer, wine or sangria. Or all three.

Late afternoon you head home for a siesta – then wake up, get your glad rags on and head out to do it all again. This time, tapas – olives marinated in herbs and citrus, smoked mussels, manchego cheese, and a big plate of patatas bravas, the crispy golden fried potatoes dripping with tangy, creamy aioli and pimento-laden tomato salsa. You have this with a bottle of wine, shared with some of your dearest friends. For dessert, sorbete al cava – a mixture of fresh sorbet (you pick mandarin flavour) and champagne, whipped into a refreshing and zesty dessert cocktail. At the end of the night, the cute bartender slips you his number with the bill and a wink. You walk home in the sultry night-time heat, flamenco guitar notes floating through the air, your tummy full and your heart even fuller. 

So? Meet you in Spain?? Until then, a recipe for you…

SUNNY SPANISH SANGRIA 

I haven’t had a chance to attempt to cook any Spanish-style food yet, BUT I did make sangria on one of our nights in Barcelona. I read a bunch of recipes, and just picked my favourite bits from each one. I intend to have very many Spanish-themed dinner parties in my near future and you can be sure big jugs of sangria will feature! Worth noting, though, you can also make up individual glasses if you don’t have a jug handy. It’s very simple.

INGREDIENTS

1 x bottle of Spanish red wine, like tempranillo. The cheaper the better. Seriously, don’t use good wine for this, that would be very silly.

1 x bottle of fresh orange juice

2 x apples

2 x oranges

1 x cup brandy OR rum (and if your “cup” is a little… generous, well, so much the better)

Soda water (OK, OK, this is not very traditional. But I VASTLY prefer my sangria fizzy.)

2 x spoons brown sugar

Lots of ice

  1. Slice the fruit.
  2. Mix the brandy and sugar together well.
  3. Mix the wine, brandy, sugar, fruit and orange juice in the jug. Add the ice and top up with soda.
  4. If you want to make it by the glass, the ratios should be roughly 1 part brandy, 4 parts wine, 3 parts orange juice, 2 parts soda water.

Put on the gypsy kings, sway your hips, and pretend you’re in the Spanish sunshine with each delicious sip!

Please leave any ideas/questions/thoughts here, I'd love to hear them!