Friday, October 28, 2011

Food Fridays: A Spanish Feast for the Eyes - Part 2

We had decided to go to Zaragoza based almost completely on their Fiestas del Pilar. Fiestas del Pilar are a week of celebrations in honour of the Virgin Mary of the Pilar, their patron saint. The highlight of the celebration is the Offering of the Flowers, during which hundreds of thousands of people flood the main plaza.  And while we were in Zaragoza we were able to partake in one of Spain's great traditions; the tapas bar.

This is not to say that Barcelona does not have a great tradition of tapas ... it's just that it seemed so buried in the cacophony of tourist traps that it was tough to tell which were good, and which were just popular.  Zaragoza's smaller size made finding tapas bars much simpler ... you quite literally take any side street off of the major squares, and listen for the bustle of happy diners.  Deciding which one's were good was even simpler.  If it was full, it was good ... and that applied to almost all of them.

The concept of tapas is very simple.  They're small bite sized dishes designed to fill the gap between lunch and the late dinners (10pm!) enjoyed by Spaniards.  You can easily make a meal out of tapas, and many do.  But the fun thing about the tapas bar experience is dropping in on one,  having a quick bite and then heading off to another.  It's not for you if you like table linens, but if you want to get a wide sampling of the flavours of Spain, this is the best way.

L-R: Croquetas, Montadito of Crab, Olives with Anchovies
Pan con Tomate.  (Bread with Tomatoes.)
This stuff is EVERYWHERE!  
Of course, after an evening of tapas and cervesas our thoughts would turn to something sweeter.  We had been told to look out for churros in Barcelona, but they were hardly on "every street corner" as we had been promised.  In fact, the only churros we had in Barcelona were from their equivalent of Tim Horton's.  It was cold and sad.

Fortunately for us, we stumbled across la Famma in Zaragoza.  La Famma has become the Holy Grail of churros for me, it's as simple as that.  It's a very simple, cafe style restaurant just off the Calle de Alfonso on the way into the Plaza del Pilar ... so it was very convenient during the Fiestas!  The churros were warm and tender and tasted heavenly when dipped into their thick xoccolata (hot chocolate).  

Churro con xoccolata
A Churro Relleno!  Yes, a stuffed churro!

No trip to Spain would be complete without trying some of their famous ham.  Jamón ibérico or pata negra (for the black foot pig the hame is made frome) is similar to Italian prosciutto, but is nowhere near as salty and is much richer in flavour.  We've been lucky and have been able to enjoy pata negra at home, so the taste wasn't a real revelation.  What was a revelation was how you could find it everywhere!  Every tapas bar, every market, every restaurant will have it.  Even McDonald's was selling something called a McIbérica that featured Serano ham.

On our last night in Zaragoza we took a break from the revelry of the Fiestas and found a small café just off the plaza called Jamon Jamon.  On the menu?  Ham sandwiches.  Small, medium or large.  That was it.  Simple crusty bread that had been baked that day was drizzled with olive oil, and filled with a thin layer of their flavourful ham.  It was simple and achingly delicious.  We sat and enjoyed the sandwich, and a beer, and soaked in the joyous sounds from the plaza.  This combination, for me, was the highlight of Spain.


Crissy said...

Mmm! I'm hungry just reading this ... and it's only 7:50 in the morning. :P

Jeremy Parcels said...

Everything on this page looks so good!

Sandy @VTWorks said...

Making me hungry also, wow! Great post.

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