Monday, December 5, 2011

Rutas de Tapeos in Salamanca

How do you start to write about a two-week trip filled with seemingly endless epic meals?
This summer I went with four girlfriends to one of my very favorite countries: Spain. During college I lived in San Sebastian, in the Spanish Basque Country, for a time and the country was tops on my list to re-visit!
We planned a tour of the northern half of Spain, flying into Madrid and circling around through Castilla y Leon, Basque Country and Barcelona before closing the loop in Madrid. For me, food is obviously the whole point of traveling so suffice it to say we had more than our fair share of memorable dining experiences throughout the trip.
I suppose I have to start somewhere. So let’s begin in Salamanca.
We embarked on two memorable tapeos, or tapas crawls, here. The first was with my good amiga Asha, who was my best friend back in my Spain days and just happened to be living in Salamanca at the same time as this trip.
It’s always best to travel with someone who knows the place you’re visiting and our first night in town Asha took us on a tapeo on Calle van Dyck. Since this street is well outside the main historic center of Salamanca it’s off the radar of most tourists, although it was only about a 20 minute walk from the central Plaza Mayor. We were rewarded with fresh, tasty and classic tapas that cost between .80 and 1 euro each (! a COMPLETE steal in Spain!) and a lively atmosphere that didn’t feel touristy and contrived.
First stop was the rustic Barbacoa La Encina. Asha took the lead here and ordered us a runny fried egg with potatoes cooked in olive oil. Breakfast for dinner? I won’t argue with that.

Next up was a wedge of tortilla, another egg-and-potato-based superstar of Spanish cuisine.

Meson Don Mario was the next eatery on our tapas crawl. One of my favorite dishes of the night was pulpo a la vinagreta, sliced ceviche-style octopus tossed with onions, red bell peppers and tomatoes in a piquant vinegary sauce. 

Gambas al ajillo came next. Shrimp sizzling in hot, garlicky olive oil is always a winner in my book.

Don Mario introduced us to what was to become my traveling companions’ drink of choice through the remainder of the trip: tinto de verano. Let me give you some advice. If you go to Spain, don’t order sangria. That’s what tourists do. Order a tinto de verano, which is essentially the same thing: red wine, sangria mix, liquor, soda water with a squeeze of lime over ice. Here it is with a plate of piping hot croquetas de jamon. 

Despite crinkled noses from my friends I ordered boquerones fritos con limon. The anchovies in Spain are some of the best in the world and in my opinion are best simply prepared: fried, with a squeeze of lemon.

At this point I was more than a few glasses of red wine in so the names of the eateries are lost in time. Just a few steps away was our next stop. Yes, you’re reading the menu prices correctly: .70 or .80 euros per tapa! 

And these were good ones. Big, meaty champinones simmered in olive oil... 

...and a fried egg with chorizo... 

...cooked up by one lone sweaty bartender in a tiny postage stamp of a kitchen. This is also where Asha taught us how to manipulate the standard papery napkins you find in every bar in Spain into a dirty message.

A little further down the road we parked at a bar staffed by flirtatious (read: annoying) gentlemen who served us mejillones con salsa bechamel: big nuggets of mussel meat cooked in a bechamel sauce, stuffed back into their shells, breaded and fried to a pretty golden brown.

The specialty of this particular bar seemed to be “stuff stuffed with stuff cooked in bechamel” so we went for it and got a chunk of tortilla rellena de champinones en una salsa bechamel. The cook had made a thick tortilla, cut it in half horizontally and stuffed it with mushrooms in a bechamel sauce. Good thing we had that 20-minute walk home to work off all those potatoes and eggs and breads and bechamels.

A couple nights later Asha invited us along with her friends on another tapeo around the center of Salamanca, starting at Casa Paca, one of the most historic restaurants in town. 

We started the night with carrilleras: pork cheeks slow-cooked in a rich red wine sauce.

The crew then moved to Asador Mauro on the Plaza Mayor.

I enjoyed the poached shrimp nestled in a bath of mayo...

… and the pinchos morunos (pork brochettes with peppers)...

… but the morcilla de Burgos was one of the best dishes I tried on the whole trip. Some folks are squeamish about blood sausage but this version from Burgos is a good way to make a baby step into the world of blood sausage. It is mixed with rice and heavily spiced with cumin, something that’s quite unusual in Spanish cuisine. The sweet caramelized onions were a perfect complement to the salty, spicy sausage.

Meson Cervantes occupies a prime location on the Plaza. Although that also means it’s located in a prime touristy location, I was happy to see a number of locals crowded around the upstairs bar. The food here was by no means elegant - just hearty, classic Spanish tapas.

We took over a long table in the dining area and started with chorizo con patatas (chorizo with chunks of fried potatoes).

Anchovies and olives came next.

And finally, broken eggs with potatoes and chorizo. Remember when I said the food here was hearty?

After this we were led to a place called Bambu just off the Plaza. We were hoping to end the night with something light-ish but instead were offered bread topped with thick slabs of fried fatty bacon and chorizo. I thought I could hang with the Spanish... but...

1 comment:

Jonny said...

I've been reading the tales of your trip in reverse order and it reminds me of the trip I took the year before I met my wife. 10 days doing a similar route through northern Spain - Bilbao westward along the Cantabrian coast, through the Picos de Europa down through Leon and Zamora to Salamanca, then through northern Portugal to Vigo and a Coruna before heading back along the coast to Bilbao. The two nights I spent in Salamanca, one of which was my birthday, were filled with delicious tapas, and even though I was alone, the elbow-to-elbow camaraderie of the various tapas bars made me feel like I was among friends. Unfortunately, because I was alone I couldn't try as many dishes as you got through because there was no-one to share them with! Now, the trick will be finding the time to go back and do it all again! Thanks for helping me make this trip down memory lane.