My fellow foodies, I guess you all can’t wait to eat at your favorite restaurant again. I know I do. Moreover, I am positive that restaurant owners are counting the days for us to go back to normal, or something similar to normal, to keep their businesses alive.
In some places, the lockdown-easing measures allow for terraces to be open to the public. As much as I am all about small business support, I personally think it’s still too soon to sit down nonchalantly with friends and have a beer, with all the uncertainty about the confinement de-escalation and its repercussions. I honestly believe I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself knowing that there is even the slightest chance that I’m contributing to the spread of this virus, therefore making it even harder for the already exhausted people working at the ICUs, which are understaffed due to contagions of the professionals who put themselves at risk to save strangers’ lives. So yes, I think I can hold my tapas craving for a little longer.
However, as I said, I am well aware that restaurant owners are looking forward to opening their doors and feed their families by feeding you all, and I fully understand. So this is my humble “I’m sorry I will not contribute for a while” and my little call for help: 5 restaurants in 5 cities that, if they survive this crisis, will need for you all to come to visit when it’s safe enough. The places in my selection are serving typical Spanish food, I’ve personally tried them all once or several times, and are not sponsoring this post in any way whatsoever.
Okay, I can almost hear you complaining: “But we cannot travel yet, Iris!” I know, so to give you a taste of what awaits when gastronomic destinations are back on the table (pun intended), I will also give you my recipe adaptation of one of the many dishes you can find in each of those restaurants.
In this short series, I will talk for the next few weeks about my top choices in Cartagena (my hometown) and its michirones, Murcia (where I did my undergrad) and its zarangollo, Barcelona (where I lived for almost five years) and its frincandó, Valencia (the last Spanish city I lived in) and its arròs negre, and Madrid (which I’ve visited more times than I can count) and its sopas de ajo. Ready? Of course you are.
5 restaurants in Cartagena, Spain
Granted, I needed to start with my hometown. Even though it is a destination a little under the radar, there are tons of things to see and do, from Roman ruins to Modernist architecture, from civil war bunkers to Punic remains.
Despite having lived here for most of my life, I must confess I was not very familiar with its gastronomic scene until quite recently, having mom’s cooking to relish, and there are still many places I need to try. On the other hand, I’m vouching for typical dishes from the area, but there are also amazing locations offering more “exotic” cuisines. Without further ado, here’s my selection:
- La Bodega Nicolás. A staple in town since the 30s. Here you can try local tapas such as michirones (see below), patatas al ajo cabañil (potatoes in garlic sauce), pulpo a la cartagenera (roasted octopus with lemon), and caracoles (snails in a tomato sauce).
- Posada Jamaica. Here they have a daily fixed menu consisting of a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. We’re talking comfort food here, nothing fancy but surely rich and tasty and authentic. I would recommend dishes like berenjenas a la miel (honey eggplant), rabo de toro (oxtail, although these two are more typical from our bordering region, Andalucía), and pan de Calatrava (sweet bread pudding).
- El Trovador. A little outside of town, this is another tapas place that is inexpensive and delicious. I’m in love with their sepia en salsa verde, croquetas, carrillada ibérica (pork jowl), and pastel de puerros (leek pudding).
- El Paquebote. This one is located by the beach, half an hour away from town, on the strip of land separating the Mediterranean Sea from the Mar Menor salty lagoon. The specialty here is caldero, a seafood thick rice ambrosia.
- El Soldadito de Plomo. This place is not a restaurant, but a quaint little cafe where you have to try another of Cartagena’s musts: café asiático, a sweet coffee concoction with our one and only Licor 43 and condensed milk.
Hungry yet? Let’s dive into the richness of my next recipe, then.
I must confess I wasn’t convinced about posting this particular casserole, since I’m not sure whether you will be able to easily find its ingredients wherever you are. But it was one of my grandpa’s signature dishes, so the idea of sharing it with you was very appealing. And then I realize, if you like cooking, you’ll are a creative bunch and will be able to adapt it to your available resources. I trust you! The key, basically, is big beans, smoked paprika, and loads of pork meat.
- Dried fava beans, soaked for at least 12 hours
- 6 baby potatoes, not peeled
- 125 g of chorizo, diced
- 125 g of bacon steak, diced
- 1 ham bone
- 150 g of pork ear or snout (I don’t like them, so I put jowl instead), diced
- 50 g of sobrasada (a Majorcan sausage made from raw, cured minced pork and loads of paprika), diced
- 1/2 head of garlic
- 1 hot chili pepper (I skipped it because we are quite mild in this house)
- 1 tsp of smoked paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 dried bell peppers
- 1 l of vegetable stock (homemade is always better)
I know, I know. So many ingredients! It can seem overwhelming, but the recipe itself is actually insultingly easy:
In the cold stock, put all the ingredients except for the potatoes. Bring to boil and then simmer for an hour or an hour and a half, when you see the beans are already tender. Then add the potatoes until fully made. Seriously, that’s it.
Just don’t be like me and make sure the stock is always covering all the ingredients; don’t be afraid of adding more cold water when needed and rectify with salt. When serving, remove the pork bone, the chili, and the bay leaves, that’s pretty much all the hassle.
What do you say? Have I convinced you to come to my hometown and enjoy, not only the views, but the varied and earthy, yet delectable gastronomy?