Today, June 9th, is my region’s annual public holiday, and I wanted to share with you more amazing restaurants to visit. As you all know, restaurants have been severely hit by the confinement measures in place to avoid the spread of the virus, and they will most likely still suffer the aftermath of a society under a global economic crisis, so if you can afford it, I urge you to support our local economy once it’s safe to dine out.
So yes, today I’m going to talk about small and family-owned restaurants in Murcia, a mid-sized town in the southeast of Spain, half an hour away from Cartagena. You can easily make a day trip from one to the other and you won’t regret it. Downtown, Murcia is full of lively pedestrian streets and lovely squares with terraces that can be enjoyed for about 300 sunny days a year.
Murcia’s cathedral is a huge work of art, the path by the river is extremely pleasant, its night scene is one of the best I have ever experienced, and the food… oh my, the food. Take into account this part of Spain is known as the vegetable garden of Europe, the quality of our produce is outstanding. Not in vain Murcia is Spain’s gastronomic capital this year.
Here are my five favorite restaurants in the area. All of them are budget-friendly, as is the city itself, and are my honest recommendations, without sponsoring of any sort:
- La Tasca el Palomo. This is the epitome of typical Murcian food. Everything is spectacularly homemade and the vibe of the place is like you stepped back to the ’70s, when they originally opened. Among my favorites are pisto murciano (a variation from ratatouille); marineras and marineros (typical mayo salad on top of a ring-shaped bread and crowned by an anchovy); zarangollo (recipe follows); and the famous Murcian desert: paparajote (lemon tree leaves coated by a churro-like dough). IMPORTANT UPDATE: This place was forced to close down because of the pandemic. They could not survive the restrictions that were not backed up with financial support. I have decided to leave it here, nonetheless, as my humble homage to this place and all of those that also had to shut down for good.
- El Rincón de los Faroles. Right next to the Univerisity of Murcia, here you will find comfort food in daily set menus, a rustic atmosphere, and a warm smile always. They’ve been serving typical tapas and dishes from Murcia and Andalusia for well over a decade, I’ve eaten there easily fifteen times and it never disappoints! Generous servings and home-cooked quality. My go-to’s: alcachofas a la Murciana (artichokes in a white wine sauce); cazón en adobo (marinated dogfish); and huevos los Faroles (fried potatoes with sunny-side-ups and Iberico ham). I’m salivating only by writing this.
- El X Capricho. Typical tapas, but with a twist. A delicious, delectable, mouth-watering twist, I may add. This young-owned small place is a fresh perspective on the very Spanish tradition of tapas, but enriched with international cuisines. Right up my alley! My personal faves? The octopus tartare; the tulipán de trufa negra con alcachofa (black truffle tulip with artichoke); or their Sardinera (their take on the above-mentioned marinera but with flambé sardines).
- Eh! This is a slightly different concept. Eh! stands for Escuela de hostelería, meaning culinary school, and it’s run by the NGO Cáritas to fight against social exclusion. They promote job placement of people at risk by means of restaurant business training. So the chefs, the line cooks, the maître, the waiters… all of them are students, so you can taste high-quality dishes at very inexpensive prices, all while helping out a fellow. A total win-win situation.
- Enrique Rech. If you’re feeling like another day trip, you could drive half an hour and go to the natural thermal spa Balneario de Archena and, after a relaxing day of pampering, indulge yourself a little more with the delicacies found at Enrique Rech. It is not a restaurant, but a family-owned café and gourmet store. They make their own ice-cream in the summer and turrón (a Spanish almond-based delicious dessert) in the winter. You can also find a nice variety of Spanish wine, Iberico cold cuts, and incredible cheese.
I know, I know. It is unfair to make you lick your chops when travel is still not an option, and that’s why I’m gifting you with a super simple four-ingredient vegetarian recipe: zarangollo. I wanted to compensate for the previous recipe, Michirones, which had dozens of recipes and was not very healthy!
ZARANGOLLO MURCIANO RECIPE
This weird sounding name camouflages, basically, zucchini and onion scrambled eggs.
- 2 big and firm zucchinis (approx. 2 pounds / 1 kg)
- 3 sweet onions
- 3 eggs
- Olive oil, salt, black pepper
- Optional: a couple of potatoes
Cut the onions in julienne and stir fry them in a couple of tablespoons of really hot olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once they are turning slightly golden, lower de heat and let them fry gently and slowly until they are very soft. Meanwhile, cut really thin slices of zucchini. You can peel them first or clean them really well and keep the skin.
If you decide to also add potatoes, do the same thing. Then add all the slices to the pan with the onions, and salt and pepper to taste, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and everything is evenly cooked. All the water from the zucchini must evaporate.
When all the ingredients are soft and tender, add the eggs and slowly incorporate into the mix by gently stirring. You don’t need to beat them beforehand, just keep swirling over low heat until they reach the desired consistency and voilà!
You can serve it over a toast, as a side dish, or even as a main course. You’ll see it is a very filling tapa! And I hope its smooth taste inspires you to come and visit my region. I’ll be delighted to show you around if I’m in the area!