Now that we've visited Asturias By Land and Asturias By Sea, today we'll see -- if only we could taste -- Asturias By Mouth; all of the glorious deliciousness that you'd find sandwiched between el mar y la montaña.
They basically had to roll me out of Asturias after my nine days there. It's hearty, soulful food. Simple ingredients, but grand results - that's more or less the motto of the Asturian kitchen - using what the land offers you and creating pragmatic yet tasteful dishes from those ingredients.
Cider House Rules!
The cider culture of Asturias perhaps was what offered the greatest impression for me (besides the kindness of its people). Coming from nearly four years of witnessing the caña (small beer from the tap) obsession throughout Spain, it was an extremely welcome relief to see the "glass half full" of cider. It's an extremely common drink in Asturias, in fact the majority of their drink production never leaves the Asturian borders - they consume nearly all of the good stuff - leaving few brands on the national shelves! The history of this beverage goes back decades; long traditions of apple cultivation and drink production. The llagar (cider house/production facility) and sidería (watering hole and often restaurant specializing in typical fare and cider) provides a social-economic view of the region. Local festivals, meeting friends for pre-dinner bar hopping, or an abuelo enjoying his half-shelled sea urchins with a cider bottle alongside his lunch meal, are all common occurrences and part of everyday life here.
Cider is so important to the culture that there is even a Spanish verb to describe the pouring of this drink "escanciar," wherein the escanciadores (servers who pour) lift a bottle high above their head and tilt into the widemouthed glasses below. This trick serves to quickly oxygenate and catalyst the carbonation of the cider. After the pour, the glass is quickly handed to you -- drips and spills are common on your clothes, the server and the bar floor! -- and within one or two gulps you are suggested to finish your glass (served about 1/5 full). The viewing and partaking of this phenomenon is quite a sight and experience!
In the past cider was served specifically by escanciadores, but in modern times various inventions have come to the market so that cider consumption can continue at the table, in cases where the bar servers wouldn't be there at every beckon call.
If you could see the green pastures of Asturias you'd quickly come to understand the prevalence of cheese in the Asturian diet. Most famously known for their blue cheese, a D.O. called Cabrales, as well as other cow's milk cheeses such as: Beyos, Afuega'l Pitu, and La Peral. They've even found numerous ways to incorporate cheese in daily recipes such as blue cheese croquettes or the caveman sized cachopo - a huge veal fillet stuffed with ham and cheese (think a Spanish cordon bleu).
See the concentration of cheeses from Northern Spain?? Yummmm! Image La Casa de Sommelier.
The Faba Bean
One of the staples of Asturians' past diets, now a regional specialty. These beans, in Spanish also known as habas (broad beans), proved to be a prized crop because they withstood the harsher winter months, as they sat dried and stored in horreros (grain houses). Used predominately for stews, winter plates that warm the belly and soul, most famously la fabada, a bean and Asturian meat (bacon, blood sausage and chorizo) based dish spiced with paprika.
We had the joy of visiting Huerta La Vega, an Asturian farm and family run business outside of Gijon, specializing in organically grown fabes asturianos and other produce.
La fabada is a dish to share, as it's made in large quantities and meant to fill.
In 5 days we tried 3 fabadas, which unbeknownst to us is apparently a bit of a faux pas. Most Asturians don't eat this dish with such frequency - obvious diet reasons (see the oil?) and the arduous elaboration process, which requires soaking the beans the previous day, and then a cooking time of 3-4 hours.
The pastel carbayón, an almond based sweet covered with icing, provided me with another reason to let my belt loose.
Frixuelos a sort of crepe and casadielles walnut paste filled turnovers covered in sugar -- were quite typical of Carnaval and during the weeks leading up to Semana Santa (Holy Week). All in all, Asturias has everyone's sweet-tooth covered.
Almond cake in Gijon, Spain.
Like any Spanish city, there are endless options for a coffee break. We lucked out in Gijón at a cute contemporary café.
Years of immigration and emigration to and from Asturias have provided a bit of overlap in Asturian cities. Galician restaurants were plentiful in the three largest cities we visited. Common fish and seafood varieties also seen in Cantabria (above all from the Cantabrian Sea) were popular market options. As well as some other Spanish specialties such as, the Spanish omelette (tortilla española) - a national dish, and suckling pig (cochinillo) hailing from Segovia.
Pulpo a la gallega. Boiled octopus with olive oil and paprika, a typical dish from Galicia.
"This little baby pig went to the....." Roasted suckling pig made for a Sunday afternoon treat for one Asturian family.
Pastel de cabracho. Scorpion fish pate, a timeless Asturian classic for entertaining.
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