Looking for places to visit in Spain? Check out our top five Spanish food trips of 2017 and discover where to eat and drink across the country, from natural wines in Barcelona to iberico and hand-cut chips in Tarifa, and juicy skewered prawns in San Sebastian.
My guide Lourdes Erquicia laughed out loud at my horrified response when she told me to chuck my napkin on the floor. “It’s not easy persuading tourists to throw their dirty napkins on the ground – but it’s how we judge a bar. A bar full of napkins is a good bar.”
I’m in northern Spain on a pintxos crawl with Mimo San Sebastian. We’re weaving through the crowded warren of alleyways in the Parte Vieja or Old Town. I’ve realised there’s no delicate way to eat pintxos. The juices soak into the bread, run down your chin, coat your fingers and are smeared onto paper napkins, which are tossed on the floor.
There are over 100 pintxos spots to choose from, mainly in the Old Town, and so a tailored tour is a good way to narrow it down. Lourdes’ top tip: ignore the piles of pretty pintxos on each bar’s counter and order dishes chalked on the blackboard. These are cooked fresh to order and each bar has its own specialities. At Goiz Argi that means the brocheta de gambas, a juicy prawn served on a skewer, soaked in a sweet and sour garlic, pepper and onion marinade. The mari juli baguette, with salty slivers of smoked salmon, sardine and oily green pepper is equally moreish, with a glass of txakoli, the local sparkling white wine.
To find out where else to eat and drink in San Sebastian, click here.
Catalonia has a rich and fascinating history and there is much more to see in this region of northeast Spain Catalonia than the beaches of the Costa Brava, the mountains of the Pyrenees and the tapas bars of its most famous city, Barcelona.
The Delta del Ebro is where you’ll find some of the best rice in the Iberian Peninsula. Arroz negro is a very popular dish, normally made with squid ink, squid and prawns, topped off with aïoli. Perhaps surprisingly, pasta dishes have also been an intrinsic part of Catalan cooking since the 17th century; some of the region’s oldest recipes for cannelloni and galets (pasta shells) are still in use today.
Wherever you are, make sure you always head straight to the local markets. La Boqueria, in Barcelona, is where you’ll find the best clams; enjoy them with a glass of cava. Another popular beverage is vermut – Sundays are vermouth days in Catalonia, and people drink this alongside tinned seafood or fish and a plate of crisps.
Words by Jose Pizarro (November 2017)
Perched on Spain’s southernmost tip, windswept Tarifa attracts a youthful kite- and windsurfing crowd. Check into hip Hotel Misiana, in the centre of the old town, then head to Los Lances beach to kick back on the dunes with a goblet of Gin Mare and tonic at Arte Vida (hotelartevidatarifa.com) or some plump prawns from Copacabana Garden’s excellent- value seafood grill (facebook.com/chilloutcopacabanagarden).
Tarifa’s old town comes alive at night, when visitors descend on the cobbled streets to eat secreto iberico and hand-cut chips at La Vaca Loca (Calle Cervantes 6) and falafel from tiny vegetarian joint Chilimosa (Calle del Peso 6). Start the following day with a fruit salad, crêpe or smoothie in Café Azul’s courtyard (facebook.com/cafeazultarifa), then lounge outside hip Café 10 with a café con leche (facebook.com/cafe10tarifa).
The rugged foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, south-east of Granada, the Alpujarras exert a semi-legendary pull on many Andalucians, and indeed many other Spanish people. It’s a romantic, whimsical place, known to be remote, rural and – that most Spanish of things – quixotic.
The region is blessed with extremely fertile soils that yield all kinds of ingredients, from almonds to grapes via figs, oranges and, of course, olives. The Moors, whose rule over the Alpujarras lasted for 800 years, introduced almonds, cumin, pomegranates and aubergines to the region, all of which thrived thanks to the many long days of sunshine. The ports, an hour or so away, are part of a thriving fishing industry, and the forests run thick with game and wild herbs – all high-quality raw ingredients that local kitchens make the most of.
A largely unsung hybrid of North African and Spanish influences, la cocina Alpujarreña is as rudimentary as it is delicious. It is not fancy, it is seasonal and robust. What distinguishes it most of all is its relatively straightforward preparation – traditionally much of it would have been done outside in the fields, using portable ingredients and improvised fire-pits (when prepared inside, people used elementary hearths in the corner of a kitchen).
Today, this approach hasn’t much changed. In Berber-like villages, small but resilient communities tend almond and olive terraces, and cultivate immaculate and ancient vegetable patches, while tiny local bars and restaurants serve recipes that have been handed down through generations of farmers.
Words by David and Emma Illsley (September 2017)
In Barcelona it’s perfectly acceptable to sip a flute of cava at any time of day as a little pick-me-up – so where better for a spot of stress-free Christmas shopping? Festive lights twinkle along the Ramblas, carols drift from the cathedral and the city’s 42 fresh produce markets swell with dried fruit and nuts, handmade chocolates, wheels of pungent manchego and as much of the country’s famed jamón iberico de bellota as you can cram into your suitcase.
Make the most of crisp but sunny winter days with lazy paella lunches al fresco. Kaiku has a lovely terrace on Barceloneta beach, or there’s Barraca’s sun-splashed first-floor dining room with views of the Med. At night, convivial Can Cisa Bar Brutal is the place to work your way through local natural wines paired with superlative tapas, or slip into tiny Bar Zim for wines by the glass with farmhouse cheeses and organic charcuterie (Carrer de la Dagueria, 20).
Read our full guide to Barcelona, here