You’ve got to love a culture built around a lunch of drinking and nibbling salty things; followed by a nap; followed by an evening of drinking and nibbling salty things.
Madrid is my favourite city in the world for a messy weekend with Helen. I took her for her 30th and it nearly killed us both.
Andalusia felt like the obvious location for our “main holiday”. Surely the only thing better than a weekend of Spanish indulgence is two weeks of it. Well, it turns out this is 90% true but I have also found myself googling gout symptoms more than once.
The problem with tourist towns isn’t the tourists; it’s disreputable folk who see an opportunity to make a few quid off tourists. Unfortunately we got a bit caught out by restaurants shovelling shit to passing trade. If someone’s never coming back then you can flog then mangy swordfish, droopy chips and dubious croquettes.
Luckily we also stumbled across a rooftop which just about saved Córdoba from a food perspective. Not everything was brilliant (leeks with pig jowl and egg was particularly underwhelming) but the oxtail was a treat. Pitch black gelatinous meat falling off the ugliest bone. I was sucking at the marrow before I let them take the plates away.
It was also in Córdoba that we first discovered the now ubiquitous Andalusian variation on cold tomato soup; Salmorejo. Packed full of good olive oil (at good restaurants) and topped with ham and eggs it’s surprisingly addictive.
It’s also a good test of a place. If the boiled egg is grey, the ham cheap and the soup thin then leave before you eat anything else.
Of all the wonderful foods available in Seville the local speciality is a pork bap. Montaditos are small crusty white rolls filled with something delicious, and ideally a bit salty. All of the bars seem to offer them as a drinking snack.
The best ones are Montadito Pringa; effectively a pulled pork bap (already delicious) but with additional pig fat and black pudding mixed with it. So good.
We signed up to do market tour in Seville, but ended up cooking in a suburban kitchen for Spain’s premiere secondhand motorbike salesman (retired) and his endlessly fascinating wife.
About two days before we were due to do the market tour we were told it was overbooked. They suggested that instead we did a personal cooking experience in a local home. When we should have been poncing about with other Guardian Food Monthly types we found ourselves heading into the mountains in a battered Ford Mondeo with no seatbelts in the back.
Technically the host was a lovely bilingual young chap who worked as a guide. In reality he regularly stepped out to smoke, leaving us in the increasingly shakey hands of his mother. We were cooking for his parents and they’d never done this before.
His Dad was a wheezing, slightly yellowish chap with sunken eyes and a belly his grubby t-shirt could barely contain. He spoke no English, smoked endlessly and only came into the kitchen to get another beer. At dinner he sat at the head of the table and was always either laughing, wheezing or shoving food and drink into his mouth (often doing all of these simultaneously). I liked him a lot and was very happy to help him finish the whisky bottle I suspected he’d only opened for this meal.
Mum was cackling and very tactile with lots of long black/grey two tone hair, but a bit too heavy to be an old crone. She enthusiastically supervised our attempts to make paella, soup and tortilla. This involved shouting, ensuring the aforementioned hair fell in everything and then retreating to the cupboard for a hearty swig of red wine from the 5l plastic bottle she had stashed.
Through their son they told us the most brilliant stories over dinner. She was a motorbike racing girl from Spanish Morocco; he was the local speedway champion and had just opened his first sales and repair shop. From the photos they were both gorgeous; his now watery eyes twinkled with earned arrogance, her hair looked a lot better falling over her shoulders in a gold leather jumpsuit than bobbing in a raw tortilla mix.
She came in his shop, he didn’t charge her and soon they had the most successful shop in all Spain. They were rewarded with trips to Germany, Brazil and Japan. She picked up the languages and loved it, he played with motorbikes. It sounded like a hell of a ride, and well worth the toll it had clearly taken.
An ancient and historically significant port is still a port. Cádiz has intricate alleys and beautiful sea views, but it also has the grime built up centuries of hard work by men on ships and women on their backs. The scrawls on the cracked walls are unmistakably feckless graffiti, not street art.
Amongst the seediness we were hoping to get a bit of a respite from the cured meat and salty fat. I never thought I’d need a respite from such things, I assumed I could eat them until my arteries finally closed. It turns out there is a point when I crave something fresh and fishy.
We followed a Rick Stein recommendation for dinner. Rick may increasingly sound like a whiny Guardian letter writer but he has made his money talking fish. It was therefore rather a surprise when his recommendation took us to the best meat on the trip, possibly the best meal on the trip and maybe even the best cold cuts (a description that doesn’t do it justice) I’ve ever had;
The next night we did have fish and it was delicious. The waiter brought out a tray of stiff, shiny eyed sea bass, I picked one and 15 minutes later it returned after a pretty intense sun bed session
By the time we got to Granada we were going to take it easy. We felt liked we’d effectively done three back to back city weekends. Then the spectacular 3 hour drive over the mountains to get there gave me an unexpected new thirst
Within five minutes of leaving our hotel we’d squeezed into a buzzing bar. The great tradition in Granada is that tapas is free, with every drink, you get a small plate of deliciousness, no choice but who cares. By the time the visibly uncomfortable Americans next to us had stopped fussing and placed an order, Helen and I were three glasses of red and three plates of food to the good. By the time they’d worked out why they had lots of unordered food we were pissed and contented.