Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Asturias and Food and Unintentional Lessons: Getting off the Island

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I’ve been told that I write too much about food. I don’t think that applies to this blog, but yes, on my Facebook Page, perhaps there are a few too many references to cake and ice cream! I have no intention of specializing in food, but perhaps food as a part of the enjoyment of life? Well that’s another matter! Then again, I’m also whingeing a fair bit about my weight – so perhaps I should shut up.

Right now, to be honest, I’m a bit preoccupied with the subject of gluten intolerance, not the full-blown celiac problem, but a mild irritation that can last anything from a couple of hours to a week or so. I’m very much experimenting at the moment, because I’ve been to doctors twice over the years with symptoms which I now think may be due to gluten intolerance, and they’ve not been interested. On one occasion I was, literally, doubled over in pain.

I’d intended to include the wonderful foods I sampled in Asturias in their appropriate places in the two posts I wrote, but I came to see how they may be connected to my experiments, so here goes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dinner the first night in the parador in Gijon was excellent, though my memories are hazy, because the conversation (four writers, two representatives of Paradores and two representatives of Info Asturias) was varied and lively. I remember a good cheese salad and fabada. My only culinary ambitions (except for cheese, which was already on my agenda) for the trip was to try a genuine fabada, and, of course, Asturian cider. I’d only had the tinned fabada previously, and liked even that. Of course it turned out to be light years ahead of what I’d had, and needless to say I won’t be buying the tins again…..

Fabada

Fabada is a traditional white bean stew, although other ingredients may vary; usually black pudding (morcilla) and chorizo or pieces of pork. It’s warming and not spicy as such. It’s definitely a sturdy, cold-weather food…..so I was luckythat June was a little cloudy and chill! Like a good stew should, it melds from one flavor to another in your mouth as you chew. You can find it in other parts of Spain, but Asturias is its true home. Living in these winter mountains calls for exactly such filling and warming fare. After cheese for starters, I resisted the temptation to clean up my plate with bread….make note.

Since my flight had required me to be up at  4am I gave breakfast a miss the next morning and opted for an extra hour in bed. Likewise the second morning, tired from a day outdoors, some uphill walking, and late-night note scribbling, I missed it again. This is to say, no gluten.

The first morning was long. I appreciate that no breakfast wasn’t the best way to approach even a short walk, but that’s what I did, and come lunch I was Starving (capitalization intentional) We met up with the tv guy (see my first Asturias post if that’s a mystery) in a restaurant in Cangas de Onís called Los Arcos. My boots encrusted and my pant bottoms well-spattered with rich, Asturian mud I was a bit embarrassed about entering this eatery, with its modern, minimalist elegance, but I didn’t need to be. Hiking and outdoor activities are so much a part of life around Picos de Europa that it must be a common sight.

The cider contraption in Restaurante Los Arcos in Canga de Onis

The cider contraption in Restaurante Los Arcos in Canga de Onis

Here I had my first cider experience. I’d read that it should be served by pouring from arm’s length into the glass, but a modern contraption was brought to the table, which expressed the cider hard against the side of the thin glass. It’s this action of liquid hitting forcefully the glass which lends the slight aerated texture to the drink.

Now I understand the difference between this and the mass-produced stuff. The flavor is so much more dense and, er….fruity. I’d been warned about its alcoholic content before even leaving Tenerife, so I took it easy because we still had a full afternoon ahead of us, so I can’t speak to that. But one day I would like to sit for a long lunch and drink as much of it as I feel like. It is so…….. delicious.

I left the ordering to Juanjo, local expert of course, so I had absolutely no idea what was coming. I love to eat like this. I’ve always been able to eat most things, and actually like most foods – my only criteria is that they’re cooked well! But I absolutely loathe the process of choosing from a menu. I dither. I change my mind a dozen times. If etiquette demands I have to order before someone else, I inevitably change my mind when I hear what they have ordered. Once I hand a menu back to a waiter I breathe a huge sigh of relief. So I’m thrilled when I don’t have to go through all of that, and  I can relax in anticipation of a surprise.

The delicious bacalao

The delicious bacalao

This meal was full of surprises. All, three courses were foods I knew, but all were cooked in a way different enough to raise them to a whole new level. Pulpo tender and crisped with a secret sauce I couldn’t christen (and which wasn’t going to be revealed); cod as thick as a fillet steak topped with wafer thin slices of smoked bacon; and arroz con leche…rice pud to Brits, but almost nothing like it! Rich, much thicker than my grandmother ever made, and topped with burnt sugar. Every course was delightful, and well portioned, and made me very happy. And, looking back now I can see that the only dish with gluten might have been the sauce on the pulpo – so very little.

Remember Juanjo had said that if I was awed by the landscapes of my first day I would be even more so the second? Well, he politely didn’t say that about the food…because it was his wife’s cooking!……but it would have been true had he said it!

Goat's cheese croquettes and Cider a combination for the gods!

Goat’s cheese croquettes and Cider a combination for the gods!

Goat's cheese salad which I never wanted to finish!

Goat’s cheese salad which I never wanted to finish!

Second day’s lunch at Casa Cipriano began with a crisp and colorful salad of goat’s cheese and a dish of croquettes of goat’s cheese, which were so light they just evaported on my tongue – either one of which would have been my normal lunch! And I finally got to see how Asturian cider really should be poured!

Juanjo demonstarting how to pour cider the right way

Juanjo demonstarting how to pour cider the right way

Next came the famed fabada, richer, tastier and more delicious than ever. Only remembering the table manners which my mom taught me stopped me from woofing down twice as much as I did, which was just as well, because, next – there was a goat meat stew with french fries! For anyone who hasn’t had goat meat, cooked correctly the texture is a bit like lamb, but the flavor can vary a lot from place to place, depending on what the goats feed on. Since they roam free in most places it depends on the natural vegetation available, as does venison, that vegetation flavors the meat. For anyone who it not vegetarian, but dislikes factory farming methods or slaughter-house atrocities, you could normally be ok with eating goat. This particular stew was the best I’ve ever had. Its flavor was tasty but not too strong.

Goat stew & fries & Asturian cider

So, by now I’d had the equivalent of three normal lunches and here came desert! Flan, and, of course, Cabrales Cheese! I decline the flan, but Juanjo insists that I have to try just a little. It was like no other flan I’ve ever had, creamier and denser. And, it goes without saying, I can’t leave the table without sampling more cheese, which I slather onto crusty bread.

I have absolutely no idea how or to where I managed to pack away so much food. Thank god for no breakfast, and since no-one was around back at the Parador, I limited my dinner to a gin and tonic.

Lessons?

Asturian food is marvelous. Hearty, tasty and full of flavor. The main ingredients were all sourced locally, and cooked with love and pride.

Sonia and Juanjo

Sonia and Juanjo

I would without reservation recommend both places I lunched – but especially Casa Cipriano in Sotres, where Sonia and her sister are just magicians in the kitchen. I am planning to go back and stay there as soon as I can!

Casa Cipriano

* * * * * * * * * * *

The last lesson is the most curious and for me, ongoing. I felt really well all the time I was there, although my eating pattern was quite disrupted from the beginning – I had a 5am start, and neither breakfast nor lunch the first day, and only lunches the next two. That said, I ate both well and plentifully! So far as calories go I suspect I ate more than usual. However, my meals were much lower in gluten than my normal fare. I only had bread with the cheese at the end of the third meal mentioned, and little, because I was pretty stuffed by then! It wasn’t intentional, but it has been since then.

It’s an experiment and only time will tell! I’m finding it hard, it has to be said! Last week I succumbed to both a savory and a sweet pastry in a local bakery (but what on earth else would one eat in a bakery??)  – I was doing research – honestly! But otherwise I’ve pretty much dodged cereals, and I do feel better, though the aim is not to lose weight (yep, I do need to lose some, but that is not the point of this post) I feel lighter, have more energy and am sleeping like a baby. I’ve found very few alternatives in shops, none in many, and an apparent lack of awareness – “huh?” has been the response both times I’ve asked in bakeries…….well, you have to ask, don’t you?! Whether there was hidden gluten in anything I had, I can’t say, because if I have an intolerance it isn’t huge.  Happily for me I’m not celiac but it has given me an appreciation of how difficult it must be for folk who are.

Don’t worry, this blog is not turning into a food blog, nor a nutrition blog or anything remotely bordering on either. I just found it interesting that the trip had brought this to light……in all likelihood normal gobbling of foodstuffs will resume before too long!

I went to Asturias as a guest of Paradores de España and Info Asturias on behalf of The Spain Scoop (for whom I contribute posts about the Canary Islands), but the idea was entirely to contribute my thoughts and impressions of Asturias to be used in the decoration of the historic monastry of Corias, which will open as Spain’s newest Parador in a few months time. Five writers were invited to contribute to this original idea. I can say, hand on heart, that everything I wrote for Spain Scoop was genuine and came from the heart, and that I had no necessity to write anything here on my own blog, except that I wanted to, so much did I fall in love with the landscapes and food of the region.

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Author: IslandMomma

Loving island life and exploring the freedoms Third Age brings: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

13 thoughts on “Asturias and Food and Unintentional Lessons: Getting off the Island

  1. OK – so it wan’t a good idea to read this when I was already hungry – Your vivid descriptions of the plates of food that you were served has left me wanting to get to Asturias ASAP. Great writing.

    • LOL, Sue. The food was exceptional, although it kind of wasn’t a part of the plan! I think perhaps several return visits are necessary – one just to try more cuisine! At least you are closer than I to be able to maybe have a quick sortie!

      I have, btw, copied down your lentilburger recipe. So long as this gluten intolerance proves to be nothing serious I shall be trying that soon!

  2. I’m spending the third year of my undergrad degree (next year) teaching English in Spain. I can’t wait! I love the Spanish language and culture, although as a non-meat eater there are lots of traditional Spanish dishes I can’t eat. I wonder if it would possible to make a vegetarian version of fabada. It looks like it has lots of tomatoes in it. The photo reminds me of a dish which I ate lots of when I visited Greece: white beans (usually lima beans) in a rich tomato sauce. The memory is making my mouth water!

    • Hi Grace. Thanks for both reading and commenting. Yes! At least I’ve seen vegetarian options in the supermarket versions, so I know it is, at least, possible. They substitute veggies for the meat. Actually I prefer the vegetable one. I do eat meat but I abhor grease and fat, which was not a problem with the homemade variety, but is with store-bought. Beans and lentils are used a lot in some Spanish regional cooking, and, of course, there is famous tortilla española. Which region are you going to? It must be hard to avoid fish I would think, rather than meat, but depending on where you live. This was my first foray to the north, so I know less about what’s available there, but I have friends and colleagues in different areas, so if you let me know which region, I’ll see if I can recommend something. You begin this September or next year?

      • I haven’t chosen my region yet but I’m hoping to go somewhere in Andalucia, either near Cordoba or Seville. My brother also studied Spanish at university and he owns a plot of land in Andalucia, near a little village in the Alpujarras. It looks gorgeous. We have quite a few connections to Spain in my family and its a country that I really like.

        I was supposed to be going this September. But after my mother unexpectedly fell seriously ill I took a year’s leave of absence from my degree to be her caregiver. So I restart my second year this coming September and will head to Spain in September 2014.

  3. Nice presentation, and don’t listen to them…you can’t write too much about food, especially when it looks this good. :-)

  4. I agree with Jim, a big part of peoples travelling experience will always be trying the food specialities of the region so please do continue to write about it. I have two good friends who are gluten intolerant. they get loads of things on prescription e.g. flours, breads and pizza bases. I used to think it was a load of hooey but one of them had a chocolate with an unknown filling that must have had gluten in and had a violent reaction.. everywhere (almost) show gluten free symbols on the side of the menu, cafes usually have some GF options in cakes etc and every supermarket has a section for GF foods. even fish and chips shops are getting genned up and some now offer GF batter. so, know this, you are not alone, and on your next U.K. trip you should be well catered for.

    • Don’t worry I’m no way celiac, Christine! I have a friend who is, and understand the implications! It’s just an idea I’ve been playing around with for years in fact, and I think I may have proved. It’s mild, and I don’t think will affect my eating habits dramatically, but it did make me appreciate how difficult it is for celiacs, especially after talking with a wel-known restaurant owner here, who said he had no intention of catering for celiacs and vegetarians had plenty of choice (half true) on the menu I was looking at the time.

  5. I’m not crazy about meat but we had the MOST amazing meat stew I have EVER tasted in Asturias. It was in a rural house run by friends of friends so I don’t remember what it was called, but they used only meat from local animals that ran wild in the countryside. It has NOTHING to do with the stringy things you get in the supermarket. Mmmhh I’m so nostalgic for some more now!

    • Sounds very much like it was goat, doesn’t it, although sheep and cattle also graze quite freely on the high pastures, not hemmed in by fences at all. I’m not a vegetarian, but I do believe strongly that if we are going to kill for food then it should be done as painlessly as possible (if that even makes sense). I always try to buy free range eggs too. I hate with passion those pictures of hens cooped up in cages where they can barely move. Did you ever see Baraka? …. I know it’s an inspirational film, but all those poor, wee chicks :(

  6. Take me to Asturias with you next time you go haha!

    • Wish I could fix a date to go back! I can’t wait, but it won’t be this year, sadly. Even if I win the lottery, I don’t think I will change my plans for the rest of this year!

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