Monday, 17 September 2012

Northern Food on tour: Self-catering in Spain

My love for all things Spanish was put to the test at the start of last week's holiday. We'd planned a very relaxing week; simple food, sunshine and plenty to read by the pool.

So what we really, really wanted to happen, an hour or so after the plane landed, was for our hire car to be broken into, most of my useful possessions stolen, and then to have lots of fun driving a left hand drive for the first time, around a foreign city on a busy Friday afternoon, racking up the data charges using my phone as an impromptu satnav, attempting to locate a police station and the British consulate.

After two further trips to Malaga, to collect police reports and an emergency passport, some serious relaxation was due. We barely left the villa and didn't eat out at all save for a couple of tapas in a bar outside the consulate and burger and chips at a beach side cafe on the coast.

Moaning aside, sometimes it's nice to self cater on holiday. Sat on our terrace in splendid isolation with nothing and no-one else to worry about was marvellous. Here's my quick guide to eating in Spain.


We were on holiday, so let's start with the booze. There has to be sherry. An all rounder that will match virtually any savoury food is a good place to start, I'd go for either a fino or a manzanilla. We drank a bottle of La Guita manzanilla that was happy alongside anything and everything: olives, ham, peppers, clams, chorizo or just a bowl of crisps.

I'm no wine expert but everything else vinous we drank was very good. There was white rioja and red, Albarino, and a couple of bottles of cava at less than three euros a bottle that were better than bottles of champagne I've had costing thirty quid.

Onto the beer, I've no idea whether Spain has a craft beer movement or anything comparable, but I had no intention of finding out. What I want under a blazing sun is icy cold, crisp lager in a glass bottle. Of the major Spanish brands I'd recommend Mahou (the five stars variety in the red bottle).

Finally Spanish cider is worth a shout. A light, refreshing bottle of it from Asturias in Northern Spain is just the job if a cold beer doesn't tickle your fancy.


Buy anything salty, pickled, fishy or piggy and serve with sherry and beer as per above. You really cannot go wrong with this formula.

On the ham front I bought 100 grams of iberico de bellota which was enough to last the whole week. Expect to pay over ten euros for 100g of the acorn-fed ham (that's the de bellota stuff, mine was about 11.50) but you can get decent stuff for less than half that price, around 6 or 7 euros for 'de recebo' that's partially acorn fed or 4 or 5 for good quality grain fed, known as 'de cebo'.

Olives here are splendid, I'm not sure there are any finer olives than those grown in Spain (maybe Greece or Italy?). My preference is for fat, meaty gordal olives in brine or perhaps stuffed with anchovies or chilli and citrus. A three euro pot of gordal olives lasted the week with ease.

On the fishy snack front I just had a few boquerones on this trip, plump anchovies marinated in vinegar. They're readily available and also great value. I didn't have any this time round but it's also worth seeking out the dried fish products, mojama (air dried tuna) being the obvious example, though I'm not sure whether it's sustainable or otherwise.

Other than that who doesn't love ploughing through one of those unfeasibly large bags of ready salted crisps so beloved of our continental cousins?


Spain produces excellent beef, lamb, and of course pork. Weirdly on this trip lamb was conspicuous by its complete absence from anywhere we looked for it. If anyone could shed any light on this mystery I'd love to know why there wasn't any lamb?

Good thick steaks of a stature your rarely see in UK supermarkets are readily available, and in my experience are generally better hung and of higher quality than our supermarket versions. Look for chuleton de buey, basically a beef chop - sirloin often with the bone in. You'll be wanting to slap one of those on the barbecue.

While we're on the subject, a barbecue every night is the way to go in this climate. It's so dry that lighting them is often possible with a single match, far easier than the stiff breeze and damp drizzle British efforts.

Pork-wise if you want to pay extra you can get iberico pork, which is great though not as exciting as it is when cured into hammy things. Fillets (filete de cerdo) have plenty of flavour and make fantastic kebabs. Some of the cheap and nasty pork products are utterly vile though, so I wouldn't mine the bottom end of the market. I inadvertently tried some budget black pudding (morcilla) that was horrid. Stick to the quality stuff and morcilla and chorizo make lovely tapas fried off alone or with a splash of wine.


I'm stating the obvious here, but you really can't go wrong if you stick to the Mediterranean stuff. The peppers, tomatoes and aubergines are all excellent. A dish of veggies baked with herbs, sort of a ratatouille, finished under the grill with a cheesy topping and scooped up with crusty bread, was one of the best meals of the holiday.

Salad vegetables are also very good, I do like a continental schnozzcumber (the little knobbly cukes) and there's a great variety of lettuces and leafy things.

For snacks and starters of a healthier persuasion a bag of little peppers for frying is a good choice, they'll be labelled 'semipicante' which is nonsense in practice. Most of them won't be spicy, the odd one might be.

Last but not least my new favourite way with corn is to barbecue a fat ear until it's just starting to char, then smother it in butter and smoked paprika.


The range of seafood that's routinely on sale in Spain is nothing short of astounding. I counted about twenty varieties of shellfish in one large supermarket, at least half of which I'd never even seen before, and that's before you even get started on the crustacea, fish and squidy type things.

We bought clams (almejas) which make a fantastic tapas dish steamed with a glass of sherry and sprinkled with parsley. I also completely ruined an octopus on the barbecue (paprika flavoured rubber bands if you must know) but done properly, Galician style, they're bloody lovely. Look for pulpo a Gallega or pulpo a feira on tapas menus. What you'll get are tender slices of the stuff doused in sea salt, paprika and olive oil.


One word: melons. Spanish melons are great. Ripe, sweet and very juicy. An enormous watermelon lasted us the whole week and we still had to chuck half of it away. Nectarines, peaches, plums, greengages and citrus fruits of any type are all marvellous too.

Baked goods

I don't think they're quite as good as the French, but they're still fine bakers in Spain. We ate crusty bread, open textured baguette style stuff and denser pan rustico, the champion sauce mopper. There was also a slightly sweet loaf that we ended up with by accident that reminded me of a French loaf that I think is called gache.

What else?

At breakfast time in Europe there must and shall be Nutella. I know it's just chocolate flavoured sugary oil but it's bloody delicious. Good jam and creamy butter is also a must.

Onwards to lunchtime and I'll confess to a fondness for vacuum packed, pre-cooked tortilla. Warm them up in the oven then serve in wedges with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. They're really quite nice, and featured in our lunches for most of the week.

We didn't eat a lot of cheese and I've not had a lot of experience with those from Spain. I know they make good cheese, I'm just not sure I've eaten the best of it other than some decent Manchego and Cabrales, a pretty full-on blue that's made from cow's milk blended with sheep or goat's.


Anonymous said...

I'm hungry now.

ps. Melons.

Dave said...

Me too. Melons! (nearly deleted the above as spam but clicked on your link and it's definitely real, apologies)

Yvan Mas said...

Yummy Food

Hope to see more posts related to Spanish Salads

I am planning for a Food your Spain


angelosam123 said...

Wow ! yummy yummy ... nice blog dear and great information thanks.catered villa spain

Nikks Goerge said...

Yummy. Pictures of food are amazing. The food look so delicious.
holiday cottage skipton

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