Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The 7 Craziest Things I’ve Eaten in Spain

Despite what many Spaniards may tell you, the food here is not spicy at all. But that hardly means Spanish cuisine is boring! I’ve broadened my palate and tried so many new things since moving to Spain in 2012, picking up a taste for everything from sardines and anchovies to cured beef and cheese. During this culinary adventure I’ve had throughout the country, though, I’ve come across some pretty crazy stuff, most of which I actually enjoy eating now! Read on to see some of the exciting dishes you can try in Spain.

1) Octopus

Pulpo á feira
No, this isn’t like those little fried calamari you get as an appetizer sometimes; pulpo á feira is adult octopus, tentacles and all, slow-boiled under tender. After the octopus is finished cooking, apron-clad women (the pulpeiras) snip the purple tentacles into little medallions with scissors, discarding the mantle or “head.” Garnished with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pimentón (smoked paprika), the white tentacle cross-sections are often served with boiled potatoes.

2) Snails

Weird food in Spain
Caracoles a la andaluza
Not even Spaniards who live up north will touch these little guys, but they’re still hugely popular in the southern region of Andalucía in the spring and early summer months. They’re nothing like the saucy, high-brow French escargots you might be familiar with, though; Spanish snails are fun finger food slurped down by the cup-full. The little ones are slow boiled in a broth of garlic, fennel, cayenne pepper, spearmint, and bay leaves, and the bigger ones (cabrillas) tend to get cooked in thicker, tomato-based sauces. Both are usually served in glasses or bowls with their broth, which is uncharacteristically spicy by Spanish standards.

3) Goose-neck barnacles

Weird food in Spain
Percebes
Percebes win the award for Weirdest Seafood in Spain: yes, they are indeed a species of barnacles. But these barnacles don’t attach themselves to boat hulls or humpback whale snouts; instead, they cling to dangerous, rocky cliffs battered by incoming tidal waves. Because of this, they’re extremely expensive, fetching prices between fifty and a hundred euros a kilo. They are, however, a beloved delicacy in Galicia. To eat them, you cut off the leathery tube (the “goose neck”) with your front teeth just below the base of the beaky head. Discarding the tube, you chow down on the juicy insides that sometimes can taste like a blast of the tides. I don’t know if their addictive flavor justifies their outrageous price, but they’re worth trying at least once.

4) Tripe stew

Weird food in Spain
Callos con garbanzos
“Tripe stew” may not sound very appealing, and I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone. But the stinkiness of cow stomach vanishes as it cooks for three hours with spices like cumin, black pepper, and cloves—medallions of some good Spanish chorizo help, too, of course. I’ve had heaping bowls of this stuff all over the country and the tripe meat has always been melt-in-your-mouth tender, not chewy or slimy by any means. The earthy chickpeas add a nice contrast of texture and flavor to this stew. Check out my recipe for tripe and chickpea stew if this sounds interesting!

5) Pig ear

Weird food in Spain
Orejas
Ah, famine food. When times were tough, it was important to aprovechar or make the most of the entire pig, and that meant eating everything from the snout to the hooves. I’m sure the custom of eating orejas or pig ears dates back to such times, although many people in Galicia insist it’s a delicacy. Slow-boiled for an hour, pig ears should ideally not be crunchy, although the inner cartilage can only get so soft; its plasticky texture scares off most folks. Still, if they’re done right, the smooth meat on either side of the cartilage can be really nice, especially when paired with olive oil and smoked paprika.

6) Blood sausage pâté

Weird food in Spain
(Source: Wikipedia)
A traditional dish in the southern province of Jaén, morcilla en caldera consists of blood sausage whipped up into a spreadable paste with onions, pine nuts, and a healthy amount of delicious spices. You typically eat in sandwich-style, stuffed inside small orange bread rolls called ochíos. Spaniards normally eat blood sausage in its expected sausage-link shape (often stuffed with cooked rice, as in Burgos), so I’ll admit that the idea of a pot of jiggly goop sounds unappealing. But all that nutmeg, cloves, and pepper combine to create a real delicious spread.

7) Pig face

Weird food in Spain
Cacheira
Of all the crazy stuff I’ve tried in Spain, pig head takes the cake. Merely one element in the belt-busting cocido stew eaten in Galicia during Carnival season, cacheira is boiled along with all the other goodies like chickpeas, chorizo, greens, ribs, and potatoes—boiled to perfection, that is! I was honestly very surprised at how tender, and flavorful even, the pig face was. Gelatinous, yes. Fatty, of course. But while enjoying this unique dish I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was eating the face of a pig.

Which dish on this list weirds you out the most? Which one would you most like to try? Tell me below in the comments!
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