Barnacle collectors in Galicia brave the crashing waves of the Atlantic in winter months and risk their lives to pick these alien-looking crustaceans from the rocks. They’re hard to harvest, outrageously expensive (sometimes almost €300 ($374) per kilo), incredibly ugly… and unbelievably delicious.
Photo: Joan Grifols/Flickr
Eating onions may not sound exotic but the Catalan calçotada feast is a unique food experience. The sweet onions are first grilled over flames, stripped of their charred outer layers and dipped into salbitxada, a rich variety of romesco sauce with nuts, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. You’ll need a plastic bib and a big appetite to get through this messy, unmissable meal.
Coques de llardons (Pork and sugar flatbreads)
Meat and sugar? This unlikely combination is a traditional favourite in Catalonia and once you try it you’ll be a believer too. Crispy flatbreads are topped with pine nuts and fried cubes of pork fat or crackling then sprinkled with sugar to make a high-calorie but mouth-watering combination.
The sight of dead baby pigs (from two – to six -weeks old) in market stalls or rotating on spits in Castille-Leon has turned more than one person to vegetarianism but the taste of the finished dish is a meaty treat of tender flesh and perfect, crispy skin flavoured with smoke from traditional wood-fired ovens.
Bacalao (Salt cod)
Photo: Mover el Bigote/Flickr
Salt cod is not, despite its name, salty. Preserving the fish in salt gives it a meat-like texture but the taste is (or should be) washed out in the preparation process. Basques are masters of salt-cod cooking: try the classic bacalao al pil pil, served with a garlic and olive oil emulsion.
Cocido (Stewed meat and vegetables)
Photo: Salvatore G2/Flickr
Different regions of Spain put their own stamp on this staple by varying the included meats. The Catalan escudella y carn d’olla adds chicken and a type of meatball to the standard pigs’ trotters, ears, belly pork, blood sausages and beef, often served over two courses. It sounds unappealing but there are few better belly-busting dishes to get you through a cold winter’s day.
Pimientos de Piquillo
Photo: Juan Mejuto/Wikimedia
The farmers of Navarre are perhaps the most green-fingered in Spain and the region is well-known for its excellent vegetable dishes. Sweet red piquillo peppers from Lodosa even have D.O (Denominación de Origen) status and are commonly served stuffed with a creamy salt-cod brandade.
Polbo á Feira
Sometimes seen on menus in Spanish as polbo a feira, this Galician dish of sliced tentacles does not always appeal to the unwary. You’d be a sucker not to try it though: despite its rubbery reputation, well-cooked Galician octopus sprinkled with paprika and sea salt is tender and delicious.
Callos a la Madrileña (Madrid-style tripe)
Photo: Javier Lastras/Flickr
Many tourists retch at the thought of eating tripe but in-the-know locals happily tuck into this spicy delicacy, which combines the unctuous softness of the offal with paprika, tender beef cheek and chorizo.
Photo: Santa Pola/Flickr
Andalusians have continued the Arab tradition of curing fresh tuna in the hot, dry air of Spain’s southwest coast for generations. The result, mojama, may look like a dog chew from a pet shop but is actually wonderful when sliced very thinly and marinated in olive oil. Try some with almonds and a glass of manzanilla sherry.
By Steve Tallantyre