This time, let us get acquainted with the history of Spain just a little. Starting on the 15th of April, 2016 until the 30th of April, 2016, Madrid will celebrate “La Feria Cervantina” designed to commemorate the 400th year since the death of the famous Spanish writer, Cervantes. The suggestion is for all to do “La Ruta Cervantina” around the city to get up close and personal with places linked to the life and work of Cervantes. What better place to start than in el Barrio de las Letras, which is the creative ground of many famous Spanish writers of the Golden Century/Golden Age (Siglo de Oro). During the festival, there will be many things to discover including street plays and other events of interest. Not to be ignored will be the gastronomy side of La Feria Cervantina, which is really why I am telling you about this festival in the first place.
It is said that the Spanish Siglo de Oro during the 16th and 17th centuries marked a lot of changes for the country. Not least of which is the gastronomy of this era which many view as the establishment of modern Spanish cuisine. Spanish cuisine of these centuries is featured in the books of Cervantes and the theatrical works of Lope de Vega, Quevedo and no doubt, others. Therein you will find small details of what the swindlers ate, the monks in their monasteries ate and of course, the delicacies of royalty.
During this festival, 35 bars and restaurants will be participating to offer you 35 different tapas. All will be fairly priced between 2.50 and 3euros. For sure, you would want to accompany it all with a caña. I have had the opportunity to try some of the tapas of this era that have been reinvented for this event and that will be served in some restaurants in el Barrio de las Letras. In the spirit of “know what you are eating,” I bring you a selection of 3 tapas from 3 different restaurants. My suggestion is that if this cultural activity interests you, do some research and find out events that will be happening that will be most beneficial to you and averiguar the gastronomy that will be tied to them.
Here we go…
- Restaurant: La Entretenida (C/Cervantes, 16) Tapa: Grilled Queso Majorero with sugar cane honey
No surprises to anyone, cheese is one of the most popular foods in Spain which originated with the Roman invasion of the country. In the Middle Ages and with El Camino de Santiago, people got to know the cheeses from regions such as the Basque Country, Cantabria, Castile etc that served as food for the pilgrims. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Noble classes would eat cheese with dried fruit and nuts as an aperitif and among the common people who had milk producing farm animals, this was the case, too. To date, there are more than 200 varieties of Spanish cheeses and 28 Designation of Origin producers which guarantees the quality and geographical origin of Spain’s finest products.
The Majorero cheese that you will eat is a goat’s milk cheese originating from Fuerteventura. For the sake of comparison, it has a milky, nutty taste and is similar to Manchego. Coupled with the honey, it will taste delicious. This cheese dates back to the 17th century and since 1999, it has been granted the Designation of Origin.
In the book The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha, Quijote has a conversation with Señora Dulcinea del Toboso about some cheeses she had served him.
- Restaurant: Parrilla del Mago (C/San Agustin, 13) Tapa: Buñuelos de Bacalao
In the 16th and 17th centuries, cod was the dish of choice for commoners given the fact that it could be conserved for a long time through salting. Only Royalty and the Nobles could eat fresh fish and meat, surprise, surprise. They say that some would fry fruit filled with anything from meat and fish to other savoury things. With time, this random form is cooking is what resulted in the buñuelos we eat today. I would describe buñuelos de bacalao loosely as small round donuts with cod filling that are fried in olive oil. The ones you will eat will be fluffy and fresh to taste.
In Don Quijote, we find the description of something that happened on a certain Friday which involved a contentious fish called Pollock in Castile, cod in Andalusia, dried cod in other parts of Spain and small codfish in other parts.
- Restaurant: Barril de las Letras (C/Cervantes, 28) Tapa: Callos y Morros Guisados a la Madrileña
This dish is one not to everyone’s liking but should definitely be tried at least one. It is a stew of tripe and snout, a la Madrid. The origin of the dish to Madrid’s cuisine is not know, but there are recipes of it that date back to 1599 and they would called it something along the lines of medley of stomach or abdomen. Delicious! However, a recipe by Domingo Hernandez de Maceras was presented in 1607 and completely transformed the dish by calling it blancmange. This is quite interesting because blancmange is a sweet dish with Arabic origins usually served as dessert. But Hernandez de Maceras was no doubt making this dish much more hip by cleverly naming it – tactics we still use down to this day. With the passage of time, this dish that started out in taverns made its way to prestigious restaurants. As “interesting” as it sounds, I highly urge you to try it, if you haven’t done so already.
In Don Quijote, the dish is described as a cocktails of beef with onions and cooked other bits of beef or pork.
So, though not a comprehensive walk through Spanish cuisine history, I do hope this has whet your appetite to discover more in the next couple of weeks at La Feria Cervantina.