Shrimp, snails, and bull tails: highlights of Andalusian cuisine
There is little else in the world as exciting to me as setting foot on new soil and discovering menus full of things I’ve never had. I’m in that special sort of heaven right now after three beautiful weeks in Andalusia.
Those who have visited the more popular cities of Southern Spain–like Cordoba and Granada–have seen the stunning cathedrals (including the area’s major tourist attraction: the expansive Alhambra). Once Muslim mosques when the Moors ruled the region, the structures are today Catholic churches and are a beautiful mix of Moorish architecture and Catholic art. The cathedral in Cordoba takes us back in history a bit further: it was originally a Roman church before an Islamic one. Fascinating!
Like the architecture of some of its most famous buildings, the cuisine of Andalusia encompasses different cultures: the Romans introduced olives and grapes, so we can thank them for introducing the Spanish to produce such beautiful, aromatic olive oil and impressive, complex wines. The Moors arrived from North Africa and, in addition to saffron and rice (key ingredients in one of Spain’s national dishes, paella) brought with the citrus trees which line the streets of its towns (and fill its palace gardens). The Spanish funding of exploration to the New World contributed to its discovery and the introduction of new foods that are now staples of Spanish cuisine, including peppers, beans, and potatoes. And then, of course, there is the sea: Andalusia rests upon the Mediterranean, and its markets are filled with tuna fillets, giant prawns, cuttlefish, octopus, mussels, and clams. Add it all up and your summation is the flavor of Southern Spain.
I couldn’t possibly summarize all of the delicious Andalusian food I’ve had in one measly post, but I will try my best to include the highlights of the region’s cuisine. Starting first with the wine that puts the area on the map: sherry.
Whatever you have heard about sherry, disregard it. I walked into a sherry bodega thinking I was familiar with this style of wine because I’d once sipped some double cream: I left in awe of the variety of sherry there is and how complex each one can be. In complete opposition to my double cream were the fino and amontillado sherry wines: high in alcohol and rich in flavors and aromas of almonds and other nuts, these intense fortified wines are perfect pairs to the fried and seafood flavors of Andalusia’s more popular tapas.
My favorite Andalusian tapa might not be for everyone (I know quite a few who are a bit squeamish with small fish) but if you can get past the idea of eating a small, whole fish, you will love it to pieces. The anchovies used in this dish are meaty and delicious while the outside is crunchy from being lightly floured and fried. Still squeamish? Come on…don’t they say that everything is good fried? This is no exception! 🙂
Rabo de Toro
Literally translated to “bull’s tail”, this dish is exactly that: bull’s tail slowly braised in a mixture of tomatoes and spices.
You know when slowly cooked beef just falls apart, and you don’t need a knife to cut it because it shreds into delicious bites on its own? That’s this dish. Yum.
I will admit to having a hard time with this one. These tiny little snails are…well, they’re actually kind of adorable. Turns out, they’re pretty delicious too! Cooked in a broth of garlic and spices, these little tasty morsels are a staple of most tapas bars, and my Sevillan friend said that he and his buddies will go through piles of them while sipping on sherry or a Cruzcampo.
Tortillitas de Camarones
Crispy, batter-fried bay shrimp. Need I say more?
A nod to some other Andalusian staples
I couldn’t conclude an Andalusian cuisine post without at least mentioning the following items…especially considering that guests will see the following things on nearly every Andalusian menu. I avoided going into detail about them simply because readers will find these items on every “Andalusian cuisine” post.
Breaded chicken stuffed with ham.
A tomato, bread, garlic, and olive oil dip.
Berenjenas con miel
Fried eggplant drizzled with honey.
An exciting purchase of the trip was an Andalusian cookbook, which I spent a decent amount of time translating during our week in Cadiz. Be prepared for some delicious Andalusian recipes when we conclude our summer in Europe and are back in the kitchen!