From crowded pintxo bars to alta cocina tasting menus, Spain knows how to do food. London’s favorite Spanish chef and cookbook author, José Pizarro dishes up tips on how to eat like a local on your next trip.
Most people know that it’s a no-no to sit down for dinner before 9:00 p.m. in Spain, but it’s also taboo to eat lunch too early as well. Most Spaniards sit down for lunch well after 2:00 p.m. To hold yourself over, Pizarro suggests that you try merienda: “It’s a little bite between lunch and dinner. For me, growing up, my grandmother used to make me some bread with a kind of Nutella, and olive oil and salt.”
According to OECD data, Spaniards spend an average of 2 hours and 6 minutes a day at the table, ranking them just behind the Italians (2 hours and 7 minutes) and the French (2 hours and 30 minutes). (For comparison, Brits only spend a paltry 1 hour and 18 minutes at the table each day.) “Being at the table is a way to socialize, it’s a way to be together. And food brings people together,” says Pizarro. So make like the Mediterranean cultures and take your time at the table, savoring the food and the company.
“Of course, we have big supermarkets here, but we go to the butcher, the fishmonger, etcetera,” says Pizarro. “Go to the people you know, who know what you like. You’ll develop a relationship.” One of Pizarro’s most important relationships is with Cinco Jotas, an artisan ham producer that makes jamón ibérico from acorn-fed ibérico pigs, a native breed exclusive to southwestern Spain. Whichever part of Spain you are in, there will be a treasure trove of local producers outside of the supermarkets who can offer you quality ingredients to experiment with.
“In Spain, when I was growing up, almost everything came from the farm,” says Pizarro. “We have to eat seasonally. Why? Because of the flavors. Our food is simple, so it’s about the flavors. You wait the whole year for things to be in season.” Not only is seasonal eating better for your palette, but also it’s better for the environment.
Eat where the Spanish eat
It’s not always easy to avoid tourist traps when you’re on the road, but Pizarro knows one foolproof way: “The most important thing is to know people. Make Spanish friends, or just email me,” says Pizarro. “Seriously!”
If you need a few suggestions to start with, these are a few of Pizarro’s favourite restaurants and things to eat throughout the country.
“Atrio in Cáceres is definitely a place to go. And Ganbara [in San Sebastian].
In Seville, I love La Pringa.”
“In Galicia, it’s about seafood, for example, percebes is one of the most incredible things ever. It’s a goose barnacle and it’s stunning. You just blanch it a little bit and you taste the sea. And the texture is like a razor clam but softer, it’s very expensive but very good. I cook it in my restaurant sometimes.”
“In Basque country, the meat and fish there is unbelievable, and my favorite restaurant in the world is called Elkano. I love the turbot [which they cook] on the grill with plenty of salt, and that’s it. It’s perfect.”