The Square in front of Oviedo’s Cathedral…and yup, it’s raining…
Asturias is known in Spain for lush green landscapes, excessive rainfall, sidra (cider) and dairy products. Largely a rural area, it has two major cities and a booming tourism industry.
Oviedo is the capitol and the second biggest city in Asturias after Gijón. It was founded in 761, and is especially well known for its love affair with Woody Allen, and world heritage sites. Of course, as usual, I’m more interested in wandering
around and sampling the local cuisine.
around and sampling the local cuisine.
After endlessly circling around the Casco Antiguo, “old town,” literally “old shell” in Spanish, I mosey back down to Gascona Street, Oviedo’s Cider Boulevard. I decide on a Tierra Astur, a restaurant/ciderhouse that comes highly recommended to me by an Asturian friend in Barcelona.
Although it’s 5 p.m., tables are still crowded with clients polishing off a late lunch, so I’m directed to wait at the bar.
|Traditional Cider-Pouring. Photo courtesy of Jesus Sancho.|
Delighted at the chance to observe Asturians in their natural habitat, I watch as waiters look straight ahead, or close their eyes and pour sidra the traditional way, carefully holding the bottle over their heads and one shoulder and splashing the golden drink down into a glass held around knee level. It’s quite dramatic and most of the bottle goes on the floor, covered in sawdust to soak up stray drops. Supposedly this fancy pouring is necessary to air out the beverage, that at 2.35€ per bottle is cheap, even when you consider you never get to drink more than half. As I’m looking for recognizable shapes in sawdust strewn about the floor, the hugely pregnant hostess signals me over to a table. It’s finally time to focus on the task at hand, getting food from the menu into my stomach.
Typical Asturian cuisine includes, among other things, dairy products, beef, and la fabada, a heavy bean stew typical to the region. Despite serious misgivings about my ability to finish the multi-course tasting menu, I follow the waiter’s advice and do my best to garner my appetite.
First up is a plate of the many varieties of Asturian cheese served with crusty bread and a semi-solid block of apple butter. Apart from cabrales, a blue cheese from Asturias famous throughout Spain, there are fresh cheeses, spiced cheeses, aged cheeses and my own personal favorite, a smoked cheese. All of them, except maybe the smoked paprika cheese, combine well with the bread and apple butter, and already more than half-full, I find myself dreading the three courses to follow.
Next up is La fabada asturiana, white beans cooked in saffron and smoked paprika with bacon, spicy chorizo sausage, morcilla (blood) sausage and leftover pig parts like ears or tails, a sort of heavier take on the typical American pork and beans. After a savoring a few spoonfuls, I send it away with the waiter, as otherwise I won’t be able to stomach the next two courses.
Next up is a plate of fries and tender chunks of beef. Since fried potatoes are nothing new to me, I ignore them, focusing on the melt in your mouth meat. After dripping more sidra into my glass while I snap photos, the waiter clears my plate and rushes back with my favorite dessert, arroz con leche, or rice pudding. When I somehow manage to find a place for the rice pudding, he magically reappears, offering coffee and an after dinner shot. I bottom up my espresso shot and take a sip of tangy apple flavored liquor.
In a catatonic food and drink haze, I pay the bill, leave an American sized tip, and try not to smile too foolishly on the walk back to “home sweet hotel.” Tomorrow, bright and early I’m headed to Gijón, a large port city, to see what Asturian seafood and the harsh winds of the Cantabrian Sea has to offer.
A fountain in the Cathedral Plaza, Oviedo.
No part of this material can be reproduced without written permission First printed in the Tipton Times. Copyright 2009 Chris Ciolli
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