Slow Food in Green Spain | Posted: 22 May 2014
Discover the slow food of Asturias
Discover the slow food of Asturias
Discover the slow food of Asturias

There's so much more to Asturian food and drink than cider, as Les Dunn explains...

As a food journalist with a love of Spain, I’ve been to great lengths, on my Spanish travels over the years, to find the ‘real deal’ in the local food scene. (In Tenerife I drove up bumpy mountain tracks to eat in a semi-legal, glorified shed.) But in Asturias, in Northern ‘Green’ Spain, finding the good stuff doesn’t involve nearly so much effort, as I discovered on a recent visit.

The small principality, bocadillo-ed between Galicia to the west and Cantabria to the east, has always been a fiercely independent kind of place (it’s the only region the Moors failed to conquer), where they do things their own way – and that includes food and drink. ‘Seasonal and local’ is not something you have to seek out here – it’s pretty much the norm.

Our base in Asturias was La Posada del Valle, an old converted farm, poised between the beaches of the coast and the wild and beautiful Cantabrian Mountains, the peaks of Ponga and the Picos de Europa soaring behind the valley and providing a stunning view from the hotel.

Here, the way of life is still rural, and traditions endure: tiny smallholdings growing fruit and veg, which we admired on a walk around the valley. An old man touched his hat in greeting, asking what we thought of his patch of cebollas (onions). It’s this kind of small-scale, traditional agriculture, a world away from the vast desert polytunnels of southern Spain, that has given Asturias a slow-food reputation.

Related Holidays & Further Information

Rugged Coast & Hills of Asturias

Spend a week at the delightful Posada del Valle to enjoy some fantastic walking in dramatic mountain and coastal scenery and indulge in the unique regional cuisine.

More about our single-centre walking holidays in Asturias >

Picos de Europa

Alternatively, discover Green Spain’s mountains, gorges and coast on a village-to-village walking holiday featuring charming small hotels.

More about our hotel-to-hotel walking holidays in Asturias >

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The Posada, owned by English couple Nigel and Joann Burch, makes its own contribution to the slow food movement. Its small organic farm has a kitchen garden overflowing with produce, which Joanne transforms into simple, flavoursome nightly meals. There are hearty breakfasts, too, with home-baked bread, mountain cheeses (Asturias has 30 types, including the potent blue cheese, cabrales) and apple juice made from apples from the farm’s orchard.

Away from the Posada, the culinary treats continued, mainly of the rustic variety (Asturias has half a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants but it’s no Basque Country – don’t come for foams and liquid nitrogen). Highlights included the smoky, chunky Asturian chorizo (normally cooked in local cider); the local fabas (beans), whether cooked in the famous fabada stew with chorizo, pork shoulder and morcilla (black pudding), or in a simple ‘black sauce’; and simply prepared seafood such as delicately steamed clams, fried baby squid, and spider crab cooked in a gratin.

Asturias does drinking its own way, too. In the rest of Spain it’s wine or beer – Asturians drink cider. Made mostly in the port city of Gijón, with apples from local orchards, it’s a clear, clean, super-dry drink, sold in green glass bottles in the sidrerías (cider bars) that dot every town.

You never pour your own cider. You stand back and enjoy the theatrical spectacle every sidrería barman is trained in ‘el escanciado’. He pours with the bottle held high above his head, into a glass held beside his leg, while he stands looking straight ahead. You then down that draught while it’s still fizzy from the waterfall aeration. It’s fun but don’t, like I did, get a bit squiffy and attempt it yourself…

Before any self-respecting food lover leaves Asturias, they need to do some serious stocking up on local goodies – and it’s easy, because there are shops in every town that proudly sell only Asturian food products, plus the excellent Mercado de Fontán food market in the centre of Oviedo. Our list included vac-packed Asturian beans, dried wild mushrooms, and of course, a couple of bottles of cider – plus a cheat’s fizz-creating nozzle, which saves you ruining your living room. Buen provecho!

Les Dunn is the managing editor of delicious. magazine, a leading food monthly with regular foodie travel features.


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