Monday, 21 October 2013

Eating in Cádiz

From Seville, we took a two hour train down to the coastal town of Cádiz to flop on a beach for a few days. After leaving the bright blue 30 degree sunshine of Seville, it was just our luck that it was cloudy for our first day. We wandered from our apartment (again, Air B n B - such great value, and a beautiful flat) that was right at the top of the spit that makes up Cádiz through the old town, taking in the sights (another Cathedral) and getting lost in the warren-like cobbled streets. Once on the Playa Santa Maria del Mar (often listed as one of Spain's best beaches) we carried on walking until the town next to us became ugly hotel buildings and blocks of flats. We went for a bracing dip in the sea before we sought sustenance. 

Freiduria Las Flores (Plaza Topete 4) didn't look like much - a front window shows fried fish and a small queue of people were there for takeaway. There were seats further inside, but we elected to stand by the bar with a glass of beer. We started with a plate of sweet, boiled prawns - startlingly expensive, double the price of everything else - and carried on ordering, plate by plate. Chocos (cuttlefish) were thick matchsticks, lightly dusted in flour and deep fried until crisp and dressed with a squeeze of lemon. A plate of seafood rice no bigger than my palm was stodgy goodness. As we found was usual, the only vegetables on offer was 'ensaladilla Rusa', often shortened to just 'ensaladilla' - Russian salad. Potatoes, carrots, and other indeterminable vegetables dressed in mayonnaise. We passed on it. 

Pulpo a gallega didn't come with any potatoes, but were slightly wobbly slices of octopus in a fruity olive oil. The paprika it was sprinkled with had a pretty good kick. This was straightforward decent stuff - a little gem in the stark ugliness of the new town. With a couple of beers each, our bill came to 18 or so Euros. 

Not all seafood we had was as successful. We were staying in Barrio de la Vina and the road our apartment was on was one of the prettiest we found; palm tree-lined and cobbled. Restaurants had tables outdoors, and I was excited to see puntallitas (whole baby squid) on the menu. Though well fried, these weren't cleaned properly and though edible, were a little fiddly. Perhaps I'm spoilt by Morito's. Elsewhere, fried boquerones were a little bitter and could have been fresher. This is what happens when you stray from The Spreadsheet.

We attempted to go to El Merodio, famous for its clams a couple of times but both times it was shut. I'm fairly certain it's due to the Saturday being a public holiday, so no boats out for fresh fish. We came a cropper of this and ended up in a down n' dirty dive bar, eating some pretty grim tapas, but at 1 Euro a plate, we were in no position to complain. Nearby, we ordered jamón croquettas at Taberna Maria (I'm not giving you the address) to be faced with this. 

Yup, they might as well be poos on a bed of crisps. For 7 Euros. The croquettas were completely smooth, bland paste - no sign of jamón within. After a little mild complaining, we retreated back to the dive bar to drown our woes. I woke up very hungry.

It was with much joy, then, that we discovered Casa Manteca (Calle Corralon de los Carros) was a mere two minute walk from our apartment. It is translated as house of lard - there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy it there. 

We visited on a Sunday lunchtime; people were spilling out on the streets drinking beers or sherry, balancing paper rectangles of jamón on their hands, or sucking down oysters being shucked in the street. Squeezing into the bar, the walls were decorated with hundreds of pictures of matadors, and is run by two brothers, sons of matadors. People were shouting orders amiably across the bar; for so many people in there, there wasn't any jostling. We asked for some jamón and three tapas the barman would recommend. Top left was thinly sliced chorizo, and next to it the jamón. Surprisingly for jamón that seemed quite lean, it was packed full of flavour and that essential nuttiness. Chicharrones, not to be confused with with the dish of fried pork rinds, was thinly sliced cold, fatty pork - cooked in garlic and cumin and dressed with lemon. Curled round a picos (little bread stick you get at every bar) they tasted sharp and pickled, which then mellows, allowing the pork flavour to get through. Great stuff, especially with a glass of Manzanilla. 

Our favourite beach, and the best sunsets to be seen are from La Caleta beach (also top pic), especially over a gin at the outside tables at Quilla (Antonio Burgos). Afterwards, we headed to Cumbres Mayores (Calle Zorrilla, 4). Known for its expertise in all things piggy, they even had beer taps shaped like jamón legs. We struggled through a long menu, picking out bits and pieces we recognised the names of, ordering a dish at a time so that we weren't overwhelmed with plates.

Tortilla came warmed and topped with a spicy sauce strongly resembling ketchup and flecked with tuna. It was weirdly good, in a trashy sort of way.

We did recognise 'secreto Iberico' on the menu though, which we ordered straight away. A cut from the prized acorn-fed pigs, this was cooked until pink in the middle. It could have taken a little salt but was otherwise delicious, and incredibly good value at around 3 or 4 Euros.

Iberico pork cheeks were tender and sweet, cooked in a little sherry; perhaps not up to the version at Bodeguita Romero in Seville, but almost there. More fried potatoes accompanied. I felt my waistline grow.

If I hadn't consumed enough pork fat, the thinly sliced 'pork belly' got me there. Cured pork fat with a hint of meat running through the middle of each slice came on a warmed plate, resting on top of a tomato drenched in olive oil. The tomato was essential for each mouthful. It was wickedly good. 

Lastly, the dish that finished us off were these tiny soft little spicy chorizo and fried potatoes, positively swimming in vivid, orange oil. I couldn't fault it. Manzanilla helped wash it down and I realised why this was sherry country.

Holiday over, we waddled back to London. I am visibly fatter.

5 comments: said...

Good chorizo and simple delicious tapas, there's nothing like it. Sometimes you have try a few duds to come up with the good stuff but when you do...

Ed said...

Poo on crisps: hilario. Could catch on (won't catch on).

Terd said...

Some great dishes there. Spain's such a great fest for piggy fare.

I've always thought croquetas among the most overrated and overpriced of foodstuffs though, both here in London and in Spain, but especially here.

Ginglesnuff said...

We did the exact opposite of your trip - started in Cadiz for four days and then went to Seville. We found the food in Cadiz was a lot more variable in quality than Seville and went through quite a few duds before finding some gems on the last day (of course) in the Barrio del Populo. Had some delicious chorizo in cider at La Sidreria for lunch and then went back to the same area to the Meson de la Posadilla where we also had some lovely not-the-fried-kind chicharrones and other piggy delights. I loved Seville but fell in love with the olde world charms of Cadiz. And the beaches!

Hollow Legs said...

Jenography - Yup, and I suppose the duds just highlight how good the really good stuff is.

Ed - POOSPS! No?

Terd - Oh I dunno, the croquetas at Jose / Barrafina are a thing of beauty.

Jamina - Ah, I wish I'd seen your recommendations before I went. I too loved Cadiz (though not particularly the new town part) and am now wishing we'd spent longer there!