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Ridiculous questions re: Spain, cochinilla, can't miss foods

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My husband and I are in the lucky position of taking a short-notice trip to Spain in a couple of weeks. The plan is/was to go to Barcelona and San Sebastian, spending at least 4-5 days in each area, maybe also stopping somewhere in the Rioja region if we felt like it. Awesome. This will be our first time in Spain, and the husband is unbelievably excited about jamon and shellfish.

But then he saw a photo of the roast suckling pig in Segovia, and suddenly Segovia is on the itinerary. This makes things way more complicated. So, I ask: how awesome is this here pig? Worth rearranging our plans to try it? Can a great version of it be found outside of Segovia? It seems to me that if we go to Segovia, that means we would go to Madrid, which is not a bad thing...it would just make the trip more hectic.

This leads me to another question...if the roast suckling pig is *not* worth an itinerary overhaul, what Spanish regional dishes (if any) *are* worth it? We just happened to see a photo of the cochinilla. (Oh, and I don't mean El Bulli-type dining experiences; I'm really asking about casual, non-splurge items.)

So, I know...ridiculous. But I am genuinely interested in your responses to any of the above questions, so thanks in advance.

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  1. Not ridiculous at all - I went through weeks of the same sort of going back and forth about our recent Spain trip (March) before finally deciding on your original itinerary (Barcelona, La Rioja, San Sebastian - 5 days each). Until the final decision was made, we probably had at least a dozen different proposed routes -- there's just so much to see (and eat!) in Spain.

    I would put San Sebastian pintxos on your list of regional dishes that are worth the trip. My first trip there was 10 years ago where the emphasis was more on the drinks (txakoli!) than the food, but our visit in March was absolutely fantastic with an incredible list of pintxos bars culled from this site and todopintxos.com.

    Whatever you decide will be wonderful! Buena suerte y buen viaje!

    1. You also can eat cochinillo in La Rioja, e.g. "Asador La Chata" --founded in 1821-- on Calle Carnicerías 3, Logroño. They also cook cabrito (roast kid), cordero asado (roast lamb) and chuleton (T-bone steak). In addition, a wine & tapas crawl in Calle Laurel, Logroño is a must.

      1. Food not to miss in Basque Country, La Rioja & Navarra:
        Txangurro: stuffed spider crab, then baked. Taste it in restaurant Casa Nicolasa, San Sebastian.
        Kokotxas en salsa verde: hake cheeks in parsley sauce.
        Chipirones en su tinta: baby squid cooked in their ink.
        Bonito con tomate: Atlantic tuna with tomato sauce (on season in summertime)
        Bacalao al pil-pil: codfish with garlic and a bit of chili (typical of Bilbao)
        Merluza a la plancha: grilled hake. Taste it in restaurant Kaia, Guetaria.
        Chuletón: T-bone steak. Often is served in chunks to be shared.
        Carrilleras de ternera: veal cheek stew.
        Morcilla: black sausage.
        Chistorra: thin spicy sausage (typical of Navarra).
        Tortilla de bacalao: codfish omelet.
        Alubias de Tolosa: Tolosa's black beans stew.
        Vainas: green beans stew (on season in summertime)
        Porrusalda: leek stew.
        Espárragos con mayonesa: white asparagus with mayonnaise sauce.
        Alcachofas: artichoke cooked with onion and minced ham.
        Pimiento relleno de carne: red capsicum stuffed with mince.
        Queso de Idiazabal: sheep milk cheese.
        Arroz con leche (dessert): sweet pudding made with rice, milk and cinnamon.
        Pantxineta (dessert): custard & almond tart.
        Txakolí: White and slightly fizzy Basque wine.
        Gilda, a traditional pintxo: salt anchovy, non-hot chillies and olives on a toothpick.

        8 Replies
        1. re: JuanDoe

          Thanks, MesaChow and JuanDoe. Logroño is actually the town that I had intended to visit in Rioja. Sounds great! Anyone have any other thoughts onthe merits of cochinillo (I guess I had cocinita pibil on the brain when I called it cochinilla) and where to eat it?

          1. re: mmmmangos

            cochinillo is amazing! that being said, I wouldn´t alter the trip - I saw it on the menu in San Sebastian, although I cannot remember the restaurant (it was in parte vieja) and didn´t try it, although given how well the basques cook I´m sure it is good.

            JuanDoe, great list, wish I´d seen that before I went to SS... guess I have to go back :)

            You must try carilleras, beef cheeks, at Borda Berri in San Sebastian!

            If he is set on Segovia, it would be possible to go from SS to Madrid and do a day trip to Segovia, and then the next day take the fast train to Barcelona. Rushed though.

          2. re: JuanDoe

            JuanDoe, do you see a lot of chuletones that are T-bones? I know T-bone is the dictionary translation of chuletón, but the ones I've seen have always been rib steaks (lomo alto) or strip steaks (lomo bajo). I've never seen a T-bone in a restaurant or in 99% of my internet searches. My understanding is that Spanish butchers do not cut T-bones, but rather sell the lomo and the solomillo separately.

            1. re: SnackHappy

              Chuletón is not at all the same as a t-bone--never!--that bad definition unfortunately does find its way into many Spanish menus. Chuletón comes from a completely different part of the animal. The central part of it is usually a rib steak and it often includes a bone:

              http://vallesdelesla.com/uploads/dond...
              You may not want to look at this at work--it's clearly pornographic material.

              In general, you can't trust dictionary definitions for Spanish food at all (especially fish and shellfish which have much more precise terminology in Spanish and a lot of regional variation)--culinary language is just as specialized as any "argot" and general dictionaries don't do a good job for this kind of specialized language.

              1. re: butterfly

                ¡Dios mio!

                Thanks for clearing that up for me, butterfly. That picture is exactly what I think of as a chuletón. It looks like the small end of the rib-eye with more of the outside muscles than what we see in North-America. It also fits the Spanish definitions I've found through internet searches.

                Now, if I could only get back to Spain and order myself one of those.

                1. re: SnackHappy

                  I take that back. It looks like the large end of the ribeye. I don't know why I mix those up. I have keep studying my beef cuts charts.

            2. re: JuanDoe

              JaunDoe,

              Would you keep the list above the same for this coming May, or alter it in any way?

              Thanks

              1. re: girdev

                Casa Nicolasa's chef José Juan Castillo retired and, as far as I know, this restaurant closed down.