During our time in Asturias, as well as roaming amongst the farmyard animals through country towns, we visited the two largest cities in the region, Gijon and the capital Oviedo. Being large towns, these stops were full of eateries of all kinds so our search to satisfy our appetites proved rather overwhelming. However we managed to find the perfect experience in each place, both very similar in their local and unpretentious nature.
Our guide book lead us to the first, Casa Tino in Gijon. This restaurant, moderate in appearance but bursting in character, was packed full of chattering local regulars. We are used to being stared at, being two blonde English girls (a tad different to the Spanish mould), but here we definitely felt we had walked in to an establishment that didn’t see many tourists. Thus the waiter, fascinated by the ‘exotic’, was very interested in all that we are doing and guided us through the menu. I was disappointed that Fabada did not feature as I had been looking forward to this since the beginning of the trip in the South. Fabada is a typical Asturian dish in the form of a stew made of faba beans with chorizo, morcillo (black pudding) and ternera (beef). Traditionally eaten by mountain climbers to help the on their way, this is an extremely hearty choice, hence why it does not feature on evening menus. When enquiring about the stew, the waiter said he would see what he could do and granted our wish! We decided to share, which was still plenty, but it was exactly what we wanted and we finished extremely satisfied.
Our second experience, although very similar, was not a guide book suggestion but rather somewhere we happened to stumble upon. We are now experienced in avoiding the tourist traps of what appear to be ‘typical’ Spanish tapas bars full of pretty tiles, busy small rooms and jamones hanging from the ceiling. The best places to go are those that appear plain and boring in decor as what gives them their life and character is the important stuff: the cooking and the customers!
In Oviedo with only half an hour to go before the lunchtime slot came to an end, we walked in and out of a few touristy joints and then found a buzzing restaurant full of local businessmen and family lunchtime gatherings. We climbed up to the first floor dining room, no fussy decor, just a wonderful smell of garlic! (THE single most important ingredient in Spanish cooking!) We were also greeted by many pairs of eyes, confused as to how these ‘guirris‘ (foreigners) had found their local haunt.
Once we had established ourselves as Spanish speakers the clientele seemed to accept us and continued with their own business. As we were in Asturias, we figured it would be rude not to have the speciality of chorizo a la sidra (chorizo cooked in cider), a terracotta pot sizzling with extremely soft and oily cider-soaked chorizo… Whilst enjoying this delicacy, another dish caught our eye that appeared out of the kitchen every five minutes. Every table seemed to have a plate piled high with this crispy looking meat that gave the restaurant that distinctive garlic smell. The answer to our enquiry about what it was was the house speciality of fried garlic chicken. We decided that we had to have it. After all, it’s not a regional speciality, but it was the speciality of where we were at that moment! And the result was perfectly fried, crispy, very garlicky and succulent chicken pieces piled high… Out of this world!
So, a lesson to all of us, don’t judge a book by its cover… judge it by its cooking!!