La Rioja is a region in Spain that is renowned worldwide for its beautiful of wine, yet the gastronomy of the area is relatively unheard of. But surely a land of vineyards and wine connoisseurs must have some excellent food to pair with its velvety liquid. This is what I wondered before arriving in the region’s capital Logroño, and my doubts as to the lack of culinary gems were most definitely confirmed! Hearty country food, market garden vegetable dishes and a whole neighbourhood full of pinchos!
A friend from university, Francesca, spent her year abroad in Logroño and after a mere hour wandering the centre we were already extremely jealous that she had been privileged enough to spend a whole year in this buzzing town packed full with bars and pouring wine and food out of its ears. Her immediate recommendation as soon as she found we were heading to her Spanish home town was the tapas-bar-lined street of Calle Laurel where the streets are paved with pinchos. When our couch surfing host Pedro suggested this, we did not hesitate to nod our heads in enthusiastic agreement.
Unfortunately we had timed our arrival for the end of the harvest festival. Therefore post-festival-blues (or rather just want of a well-deserved break) meant that doors were closed all over the city, including on this particular street. However we still managed to fit in the best and it did mean that we did not have to deal with the “herd of elephants” as Norman Miller from the Guardian was subject to.
First up and in hindsight my definite favourite was Soriano, a mushroom haunt with no menu, no choice, there’s only one dish. When I enquired as to the variety of mushroom used, the barman looked at me confused and replied “I don’t know, this is the only mushroom I know.” His colleague, an older gentlemen working away very hard but still giving me a smile and passing on his wisdom, has been doing the exact same job for forty years… cooking mushrooms. He has thus altered this recipe to absolute perfection and when biting in to the crunchy tower of mushrooms, the garlic oil dripping through the base of bread, and topped off with a tiny prawn, his forty years of practice were evident and very much appreciated!
A few doors down hosted another house with another speciality… chorizo with a marinade of paprika and garlic and then barbecued. The detailed recipe is kept as a secret of the family, through which the recipe has been passed for many years as the recipe that will make their fortune!
Other weird and wonderful pinchos were a matrimonio (marriage) of sardines and gorgeously creamy goats cheese with peach jam and pine nuts. We had a great time, always a glass of Rioja from the surrounding vineyards in hand accompanying laughter and story exchanges from the many nationalities in our party. This neighbourhood will most definitely be revisited at some point in the near future!
The following morning this was all washed down at the Franco Españolas winery where the local wines were explained, tasted and enjoyed! What a wonderful place!
Muchas Gracias Pedro for being a fantastic guide and host, and Chess for the great recommendation!