For the first few days in Zaragoza our meals were Italian at places like La Mafia and Gino’s. That’s fine for the Spanish, but when in Spain I’d like to eat Spanish food. I’d just spent a week in Italy and had plenty of great Italian food there. Can I get a churro?
Zaragoza is known for its tapas bars. We started out in the more modern part of the city, but I wanted to not only absorb tasty bites, but atmosphere too. El Tubo, located in the old part of the city, is where the action is. It’s a maze of small walking streets lined with a variety of tapas options. While some bars offer bistro seating, most offer leaning options. (I wonder if that’s why the Spaniards are thinner; they stand while eating so all calories go straight to the feet and somehow disappear.)
I’ve been craving a specific mushroom tapas for four years. Yes, four years. Just thinking about the balanced stack of mushrooms with a bread base drenched in a garlic butter sauce makes my mouth water. Could I find my way back? I don’t remember what the bar was called or what street it was on, but surely my nose could follow the garlic. My nose didn’t fail me.
Walking into La Cueva de Aragon on a Saturday night is the only way to experience the local culture. You can tell how good a place is by how many napkins you see on the floor. La Cueva’s floor is barely visible. Grilled mushroom tapas is the only option here; that’s all they make. The line of people waiting to order their fungi towers is proof that La Cueva only needs to make one type of tapas.
One must have good instincts and strategy to be ready to grab the next available counter space. Tag teaming is the only way to do tapas. My colleague saw some movement and grabbed a spot while I waited for the handcrafted beer and two tapas and eagerly await their grilling.
It seems like a simple recipe but I’ve yet to replicate it. Do they soak mushrooms in a garlic butter sauce, grill, stack on sliced bread, add more sauce and top with a prawn? I tried making them at home once and failed. No one understood why I was obsessed with these tapas. If mine had tasted like the original they’d understand.
After you leave La Cueva, turn left and the smells from Taberna de Doña Casta will be irresistible. You’ll find huevos rotos con “something,” which is a mound of sliced potatoes topped with egg and “something.” That something can be a plethora of choices, but the most common is jamón serrano. We stayed away from the carb mountain and opted for croquettes (carb hills in comparison). There is a line of platters filled with oblong croquettes waiting to be deep fried. We were like kids in a candy store trying to decide which ones to try. We chose on queso y jamón, queso y manzano and queso y champiñon. Each used a different type of cheese.
One of our stops was at Casa de Mar, a funky seafood tapas bar. This one had plenty of tables, but the bar was still the most fun. The tiled walls used broken colorful and patterned pottery and each chair was painted a different color. They only have seafood, and those who know me know I don’t do seafood. But when in Spain … I tried. I was with a group who encouraged me to try. The mussels looked surprisingly inviting. After I successfully pulled the mussel from its shell, it easily slid down my throat leaving only the taste of the spicy tomato sauce behind. The teeny clams were too cute too resist. They seemed to have just washed ashore, having been swimming in a sea of lemon, garlic and oil. There was no tugging here … the clams eagerly left the comfort of their shells in exchange for the comfort of my stomach.
The crawl wouldn’t be complete without seeing stuffed bulls on the wall so we made our way to Los Victorinos. Tapas found here made from jamón iberico, chorizo, tortilla (which is not what you would expect; it’s more like a fritatta with potato and egg) bacalao (I passed on the cod), mushroom, truffles and a variety of cheeses. It’s a small bar decorated with vintage bullfighting paraphernalia: four bull heads (apparently the losers from a bullfight), posters and photos of matadors.
The evening ended with helado – the Spanish version of gelato. Keeping in line with the tapas theme, I selected two flavors: flavor of the month and tiramisu. I have no idea of what the flavor of the month really was, but I called it yummy.
By the end of the crawl I was ready to crawl into bed. I still haven’t had a churro though.