Category Archives: Spanish Food and Drink

Tapas Made in Heaven: Sobrasada Con Queso Brie


First couple of times I tried Sobrasada, I thought it was only mildly more appetizing than sucking prawns out of brains, sorry, other way round – it’s the vino tinto coursing through my veins.

You see I just got back from the local ‘Extremeño‘, the Extremaduran bar on the corner, where they do the most fantastic ‘tostas‘ – bits of toast with marvellously delicious things on top.

This time Sobrasada (sort of mushy Chorizo) and warm Brie – that and a glass (OK 2… and a beer in the park… I’m trying to relax por dios), and uno está muy, pero MUY contento.

Can’t help thinking though, Brie being French, could this be Nuevo Cocina? Is Madrid the new culinary Cataluña? You know, inventive combinations and all that… do hope so!

Sucking the Brains Out of Prawns

prawns, Spain

Update: in retrospect wish I’d waited until April 2nd to publish this, as it may be met with some scepticism today, but people really DO do this! Besides, December 28th, ‘El dia de los inocentes’ is joke day here in Spain, not April 1st.

My Spanish wife Marina, who many of you will know from our videos and podcasts, has, like her mother and endless other Spanish people, a most alarming approach to eating prawns.

I’m talking about the prawns that are cooked as they come, and need careful peeling to reveal the, to my mind, evil tasting nugget of white flesh inside. The first maneuver in this peeling process involves pulling off the head, and while most people will discard this immediately (often straight onto the floor if standing at a bar), Marina will raise prawn-head to mouth and, with an almighty swoooooosh, suck out it’s fried little brains.

Ben: “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuchhhhh, how can you DO that?!”

Marina: “Shut up! Joder, It’s the best bit!”

OK, so clearly I can’t say I’ve tried sucking the brains out of prawns, so don’t really have a leg to stand on, but I do know this:


Prawn-brain sucking is up there with eating pig jowls, lamb brains, and anything’s testicles. It’s a psychological barrier that just isn’t going to be crossed!

Then again I used to say that about Morcilla, pigs-blood-sausages, some stuffed with rice, all rather delicious.

The question is: Would YOU suck the brains out of prawns?

Note about this post: This is a short excerpt from a new book I’m writing, that tells the story of our last few years in Spain, and covers many of the things, like this, that make Spain so Spain. To help with the writing process, and to be first to find out when the book is ready, sign up for our newsletter in the top right-hand corner of this page.

Napkins: A very Spanish obsession?

I’m always getting a friendly reminder from La wife every time I lay the table, that in Spain, napkins are not optional. Even after years of reminders, I manage to get cutlery, glasses, plates, and food, but forget the darn napkins/serviettes.

To Marina this is unfathomable. How can a table be considered to be laid without this crucial lip-wiping, lap-saving element in place?

Is this because I’m English, or am I just a slob? Is this napkin obsession a Spanish thing? (And don’t get me started on table clothes… We have drawers full of the things, hand sewn by well-meaning Spanish aunts, and used nearly as much as the pesky matching napkins!)

Tinto de Verano – and other Spanish Summer Delights

Marina and I are staying up at the in-laws place in the Sierra above Madrid for a few days, where the skies are blue, the air is sweet with the smell of the pines that grow in everyone’s gardens, lizards bask on paving stones, and the summer heat feels just fine in the light, silent breeze.

We wake up with fresh fruit and bird song, and wifi means I can sit writing this from out on an awning-covered terrace, watching those lazy lizards, and the neighbour’s cats that amble self-righteously across the garden. This is the life.

Last night we wandered down to the local bar and sat outside drinking one of the greatest summer beverages ever invented: tinto de verano (literally, ‘summer red’). You take a big glass, full of ice, then pour cheap red wine up to the half-way line, and fill to the top with lemonade. Add a slice of lemon and there you have it, instant, light-headed summer refreshment:

tinto de verano

Tapas suggestions? Perfect with a plate of ham croquetas or patatas fritas.

(More on Spanish tapas phrases at Notes in Spanish).

Practical Example of the Non-Smoking Laws in Madrid Restaurants

We had lunch in a favourite village bar today up in the sierra an hour above Madrid. The bar has a ‘comedor’ (restaurant section) at the back, with two large rooms, the slightly smaller of which is joined to the larger one by a small flight of steps. To kind of comply with anti-smoking laws put in place a few years back (that state that any bar or restaurant over, I believe, 100 m squared must have a section designated for smokers that doesn’t exceed a third of the total floor space), the slightly smaller room up the steps has been deemed the no-smoking area.

Well, that’s a start, except for the fact that this room is only opened on weekends when there are enough customers to merit opening it up and either heating or air-conditioning the extra space, depending on the time of year.

So, we had lunch surrounded by the local Ducados and cigar-smoking obreros and oldies, while the door to the non-smoking section remained shut. Lovely. We like the place so much that we still go, but try to arrive early before it gets too smoky. We have asked to be let in the non-smoking area in the past, but it didn’t go down well (es que la calefacción no está puesta… … the heating isn’t on… ) so we’ve given up.

Theoretically someone could report the place but it seems unlikely as a) it’s a family run place that has been frequented by the same people for years, and everyone is fond of them, and b) everyone just accepts that this is quite normal and knows nothing would come of reporting them anyway.

How I wish Spain would join France, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc and sort smoking in bars and restaurants out once and for all… Come on Zapatero, get with the program!

The Humble Sandwich Mixto

Sandwich Mixto

This post is inspired by the extraordinary discovery that the above photo, of the simple Sandwich Mixto, is the most viewed image in my Flickr Stream.

So here’s the question: You walk into a Spanish bar wanting a quick, satisfying, base food fix, something more that than the free tapa that comes with your beer. Maybe it’s eleven o’clock and you need a calorie boost, or something to take the edge off your hangover. What’s it to be?

Mine’s a Sandwich Mixto, two grilled slices of slightly oily toast, with cheap ham and cheese in the middle. The Spanish equivalent of a bacon butty. Can’t beat it. What would you order in similar circumstances?

Updates: On the coast this is often called a ‘Bikini’ – see comments. Plus, Chris from Spanish Sauce has the full Sandwich Mixto / Bikini recipe here!

Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico – What’s the difference?

Vacuum-packed Jamon Iberico

Photo: Vacuum-Packed Jamon Iberico – the single greatest souvenir a returning Spain-traveler can bestow on their loved ones.

Jamon Serrano:

– Doesn’t generally taste as good as Jamon Iberico.
– Is likely to choke you to death if you don’t cut it up into small pieces before putting it into your bocadillo (bread roll). I don’t want to go into details but beleive me, if you start swallowing half a 10 inch strip while still chewing the rest… scary… Spanish parents always chop Jamon Serrano up small for their kids for this very reason.
– Is usually machine-sliced and is more likely to be found in cheap bocadillos (which are therefore more likely to choke you!)

Jamon Iberico:

– Tastes so much better… alone, with morsels of bread, even with “is-this-nirvana?” jamon, egg and chips.
– Tends to be cut by hand, sliced thinner and in smaller sized pieces, and therefore:
– Is less likely to choke you when:
– Found in more expensive bocadillos.

These are fairly random observations (from someone who recently nearly choked to death on a cheap, train-buffet Jamon Serrano sandwich). But what is the actual physical difference between the two types of ham? I suspect there is an Iberico ham pig and a less refined Serrano ham pig. But within the Iberico pig category there are those with black feet (Pata negra), and others that are only fed on acorns (bellotas) for the last year of their life.

I know that eating pata negra, bellota-fed jamon iberico makes you feel somehow closer to heaven, but if anyone can help clear up the exact differences between Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano, I’d be very grateful! Answers/thoughts in the comments please!