In Spain, the amount of garbage on a bar floor attests to the quality of the establishment’s fare. Local tradition dictates that an accumulation of dirty napkins and food scraps shows that patrons are having too good a time to be bothered with such mundane matters as cleaning up. Legs of ham are sliced in cafes, delis and bars; whole pigs hang proudly in store windows, and copious amounts of local red wine flow everywhere. Even in this milieu, however, kosher travelers do not need to go hungry.
Long before the infamous expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Jewish culture thrived in Spain. The country was home to Jewish scholars, poets and philosophers, such as the great Maimonides and Judah Halevi. The once numerous and prosperous Sephardic population almost completely disappeared after the expulsion, but recent years have seen a steady increase in Jews, now estimated to be a population of 40,000. A small number of Jews from Western Europe arrived in Spain in the mid-19th century. The 1950’s and ’60s saw waves of Jewish emigration from Morocco, and since the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Jews have been arriving from Argentina, Chile and Israel.
Today, there are about 3,500 Jews in Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, and while both communities are warm and hospitable, kosher food is hard to come by. Don’t let that prevent you from visiting, though. With a little effort, you can still enjoy the local foods and late dinners, just like the Spaniards.
Best Prepared Food-To-Go:
Isamar Kosher is your kosher food savior in Barcelona. The mini supermarket has a butcher, as well as frozen meat and chicken, fresh dairy products, wine and other staple items. A selection of ready made foods, such as salads and cooked grains, includes paella, an aromatic Valencian rice dish made kosher-style with vegetables, chicken, beans, saffron and olive oil. Cafe tables are provided for quick eats at the back of the store, or order to-go and dine alfresco for a more genteel experience.
Isamar Kosher: Carrer de l’Avenir 29, 08021, Barcelona. Ph:+34-93-200-3375
Best Place To Buy Wine:
For a large selection of quality Spanish wines, head to Call Barcelona, a Judaic bookstore that doubles as a wine store. Tempranillo, the famous native black grape of Spain, has a strong, fruity flavor that features in a variety of full-bodied and reasonably priced red wines by Makor, Ness, Matiz and Peraj Petita. Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine made by the champagne method, can be bought as either brut (dry), seco (sweet) or semi-seco (semi-sweet) for as little as 6.50 euro a bottle. It was overheard in-store that Chabad of Barcelona has plans to open a cafe in the near future — exciting news, as there is currently no kosher restaurant in the city.
Call Barcelona: Carrer de Sant Honorat,9. Local 1. Bajos, 08002, Barcelona. Ph: +34 93 318 2897
La Escudilla (“The Bowls”) is an intimate family-style restaurant serving traditional Moroccan cuisine seven days a week. There are also some Spanish-style daily dishes worth trying, such as the fish paella on Sundays, and Spanish beef tail on Mondays. Start your meal with a mezze platter; the Middle Eastern version of tapas, which includes a personal selection of fresh and grilled vegetables, hummus, eggplant salad and a few Spanish specialties, like anchovies or spiced salami. The main course offers a variety of delicious grilled meats, from sausage, liver and heart skewers to lamb chops and veal steak. Portions are generous, and often served with a side of well-seasoned couscous. Vegetarians (who eat fish) can order the fish of the day, but may find the menu otherwise quite limiting. Order the Moroccan pastries and green tea with fresh mint to conclude an uncomplicated but very tasty and satisfying meal.
La Escudilla: 16 Santisima Trinidat St, Chamberi District, 28010, Madrid. Ph: +34 91 445 7380 (call for hours of operation)
Best Improvised Meal:
Sometimes, the best meals when traveling are the ones you throw together yourself, out of desperation or an effort to save a couple of euros. A crusty loaf of bread, local cheese and bottle of Spanish wine make a perfect meal anywhere in Spain. The Orio Bread Bakery Boutique is a clean and bright Spanish bakery offering a large variety of freshly baked kosher breads and rolls (the pastries and baguettes are unfortunately not kosher). The whole wheat options are especially good, and combine perfectly with the Manchego cheese found a few blocks away at Carniceria Elias. Manchengo cheese is a semi-firm aged cheese made from the whole milk of sheep raised in the La Mancha region of Spain (home of Don Quixote). Its intense taste and nutty flavor pairs well with a bottle of red Rioja wine, which can also be bought at the store.
Carneceria Elias: Calle Viriato 35, Madrid. Ph: +34-446-78-47. Orio Bread Bakery Boutique: Bravo Murillo 29, 28015 Madrid. Ph: +34 91 4458780 (note: only this location has kosher goods)
The colorful Mercat de La Boqueria, right off the famous La Rambla, has the same diverse selection as all the good markets, but manages to be aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Aisles are filled with vendors selling locally sourced fruits and vegetables, spices, cheeses, fish and meat. Always compare prices to get to the best deals (you can walk away with 15 avocados for 3 euro), but be careful not to handle the produce without the vendor’s permission! Buy a sampling of marcona almonds, a special product of Spain that’s smoother and sweeter than the traditional almond. And though it’s hard to believe, the perfect rows of 100% natural juices, made from every fruit imaginable, taste even better than they look. Fresh coconut milk mixed with mango juice is an unbeatable combination.
Mercat Boqueria, S/N, 08001 Barcelona. Ph: 933 182 584
In Case You Can’t Make It to Spain:
A Coruńa is a coastal city in the northwest of Spain (Galicia), and it is known for its fish and shellfish. Gracias to Chus Patińo, a special Gallego friend, for sharing her recipe for Merluza, a kosher fish renowned in Spain.
Merluza Con Guisantes
Merluza With Snowpeas
2.5 pounds of merluza (sold as stockfish or whiting in the United States)
1/2 pound of snowpeas, tops snapped off
4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 a Spanish onion, diced
Extra virgin olive oil
A sprig of flat leaf parsley, torn
2 to 3 chili peppers, sliced
Salt, to taste
1) In a saucepan, place onion, potatoes, parsley and peppers. Add just enough water to barely cover the pan contents.
2) Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
3) Add sliced fish and peas, and simmer for another 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and fish is done.
4) Remove from heat, and drain liquid from pan. Let stand, and add olive oil when serving.
*Serve with a fresh loaf of bread and a bottle of Tempranillo-based red wine for a wholesome, Spanish meal.