A Culinary Weekend in Cadiz
Cadiz is proud to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, originally settled by the Phoenicians 3000 years ago. Since then, the Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors have all inhabited or controlled the city in one way or another. The city became a primary departure port for the Spanish conquerors going to the New World, and thus became a wealthy city, but today has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain.
As a city to visit for the weekend, it's a true delight. Beaches beckon, but so does the historic city center, which seems to have done away with cars almost entirely. As such, you see families, couples, old and young people out and about for a meal, playing in public parks,... simply enjoying a relaxed and rich life.
Freiduría Las Flores
I got to Cadiz just before noon, took a free walking tour of the town, checked into my Airbnb, and so was starving by the time that was all done. Since it was already past 4pm, I figured I would try my luck at Freiduría Las Flores, a well-known fish fry place that has a to-go counter.
I would have thought that they would have fish ready-fried to take away, but actually all of the fish is fried to order, so there was a wait of about 15 minutes. All in the name of freshness!
I knew I had to get the cazón en adobo, or marinated sand shark. I had remembered this dish fondly from my time in Sevilla last year, and had a strong hankering for it. It was so delicious. The crust was light yet crunchy, and the fish itself was tender yet had that addictive vinegary, spicy tang to it that cut the feeling of greasiness and made me want to keep eating and eating. Unlike the cazón en adobo that I had tried in Sevilla, which were cubes of sand shark fried in the same way, this order had more irregular pieces. They seemed more like sections of the sand shark, with some bones to watch out for.
I also got a tortillita de camarones, a fritter of tiny shrimp. With little flecks of herbs in it, his seems like it wouldn't be out of place in a number of Asian countries. The fritter was also delicious, with the tiny shrimp lending a deep marine taste.
For dinner, I headed over to Los Camino, a place that showed up on a list my friend passed to me, from her relatives who live in Cadiz province. I know it sounds like it should be "Los Caminos," like "the paths" or something like that, but I think it's actually a family whose last name is "Camino." In this case, Spanish leaves the last name singular, "Los Camino," like that certain cartoon show with yellow people "Los Simpson."
What most impressed me about Los Camino was the super friendly service. Even though it was my first time in the restaurant, even though I clearly looked like a tourist, the staff treated me like a long-time customer. They joked around - "What would you like to drink? Anything except water, that is...," made recommendations, and didn't let me order more than one dish a time, so that I could see what I was in the mood for after finishing each tapa.
I started with the carrillada de cerdo, pork cheek, which I love ordering because it usually is delicious and tender, but takes a while to make yourself at home, so is a nice treat to have someone else make it for you. This was definitely tasty, but after it I fulfilled my hankering for a non-seafood dish (after the lunch of fried fish), and was ready for...
...their version of tortillita de camarones. The waiter told me, "You hadn't had a tortillita like this before, had you?" Indeed, while Freiduria Las Flores's tortillita was nice, this one was so light, airy, and crispy, it was like fried essence of shrimp. So delicious.
On the chalkboard, I saw that they had "hueva," or fish eggs. I knew that in Andalucia they eat salted fish eggs, sliced like ham. Now, this is basically the same stuff that my Taiwanese grandparents gift me every Christmas, so I was curious to try it here in Spain. I asked how it was prepared, and the waiter told me, a la plancha (grilled) or fried. I was was bit confused, since I was expecting something like ham, but ordered it grilled.
Turns out these were fresh hueva! (I know, the fact that they come in pairs and have these veins make them look like they should be testicles or something of that sort). What surprised me greatly was that these did not taste fishy at all, but rather like a pork sausage, with a bit of graininess from the eggs. I quite enjoyed these, but unfortunately was bursting full by this point so couldn't finish the plate.
I enjoyed Los Camino so much that I returned two days later just before my bus to Gibraltar. I wanted to try their version of cazón en adobo, which they actually label as caella, another shark. It was nicely fried, but I would say not as flavorful as the version from Freiduría Las Flores.
Even though it wasn't the season when tuna is supposed to be at its fattiest (in the late spring, early summer), I still wanted to try some before I left. I ordered the red tuna, and while it was fully cooked, the meat was so juicy, unlike any other cooked tuna I've had (or raw tuna, for that matter).
I also had their patatas aliñadas, which every person seemed to order here. It's as one would expect of a potato salad dressed in vinegar and red onions. Good, but nothing out of this world.
Day Trip to Jerez
Just a 40-50 minute train ride away, by either the Media Distancia train or commuter rail, is Jerez, known for horses and sherry. Jerez is the very word for sherry in Spanish, so this town is really the sherry town!
I did a tour and tasting at Bodegas Tradición in town; interestingly the tour guide was German, and the cashier was also not Spanish.
I did learn a bunch in my tour, including the fact that I really don't enjoy sherry - with the big exception of Pedro Ximinez. I don't drink much alcohol at all, actually, and I dislike raisins very much, and Pedro Ximinez is a liquor made of raisins, but it is actually probably the alcoholic drink I most enjoy.
The tasting included pairing each sip of sherry with olives, chorizo, nuts, or chocolate depending on the type of sherry, so afterwards I actually didn't feel like having a full lunch. Wandering around town a bit aimlessly, I came across a bakery and decided to have a tasting of sweets from the region instead!
On the left, below, is a pastry called "la Japonesa," or the Japonese. The clerk laughed when she told me the name, probably wondering if I was Japanese myself! It's made of egg yolk and sugar, sandwich between what seems like two discs of sugar. It was seriously sweet.
On the right is "el ladrillo de oro," or golden brick. This was also sweet, but not as much as la Japonesa. I found it delicious, with egg yolk mixed with almond flour to make a nutty dessert with a jelly-like texture, mixed with some parts with a cake-like texture.
I didn't stop there! I also wanted a sampling of the desserts that were inspired by the Arabs who used to claim this land as their territory. Full of nuts and seeds, now these are desserts right up my alley! Even the satchel with a green dot on top (looks so much like shao mai!) was filled with ground peanut.
Cadiz's Mercado Central
The Central Market of Cadiz is unlike any other I've seen in Spain. The main, covered part of the market is dominated by seafood.
I saw huge blocks of the famous red tuna! You really get a sense of how gigantic the animal is when you see a display like this.
At the very ends of the indoor part were a couple fruit and vegetable sellers (peddling some very luscious-looking mangos from Córdoba). Outside in an open arcade wrapping around the seafood building were more fruit and vegetable sellers...
... and butchers and charcuteries. What was cool was that each store bore the name of just the owner. Not even a name like "Rosa's Vegetable Stand," no. Just the first name! "Diego." "Andres." "Antonio y Luisa." How minimalist!
After my market visit, I dropped by a cafeteria adjacent to the market called "La Marina" for some churros and chocolate. They say it's quite typical to breakfast on churros around here, so of course I had to have some. I asked for the smallest order of churros, and got this big tangle! These were very light, not greasy at all. I got hot chocolate with my churros, but I found a lot of people dunking their churros in glass cups of coffee with milk. I think I would order the coffee the next time, as it seemed a bit more appropriate for the morning,
One restaurant on my list of places to visit was Casa Manteca. It has a bit of fame, since the place appears in guidebooks, some British TV program (tons of TripAdvisor reviews referencing Rick Stein's weekend in Cadiz), but also my friend's list of restaurants from her Cadiz relatives. Luckily for visitors, they open at noon and start serving food right away, and close late at night, so you can fit in a visit even before lunch at another place, or after dinner. There's just no reason not to fit in a visit!
I just love Spanish bars with this kind of interior stacked to the ceiling with bottles and photographs. Seems so old-timey! Also, for a bar that has all manners of meat and cheese on the menu, plus tons of booze, how are the bartenders so trim and fit?
There was a guy at the bar cutting up what seemed to be freshly fried chicharrones into bite sized cubes. They looked delicious, so I ordered a tapa portion to go along with my beer (a huge pile of potato chips on a rectangle of waxed paper came automatically with the beer).
My bartender plopped a waxed paper portion of what kind of looked like cooked bacon. I didn't touch it at first, thinking that it wasn't the chicharrones that I ordered. I asked the bartender what it was. He told me that they were my chicharrones, so I pointed to the what looked like chicharrones across the bar were, and he said, oh, those are the fried chicharrones! "But, these are the ones we're known for," he said, pointing to my portion.
I'd never had un-fried chicharrones! In fact, I though that the definition of chicharrones was fried pork belly. So I picked up a slice and tasted it. Delicious! Meaty, but not salty, with a delightful tang of a spritz of lemon! The borders are laced with spices, kind of like a good pastrami. I still think about these chicharrones, and can't wait to go back and have some more! Casa Manteca is rightly well known for these.
Having had good luck with the chicharrones, I asked the bartender for a recommendation for a different tapa. He suggested the "queso mermalada de espárragos trigueros." I was picturing a hunk of supermarket camembert topped with jam, typical of many tapas bars around Valencia, and quite dull because of its ubiquity. But, this bartender said that this was queso payoyo, a goat cheese typical of the region, so I went with it. It was delicious too! The goat cheese was cured, hart, and was dotted with the "mermalada de espárragos trigueros" - wild asparagus marmalade. I had never heard of such a thing, much less had it paired with cheese, but it's something that is so simple yet so sophisticated at the same time.
La Esquina de Sopranis
The only disappointment I had was at La Esquina de Sopranis. Sopranis is a restaurant that appears in many lists and reviews and food forums, and La Esquina de Sopranis is the more casual cousin right next door.
It's not that the food was bad, it just wasn't great. I started with the patatas aliñadas, which similar to those of Los Camino, were good but nothing unexpected.
The waiter said the croquetas were good, so I tried the shrimp ones. For me, a great croqueta has a crispy exterior that gives way to a molten lava interior. The insides of these croqueta were firm and dull.
The best dish of the evening were "fettucini" made of cuttlefish, with drops of cuttlefish ink. Very paleo friendly! It was in a "carbonara" sauce.
Still hungry, I should have headed to a different tapas bar at this point as I was a bit disappointed by the dishes, but I asked the waiter for a recommendation. He suggested the solomillo with creamy chorizo sauce. It was good, but the solomillo wasn't particularly tender, and the temperature could have been hotter.
Ice Cream Options
Not surprisingly for a southern, warmer city, there are some pretty good options for ice cream in Cadiz. I came across Narigoni Gelato across the plaza from the cathedral. It wouldn't rank among the very, very best of gelato in Italy, but this holds its own. The texture was nice and elastic, and the flavors pure.
Wandering around the city after dinner one night, I passed by Salon Italiano. Despite the name, this is further from Italian gelato and closer to an old-fashioned American ice cream parlour. The scoops of ice cream are light and fluffy, and you can get it with a chocolate shell like at Dairy Queen! I personally prefer Italian gelato, but an old-fashioned scoop of ice cream in a cone is a nostalgic treat.
With just two days in Cadiz, I know I just scratched the surface of all the culinary treats that Cadiz has to offer. There aren't so many sights that you can't see them all in a day, but it's the food that for me is a big draw. I really hope to return soon!