‘Feria Gastronomica’: Spanish for ‘Heaven’

Galicia Gastronomy Fair

One of the three delicious local wines I tasted during the “show cooking” demonstration.

This weekend I died and went to heaven. I apologize for the cliche, but in this case, trust me, it’s appropriate.  Let me paint you a picture… In the southern Galician town of Ourense lies a massive convention center that is cutely named “Expourense.” Last week this dreary, grayish metal beast of a building played host to food heaven. Booth after booth piled with regional wines, traditional tapas and artisan cheeses stretched as far as my hungry eyes could see. Chefs gave cooking demonstrations while tuxedoed waiters passed out tastes of their creations. Photographers, writers and food lovers swirled their tempranillos and moseyed from display to display. White linen tables stood clustered into makeshift restaurants, awaiting the joyous ritual of Spanish lunchtime. It was a paradise of flavor and I had but five hours to devour its wonders.

Asturian Cheese Table

I’ll take one of each please!

My first stop at the “Xantar” Gastronomic Fair was the Asturian cheese table. Stacks of cheese rounds in sizes ranging from a fist to a serving platter enticed me from all sides of the table. Atop each stack stood a small plate piled with tiny bites and behind each heap were the artisan cheesemakers themselves, each dressed in the traditional garb of their region. I started fresh and worked my way to strong, falling in love with Asturias with each morsel. As a slice of queso fresco melted over my tongue, a woman wearing a dress that looked like the lovechild of lederhosen and little house on the praire explained that this 100 percent cow’s milk cheese was aged only one week and got it’s pinkish-orange color from a hefty dose of spicy paprika. Farther down the table a young man with a Peter Pan hat introduced me to cider cheese. Picture cold, refreshing beer brewed solely from apples (aka cider) infused into a smooth brie-like cheese. I could almost feel the effervescence from the bright, sparkling cider as I sucked every drop of flavor from my tiny tasting bite.

Piles of dark red chorizo from Asturias’ southern neighbor, León, enticed us away from the cheese heaven. After marveling at the distinctly smokier flavor of León’s chorizo (compared to the Galician sausage I’m used to) we stumbled into a free “show cooking.” A young, slightly nervous chef was explaining to a crowd of about 20 feria-goers seated before his cooking-show style kitchen the proper way to scrape a thin layer of cooked egg from the underside of a cake pan, where he had apparently cracked it and backed it into a see-through sheet.

Moments after settling into our chairs (plastic lawn chairs classed up with linen slip covers) the first of our three wine glasses was filled and a bite-sized sample of the chef’s egg creation paired with tuna (from a can, as it always is in Spain) and drizzled with cauliflower purée.

Galician Gastronomy Fair Show Cooking

Thin sheets of egg sandwich tuna and peppers. Cauliflower purée ties it all together!

Show Cooking Dish #2

Soft organic cheese rolled in dried, roasted tomato and presented on a wheat cracker stick.

Show Cooking Taste #3

This apple sorbet was made using liquid nitrogen and soda water!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was what looked like a mushroom but which was actually a smooth, smokey ball of cheese rolled in roasted, spiced and dried tomato flakes and served on a bready wheat cracker stick. This little appetizer packed a serious punch of flavor! Delicious. Next came the manzana sorbet, which the chef created by slowly pouring liquid nitrogen into a huge metal basin filled with about two cups of an sweetened apple mixture. With smoke billowing out of the bowl and cascading down the table the man explained that this light, refreshing dessert would be served in a nerf football-sized white chocolate egg which he had painted with dark chocolate. Ummmm, yes please.

Thus three glasses of wine and three interesting tastes later we sauntered over to wine tasting row, which led us to tapa land and, ultimately, sea food corner. While admiring a table showcasing Galicia’s marisco specialities (sea urchin, barnacles, crab, eel, etc…) Kassandra and I almost took out a passerby when one of the lobsters started walking off it’s plate! Then the razor shell clams started poking in and out of their shells. We scurried away before the eel could start slithering across the table…

Typical Galician Seafood

Galicia is known for it’s amazing (and rather unique) seafood. It’s completely common to find whole eel and octopus at the grocery store!

After a handful of rather adventurous samples including cured river eel (delicious!), sea urchin paté (less delicious) and barnacle paté (literally taste like a mouthful of dirty ocean water) we began to notice that the crowds around the booths had dissipated into the makeshift restaurants. So with already-full bellies we set off in search of a menú. An enthusiastic (and rosy-cheeked) recommendation from a friend we made on the bus, we settled for the epic lunch menú of a local Ourense restaurant. While the waiter assured us it would be no problem to share a menú, I don’t think the concept of sharing made it all the way to the kitchen. This was, without question, the largest meal of my life. Without further ado, I present to you our lunch:

Epic Galician Lunch Part 1

First first course: this flakey ceviche-filled pastry paired perfectly with our crisp Albariño wine. I say ‘first, first course’ because while the menu gave me the impression would could choose one from a selection of four primero platos apparently I was wrong…

Epic Spanish Lunch Part 2

Second first plate: While it is typical to serve bread at every meal in Spain, this place went a tad overboard, presenting us each with a whole loaf. And, obviously, a plate of cured jamón as well.

Epic Spanish Lunch Part 3

Third first course: Raxo. This typical tapa is made from the same ground pork as chorizo, only this one has a much stronger flavor and even more spices. It is one of the only Spanish tapas that I don’t like.

Epic Spanish Lunch Part 4

Fourth first course: Pulpo with potatoes. A platter of boiled octopus doused in spicy paprika, salt and olive oil usually constitutes a meal in of itself. Not today! Apparently in this meal-size time warp it is a mere appetizer. So full already…. but it’s sooo good!

Just to recap, we’ve now devoured half a bottle of wine, half a loaf of bread, ham, seafood pastries, ground pork and boiled octopus. And that was just the so-called “first plate.” Now it’s time for the actual meal….

Epic Spanish Lunch Part 5

Second Course: Beef steak (chuletón de ternera). This not only looked like a work of art, but tasted like one. It was crispy on the outside and ridiculously tender in the center. So lean, yet with so much flavor!

Epic Spanish Lunch Part 6

Dessert: Tarta de Caramelo. I didn’t think I could eat another bite, but when this slice of beauty changed my mind. It was like tiramisu topped with a dense chocolate cake and slathered with coffee-infused caramel.

And then I died happy…

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3 thoughts on “‘Feria Gastronomica’: Spanish for ‘Heaven’

  1. You weren’t kidding when you said heaven! This looks incredible. I dream of one day eating allllll the seafood in Galicia. Pulpo pulpo pulpo, yum yum yummm! Great post!

  2. Pingback: The 7 Most Ridiculously Delicious Things I Ate This Christmas | One Bite at a Time

  3. Pingback: The 7 Most Ridiculously Delicious Things I Ate This Christmas | Restless Fork | Will travel for great food, amazing stories and stellar tomatoes.

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