Just like in most parts of Spain, in Castilla y Leon, history has significant influence over the varied and delicious meals that are available in this region. Different recipes are decided by historical origins (pork for Christian recipes, lamb for Arab and Jewish recipes). Without a doubt, Castilla y Leon is best known for its roast suckling pig and lamb. If you are looking for cheap, wholesome and filling food, then try a Castilian meat or veggie stew served up with local bread. Try a few favourites and traditional dishes to taste the variety of flavours on offer in Castilian cuisine.
Undeniably humble, yet savoury and satisfying, stews have been a common daily dish in Castilla y Leon for centuries. The area has heavily relied on chickpeas (garbanzo beans) as one of the basic foods of the region and the main ingredient of Castilian stews. Cabbage, blood sausage and meat are also common additions. Traditional stews and hearty soups are popular choices to help locals get through the long, cold winters that blanket the region.
Bread is the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of rich stew. The history of baking in Castilla is a long one full of delicious recipes and wonderful tasting bread. In ancient times, the Celtic people who inhabited current-day Spain were already baking up loaves that are similar to modern-day bread. Later, beer was added by Iberians to leaven the bread and the communal oven became commonplace. All members of the community were allowed to bake bread in these ovens and the tradition continued into the 20th century.
The Suckling Lamb Roast is a standout above all other dishes from this region. Without a doubt, it’s the dish Castilla y Leon is most known for as sheep farming forms a substantial portion of the region’s economy. If you like lamb, be sure to visit the triangle between Segovia, Soria and Burgos. You can be sure of two things once you are in the triangle: first, the people of this region, called Castellanos, use high-quality suckling lamb, and second, it’s always roasted in an earthenware dish which brings out the rich, juicy flavour of the lamb once it’s been roasted.
If you prefer pig to lamb, head straight to the area between Segovia, Arevalo, and Penaranda de Bracamonte. Before any pig is chosen by a chef, it must be between 15 and 20 days old and weigh between 3 and 4 kilos. The end result is so tender that the meat falls right off the bone and almost melts in your mouth.
You may be asking yourself, fish? Really? Although Castilla y Leon isn’t situated along the coastline, there are some incredible recipes that are prepared here that include cod, trout and crayfish. Sample “bacalao al ajoarriero” if you can. It was once a staple of the local diet and is full of trout and crayfish flavoured to flawlessness.
If you are going to indulge in a glass of wine during your meal, then give the local varietals a try. Wine in this region is very good and is constantly improving thanks to a focus on quality over quantity. This area is known for the reds and rosés it produces and many of the wineries have even gained international acclaim for their productions. Ribera del Duero wines are the most recognized wines on the list and they have a strong international reputation of creating impeccable reds and rosés. If you are looking for a specific winery to try, look for Tinto Pesquera bottles.
In Castilla y Leon, cooking is almost a religion. There are food conferences dedicated to lamb, to pork, to game, to wild mushrooms, etc. and participation in the age-old ritual called the "matanza" (home butchering). Top-notch ingredients from the area lead to top-notch cooking by the locals. If you are ready to taste true Castilian food, it’s time to book your flight to Spain. When you are planning your Spanish holiday, be sure to consider overseas travel insurance from Cover-More Australia to protect your investment, your health and ultimately, your holiday!
Image courtesy of Flickr user Javier Lastras