Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Essex Eating does Jerez - Part 2

Whenever I happen to be abroad, one of my favourite pastimes is wandering around a supermarket. It can keep me amused for hours. On my recent sherry jaunt to Jerez, I had ample opportunity to indulge. It doesn’t have to be a posh delicatessen, full of premium produce, I’m more than happy playing the tourist in the foreign equivalent of Co-op. I find it endlessly fascinating. Marvelling at the shelves stocked with exotic ingredients and staring uncomprehending at all kinds of no doubt mundane, yet intriguingly mysterious items with suitably unpronounceable names. I mentally compare prices with the UK; study the locals and what they’re buying (in a totally non creepy way) and just generally be a total supermercado geek 
So, bearing this in mind, imagine how I felt when confronted with Jerez’s massively impressive indoor market. Jam packed with locals shopping, gossiping and bustling around a huge hall filled with fishmonger’ s counters, each piled high with a bewildering array of fresh seafood of every kind imaginable.

Massive prawns, (which as fans of comedian Stewart Lee will know, signify quality of life). Tiny little jumping shrimp, heaps of beautiful looking fish, next to heaps of ugly ass sea monsters. Flat fish, fat fish, catfish. Gigantic cross sections of ruby red Tuna and something that looked a hell of a lot like shark. Basically the whole cast of Finding Nemo, caught, gutted and displayed on ice for your viewing pleasure. I was endlessly impressed.
Radiating out from the fishy heart of the market, surrounding areas specialise in fruit and veg or charcuterie, whilst outside, there are small ramshackle looking stalls selling foraged herbs and greens. Out back, in an alley, there’s a small café seemingly frequented by market traders. At 11am, I notice approvingly, they’re already knocking back the sherry.
Although it’s hardly surprising when you consider that Jerez is sherry city, and an ice cold glass of Fino in any bar will set you back around 1 Euro 20, (96p). Being an absolute sherry fiend, and with the sun beating down in an appropriately scorchio fashion, I took full advantage of the fact and drank frigging gallons of the stuff at every opportunity. Don’t mind if I do.

Obviously, all this amazing boozing needs accompanying grub to soak up the alcohol and the Spaniards have it totally covered in the form of tapas. As with the sherry, in Jerez it’s ridiculously cheap. Around 2.5 Euro for a small plate, which meant that as well as spending most of my time suitably leathered, I was also stuffing my face silly, pretty much constantly. As you can imagine, it was hellish.

At this point, I have to mention one of the best things I ate, Chicharones, deep fried rendered pork offcuts flavoured with rosemary. Extremely porky, meaty and surprisingly soft and ungreasy. These were crazy cheap and sold by the kilo. Holy Moly, that’s what I’m talking about. Despite realising that my arteries were noticeably hardening as I stuffed one after the other into my already addicted gob. I just couldn’t leave them alone and kept going until I’d eaten the whole frigging lot. Disgusted with myself, I vowed to cleanse my innards with more sherry.

I’m pleased to say that as well as eating whilst walking around, I also found time to munch sitting down. 
There were a couple of places I particularly liked. Although a little touristy perhaps, the rather impressive looking El Gallo Azul, right in the centre of Jerez, just across from the market served up some lovely tapas. We spent an entire afternoon there, sitting in the sun, perched at a barrel, eating our way through the menu, drinking La Ina Fino and people watching.

Salmorejo, a southern Spanish dish, like gazpacho but much thicker, was excellent. As was a deep fried piquillo pepper stuffed with oxtail. A tuna steak assemblage with grilled vegetables and alioli was also cracking. In fact, everything we ate was decent and so ridiculously dirt cheap that when the bill arrived, we both instantly broke into disgustingly smug grins.
El Almacen, a little battered looking but atmospheric bar situated down a cobbled street was another great find. Sat up at the packed bar in the evening, drinking glass after glass of Tio Pepe Fino, snacking on bowls of picos (small bullet like, breadsticks) and wolfing down hot, battered, deep fried aubergine slices drizzled with honey, I couldn’t have been happier, evidenced from a general instability when I finally slid off the stool and staggered out into the evening air, which being Jerez, was fragrant with the smell of orange blossom.
Another evening saw us in the nearby coastal town of El Puerto De Santa Maria, and eating in a seafood restaurant called Romerijo, which features a long refrigerated cabinet with pretty much every creature that calls the sea it’s home, laid out in it’s fluorescent glare, ready to be pointed at, selected and scarfed in the restaurant out back.

We got to try all sorts of fresh seafood, razor clams cooked a la plancha, hot deep fried Hake with alioli, Tortillitas de Camarones (fried shrimp pancakes) and unusually, percebes or goose barnacles, ugly ass, expensive crustaceans that could be best described as looking like a kind of alien pigeons foot. Apparently, harvesting these from the rocks can be incredibly dangerous, and people have died in the process. Personally, after having an experimental nibble, and finding them a bit chewy and briney, I’d say they aren’t really for me.
On Sunday, ‘E’ and I, feeling a bit adventurous managed to exercise our entirely non-existent Spanish language skills and somewhat surprisingly, found our way onto a bus to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a city about 25 kilometres West of Jerez, where famously Manzanilla sherry is produced (like Fino, but with a touch of saltiness due to the sea air). 
As we made our way into the outskirts of Sanlúcar It was interesting to note the localised allegiance to Manzanilla – and in particular to local producer, La Gitana, every bar displaying their livery, whereas in Jerez, It’s mostly Tio Pepe. 

Unfortunately, on a Sunday all the Bodegas (wineries) were closed, so with the sun’s rays tanning my bronzed Essex hide, we gravitated towards a central square with a fountain and absolutely packed with locals. Enclosed on all sides with tapas bars. I decided it could have been worse. 

Working our way around the square, drinking ice cold Manzanilla and eating a few things there, a few things here I managed to stuff myself with excellent pork cheeks braised in sherry, some kind of local seafood stew, like a really wet paella, and only served on Sundays, Oxtail croquettes and a sort of grilled fish that the menu reckoned was hake, but ‘E’ and I weren’t so sure.
We also, once again, encountered a perennial problem for Pescetarian ‘E’ whilst in España. The Spanish do like to stick ham in absolutely everything, entirely unannounced. Even a safe looking dish titled ‘Aubergine La Gitana’ ended up being a kind of pork mince lasagna, much to ‘E’s dismay. Obviously, I feigned sympathy whilst happily stuffing the lot. 

It was a muchos Manzanilla marinated duo that fell back into the return bus later that afternoon.

Jerez is probably one of the nicest small cities I’ve visited, anywhere in the world.  The plentiful sherry at bargain prices and the generally excellent tapas, which happily, is also dirt-cheap, makes it a real destination if you’re into good food and wine. I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, Jerez airport is served from the UK by RyanAir who, I think most would agree, are frigging abysmal in just about every regard. So grit your teeth and take the pain or tranquilize yourself silly for the flight, but do go. At the other end, it’s bloody lovely.   

*Once again massive thanks to everyone at Gonzalez Byass and to @justinjerez for introducing me to Chicharones*


maggieg said...

I thought I was unique in being a supermarket geek when on continent! Great post want to go - love sherry too!

Dan said...

MaggieG - Thanks! Definitely go if you ever get the chance

Kavey said...

I do the supermarket geek thing too and whilst I looove the amazing food markets, I am happy as Larry in a regular supermarket...
I no longer book with Ryanair, I refuse to give them any of my hard-earned cash. Only time you'll find me on a flight of theirs is if someone else is organising flights... means paying more sometimes, to go with someone else, but to me, it's worth it!!

Lucy Bridgers said...

Absolutely with you on foreign supermarkets – fascinating. Jerez sounds truly wonderful. Thanks for the great post.

Dan said...

Kavey - Foreign supermarket geeking is definitely a worthwhile pursuit. Ryanair, bloody atrocious. Seemingly everything on the flight is designed to cause absolute discomfort whilst screwing every last pound out of you.

Lucy - Hey thanks. Jerez is a superb place. Loved it.

The Little Dinner Lady said...

Wanna go NOW! Shame about the Ryanair bit but like you say, tranquilize first! Great post.