It’s commonly understood that Europeans use far more of an animal than do Americans on the table, a fact that’s clearly revealed in the homemade andouille often proffered – all sorts of unmentionable organ meats loosely encased in intestines that tumble out odiferously when pierced. When hungry enough, and when served with enough wine, I can say it's not bad. I ate all of the pig’s cheeks and pig’s feet put in front of me, and credit some chopped unknown bits of the animal to impart a strong pigginess and depth to a simple potato casserole. As a break from pork, I learned that I prefer hare to rabbit if given the choice, though they seem to be equally common in winter stews throughout all the regions where I walked. This is the country fare of Belgium and France.
As I headed further south and west and closer toward spring so the days grew long enough that I wasn’t occupying every dawn-to-dusk hour with an uninterrupted pace, I was able to ease into the Spanish custom of eating a substantial bit midday and a lighter bit late in the evening. More time could be devoted to enjoying the essence of eating rather than just absorbing the calories and nutrients. Although I certainly enjoyed the foods I ate in
Of all of the food that I tried and enjoyed and tried to enjoy, what stood out as the most outstanding meal of my pilgrimage was in Logroño, the capital of Rioja situated just steps over the border from the Basque
The city-center pilgrim house in Logroño has a sadly early curfew of 9:30 – the restaurants don’t really open until 9 pm. Conveniently, as early as 7:30, the otherwise quiet narrow pedestrian streets began to come alive with the gradual unfolding of countless shot-gun bars, with shop fronts only as wide as the width of a door and a window; tall wine barrels rolled on edge to the alley to serve as table tops for the overspill patrons in the tiny places.
I would never have figured out, had it not been for my native companions, that each bar specializes in a particular item for their tapas-hungry crowds, though they all serve a broad menu of other items. One is known for mushrooms, another for squid; one for chorizo, another for shrimp… To ask the hard-working proprietor of one where to go for octopus, he gladly gave up a name an
At each bar, local table wine was served in small jelly glasses for about 70¢ apiece and a tapa to share was had for $2 to $3. The three of us passed through the small streets right up until lock-down at the pilgrim house satisfying our appetites and palates for the going rate for the hearty 3-course ‘pilgrim’s menu’ at most restaurants.
What a fabulous custom of strolling through the lively alleys to have a little bite at several little establishments. In addition to the quality and taste of the food, it was the companionship of knowledgeable pilgrims, the pleasantness of Logroño as a city small enough to walk around yet large enough to offer a variety of foods, the din of the happy crowds, all the fun we had – everything came together that evening to make it the most enjoyable meal of the pilgrimage.