What a great day today! Two gastronomic events, and one of them a real treat! But before play, a little work is needed: my colleague and I set off from Vigo to a small town in the outskirts. Our customer is in a somewhat grim industrial area, but then again, most industrial areas are grim! We observe Spanish time: meeting starts at eleven a.m., we negotiate successfully for a new contract, spend a lot of time discussing new products and when we finish our meeting, the pangs of hunger signal it is well past our lunchtime – it is now half past two! But this is Spain, and when we arrive at the restaurant at 3 p.m., people are just beginning to sit at the tables!
Our happy customer invites us to Esteban in Mos, a modern restaurant where steel, aluminium and large glass façades are happily integrated in an old stone building. This is an elegant place, fine linen on the tables and smartly dressed waiters. With some help from our companions, we order and soon a selection of starters arrive: a slice of empanada gallega, a delicate pastry filled with tuna and julienned peppers, a superb dish of porcini mushrooms sautéed with little cubes of jamon iberico, and yet more pulpo – octopus, but this time it is asado (grilled). As a main course, I select rape a la plancha, a wonderful grilled monkfish. The wine, Albarino Rias Baixas, is a revelation to those who think Spanish wines cannot compare to the more blasé French tipples: this is one of the finest white wines in Spain, with a young, fresh taste reminiscent of the Portuguese vinho verde, but without the acidity. Very drinkable indeed!
After such a meal, it is fortunate we have no important meetings in the afternoon! After a short rest in the hotel, we are met by a couple of friends, who offer to take us for a drive around. We travel into the hinterland of Vigo, making for the nearby border. Facing the green hills of Portugal is the town of Tuy, on a hill above the river marking the border. It is a small, compact place, but features a cathedral on top of the hill with high massive walls resembling a fortress and gothic buttresses. Unfortunately it is closed, but we spend some time walking around the squares.
It is now evening and our friends lead us to a somewhat anonymous bar-cafÃ©. You know the type: full of men playing cards, smoking and drinking beer, with a television blaring away in the corner. But do not be misled, for in this unpromising setting we are about to sample one of the world’s culinary delicacies, namely angulas!
What are angulas? They are baby eel – elvers – caught in the outlets of Spanish rivers in Galicia and the Basque country. Eel mature in freshwater rivers, then migrate in their thousands across the Atlantic to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The eel larvae make their slow way back return to the rivers of their origin maturing into elvers, and are caught by fishermen standing in the mudflats as they migrate on dark moonless nights. As the angulas are barely 2 cm long and can breathe outside water, you can imagine the difficulty in catching them, which makes them a very expensive rarity.
The bar we are in, ambitiously calling itself Restaurante El Molino, serves us the angulas a la bilbaina, Bilbao style: they are simply quickly sautéed in olive oil, garlic and a little chili pepper, and are served in a covered earthenware dish with a wooden fork. Metal forks are supposed to taint the delicate flavour of the angulas, and wood holds the slippery creatures much more easily! I lift the cover off my dish and there they are: a mound of silvery white threads, remarkably resembling short spaghetti with a tiny black eye at one end. The taste? Very delicate indeed, not fishy at all, with the olive oil and the hint of garlic completing it very well! Another bottle of the excellent Albarino puts the final touch to this gastronomic experience!