An enthusiastic journey through some of Spain’s culinary hot spots, with emphasis on the work of professional chefs.
Goulding (Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture, 2015, etc.), chief editor of the travel web journal Roads & Kingdoms and co-author of the Eat This, Not That! series, has for six years kept a home base in Barcelona, where he lives with his Catalan wife. The city gets pride of place among the areas considered in-depth in this exuberant survey, but it’s clear that the author has had some good meals and even better tapas crawls elsewhere, as well. The volume reads more like a collection of disparate essays than a unified study of the regional cuisines of Spain. In the mountains above Salamanca, Goulding watches as workers slaughter the 140 pigs intended for a festival, and he rhapsodizes about the joys of acorn-fed ham. A trip to the Basque country offers an opportunity for the author to sing the praises of his old cooking-school instructor, Luis Irizar Zamora, “the master of masters” and teacher of “some of the most famous chefs in the country.” Copious illustrations of people, food, and people preparing and enjoying food enliven the book, and interludes between chapters provide instruction on how to “drink like a Spaniard” (“skip the sangria,” which is “largely a tourist trick”) or give miniportraits of some “people of Spain,” such as bodega owner Armando, who professes, “I work here 16 hours a day. I need to look for a woman. Or maybe a rich man. Anybody to give me a break.”
A set of tantalizing verbal snapshots rather than a culinary map of the region, the book clearly communicates the author’s affection for the food, both simple and refined, of his chosen country and makes obvious how much difference a change of just a few dozen miles makes in what ingredients and dishes are favored and seen as representative of the culture.