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April 10, 2015

Churros, Porras, and Slow Food in Spain

Yes, we know of churros and chocolate since the days Dulcinea introduced them to Manila. Of late there is also a new churreria brand in Manila introduced by Spanish expats, I hear.

But when in Spain, how do you know the churros is original, local, and “slow” food? You listen to the locals.

I was fortunate to meet Jose and Peachy, a couple who now make Madrid their home after many years of living in China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Peachy Tanco, a Filipina, married Jose. He was a hotelier some 40 plus years ago and they have three good kids who are in different fields: the first son is into photography/anthropology, the second one a chef in a Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco, and the youngest (their only daughter) is a café owner in Madrid.

Churros, porras, and chocolate

Churros, porras, and chocolate

Jose and Peachy wanted to show me where they prefer to eat churros, these fried long pieces of special dough dipped in sugar and thick hot chocolate…while some also use coffee as a dipping medium, similar to our pan de sal and coffee combination. We drove over to Jose’s hometown in Barajas, now a barrio (yes, they use the word) of Madrid. We come to Barajas some 30 kilometers from Madrid where the oldest customer still knows Jose and where we also chanced upon his sister and her family as they were also headed to have churros in the town’s Churreria called Avenida. Though the guide books will lead you to Chocolateria San Gines near Puerta del Sol downtown in Old Madrid, an institution that is now open 24/7 for tourists, Jose says the locals only eat churros between 7:00-10:30am.

We watch as the servers cut the freshly-fried porras (bigger than regular churros and slightly less salty) and also the saltier churros. We watch the thick chocolate poured into our cups. Truly, this hometown favorite served thicker chocolate than San Gines. And their churros, smaller and with a flavor that was salty sweet.

While enjoying our morning treat, Jose tells us that the Spanish have always practiced Slow Food. Depending on their geographical location, they would roast, grill or fry. They either roast (because the surroundings had plenty of pine trees for firewood), or they fry because they produced much olive oil in the area,  or they had paella because they lived near the sea and had lots of seafood and the ingredients that went into a good paella like my newest favorite, Arroz Abanda.

Many more history and culture tidbits from Jose makes us think of how the Spanish influenced us into slow cooking, like making adobo. He then reminded us of how we converted to convenience and everything instant when the Americans came. True? I believe so.

He also tells me about how the descriptor MANILA meant—quality, first class, or premium—at least to the Spaniards who were familiar with everything made in Manila in the 1800s. Did you know Manton de Manila, the beautiful shawls worn by the Spanish ladies, were woven in Manila using silk from nearby China made skillfully by Filipina weavers, and then sent to Spain as a premium quality product? What about Manila paper, Manila envelope, and even Manila rope? In the olden days, anything with Manila as a prefix meant quality. I wish that would happen again.

Iberico ham of different grades

Iberico ham of different grades

Jose never runs out of stories about Slow Food in Spain like Jamon Iberico. He started to tell us the difference between one Iberico Jamon and another depending on the pedigree of the pig, what it ate (bellota or acorns) before slaughter, if it ate corn or grass, if it grazed, or was in a feed lot. There was so much to learn about why one kilo of a Jamon can cost so cheap like 20 euros while others would be over 100 euros/kilo.

Chit Juan, Churros, Porras, and Slow Food, Fruits in season, Apr10

Denominacion de Origen or D.O. stated a product’s origins, and tells us about traceability of the meat or cheese or whatever premium product you will buy. It is like origins of Philippine coffee, too. It shows what conditions did it grow in, on what mountain, and who was the farmer who harvested the fruits.

Even cheese has its descriptions depending on age, whether it is pasteurized or if it is “crudo” or raw and unpasteurized. And some cheese are so aged and sharp you just eat them as cheese with wine, and not put in bocadillos or sandwiches.

Chit Juan, Churros, Porras, and Slow Food, slow cooked beans and more, Apr10

The Spanish know how to eat. Think about Cocido, a standard dish in Madrid. The meats are slow cooked, with carrots, chick peas, and cabbage. You take the soup first, then eat the meats and vegetables with a choice of some garlic sauce, peppers and cocktail onions. There is a process in eating the dishes.

Chit Juan, Churros, Porras, and Slow Food, Sobrino de Botin, Apr10What else is Slow Food in Spain? Eat only what is in season. The Spanish love slow food that also takes a long time to cook. Take Callos. Tripe and sausages slowly stewed until the meats and fats have melded into a tasty dish that you soak up with bread.

I did not see much of fast food brands in Spain, save for the usual burgers and chicken. Most of the locals frequent churrerias, tabernas for beer and tapas (small portions of meats, croquetas, seafood, etc). They also frequent cafes and bars and have different names for eating places—cerveceria, taberna, café.

And what makes Spain the authority in culinary pleasures all these centuries—they have the oldest restaurant in the world- The El Botin restaurant on Calle de Cuchilleros in Madrid founded in 1725. Mr. Botin (French in origin) married a lady from Asturias, Spain but the couple did not have any children. They opened a restaurant which soon was operated by their nephews making the new name Sobrino de Botin. In the 1930s the family sold the restaurant to the Gonzalez family whose heirs still manage the place today, a place known for Cochinillo Asado(roast suckling pig) and Cordero Asado (roast lamb).  I went again for a visit as this place is really memorable to me. And I agree with Jose, there is so much slow food we can learn and relearn from the Spanish.

Slow Food. Spain. Culinary pleasures. Traditions preserved. Now that is sustainable.


Photos by Chit Juan

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