Not going to surprise anyone with this: one of the things I love about Spain is – food. Most of the international visitors don´t cross the borders of Costa Brava and, sadly, often the most touristic places are the less gastronomically diverse ones. As to the local foodies – these never get bored: there are plenty of things to try all over the country. Therefore, every once in a while, so-called “gastronomic weeks” take place outside of the big cities. Local markets, seasonal products, special menus… if you haven´t been to one of these events yet – put it into your travel bucket list right away. But warning here! Don´t read this if you´re hungry…
Gastronomic weeks have become quite popular in these recent years. It is a great way to support local businesses and boost tourism. Depending on the area and the time of the year, there might be a gastronomic week of Truffles, Mushrooms, Artichokes, Cherries etc. Normally, it is always somewhere outside of the big cities. Alongside with seasonal markets, local authorities often organize multiple activities to promote the event.
A few local restaurants, which choose to take part, elaborate special menus available for a limited time. All these must include the selected product. Let´s say it´s Truffles – then every dish on the menu must include truffles, from starters to desert. Restaurants compete in some way to make the most delicious offer.
In my family we´re all foodies, so you could imagine I´ve been to so many of these “gastronomic week” events. However, it never occurred to me to share all these food travels. Indeed, I don’t even have food in my Instagram gallery. And I´m in love with food [lol] to the point that a simple good meal can make my whole day. Recently, some of my social media followers asked about all these meals I post on my Instagram stories. Most people think, here in Spain, we eat paella and drink sangria all day long. And while paella is a topic for a whole new blog post, there is much more to the story. The gastronomy in Spain is a big deal.
So, my most recent food travel was a Hazelnut Gastronomic Week in Benassal. On a Sunday morning we drove all the way to this small village in the Province of Castellon, Valencian Community. And before you say you´ve never heard of it, let me assure you – probably 70% of Spanish people would tell you the same thing and the resting 30% might have heard of it only because of the Benassal mineral water.
The Benassal´s water considered to have many healthy benefits. There´s even a SPA with mineral baths (which, by the way, was closed for autumn/ winter) and a fountain “Fuente de los xorros”, where you could fill up some bottles for free.
Once we heard of Hazelnut gastronomic weeks, I immediately googled Benassal to investigate the touristic sites. Well, according to Google there was only one museum, a tower and a church. So I thought I´d not be taking my camera cause it´s only gonna be food then. To my surprise the village turned out to be really nice: some of the buildings were taking you back to the past centuries. And here I´ve regretted not having my camera. Indeed, it is something that still surprises me a lot in all these Spanish rural villages – every corner looks so picturesque, you can take hundreds of photos in a place with almost no actual touristic sites. So, this post was supposed to be entirely about food, but I could´ t help it and included some views.
Hazelnut is one of the seasonal local products, so, according to the rules, all the courses in menu must include it. There were three local restaurants taking part in Hazelnut gastronomic weeks: we´ve chosen one randomly. The prices for these special menus normally range from 15 to 30 euros per person, which including the fact that you get almost a Michelin star lunch/dinner, in not bad at all. Our meal had 5 courses, dessert, coffee, water and a bottle of local wine. No need to say everything was perfect – from food to service. So, to the details then…
1. “Bombons” with Benassal goat cheese, caramelized onions and hazelnut
2. Candied pork jowl with shrimp, hazelnut sauce and wakame seaweed
3. Octopus with grilled vegetables, toasted hazelnut and local olive oil
4. Hazelnut Cappuccino
What is Cappuchino doing in the middle of all this? – you´d ask. This Hazelnut Cappuccino is not what it looks like. It is typical for Spanish tasting menus to have a sorbet in between fish/seafood and meat courses. In this case the cappuccino is not sweet: it is a meat bouillon with crispy hazelnut, foam and salt made of toasted Spanish cured jam – better than sorbet when it´s cold outside.
5. Lamb with hazelnut sauce
6. Dessert: Local cheese, Hazelnut pudding, Brownie, Carrot Cake
And before you ask – no, my menu doesn´t look like this every weekend, even though we go out a lot and love trying new foods. However, most of the tasting menus during these Gastronomic Weeks do look like this one. Portions were not so big, but with that many courses – you could barely finish: I was already full at the “Hazelnut Cappuccino”. It didn’t´t stop me from tasting everything anyway [lol].
So that you realize the scale of food obsession here in Spain – Benassal has only 1.130 inhabitants. And there were 3 restaurants there offering these special menus. The menu has overcome my expectations. Indeed, it was better than some meals I had in many high-rated Madrid or Barcelona restaurants.
I like hazelnut, but I´ve honestly never thought it could be added to almost everything. We bought some local hazelnuts and I´m planning to cook something “hazelnut inspired” this week, what about you?
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