ON New 12 months’s Day my accomplice and I had been headed again from a Christmas break in Toledo with the needle on the gas gauge hovering scarily near empty. The gasolineras had been on vacation too and it took a number of abortive stops and a few sophisticated instructions from a person strolling his canine earlier than we discovered an unbiased proprietor who lived above his petrol pumps. He opened up particularly for us. The Spanish are like that.
That drawback solved, we badly wanted a prime up of sustenance ourselves as our personal tanks had been working on empty. Similar story – each restaurant we handed was closed for the fiesta … till we crossed the border from Castilla-La Mancha into Andalucia.
Heading alongside the N502, it was after 3pm once we pulled into the nameless nation city of Alcaracejos in Cordoba province and noticed the drab exterior of Venta-Bar Tic Tac, proclaiming its identify to the world on dusty inexperienced awnings. Its look actually lived as much as its identify – cheesy; the form of place you wouldn’t usually give a second look. However starvation pressured us to reassess our culinary expectations. And it was open.
Past the glass doorways we might see individuals consuming tapas on the bar. Now near determined we determined to chunk the bullet (most likely actually) and refill with no matter depressing tapas had been served.
Inside, the bar was practical however clear with tiled partitions, cheesy Christmas décor and plenty of mirrors. I eyed a buyer jabbing a fork right into a slice of tortilla on the bar, and requested for the menu. “You need to eat tapas or a full meal?” requested the barman.
“A full meal, if we are able to,” we each chorused.
“Comedor,” he stated pointing in the direction of an inauspicious trying door on the rear of the bar. If he’d stated ‘open sesame’ the scene that greeted us on the opposite aspect of it couldn’t have shocked us extra: a cavernous eating room, white linen cloths, gleaming cutlery and not less than 40 tables, all occupied. The place was buzzing! However like magic, they discovered us a desk for 2.
A waiter arrived with a broad smile, a bowl of olives and menus. As he poured us two copas of manzanilla sherry we associated our expertise of discovering all the things closed in Castilla-La Mancha.
“Oh, they’re unusual individuals over there. That is Andalucía! We’re all the time open!” he replied, virtually singing the phrases like an anthem.
He wasn’t fallacious. Ventas are nearly unknown outdoors of Andalucia, however these humble wayside eating haunts are ubiquitous right here. Originating from bygone days when a lot of the area’s seasonal work was performed by itinerant labourers, they specialize in hearty home-cooked fare at working class costs they usually’re open when all over the place else is shut.
Our waiter reappeared like a sorcerer with a bottle of home purple wine, a big bottle of mineral water and a basket of oven-fresh bread. Everybody was consuming menú del día. It was all there was. However what a menu! There was none of your predictable soup-or-salad adopted by drained outdated filete de lomo or revuelto. The selection was fairly thoughts boggling.
There was salchichón and chorizo ibérico, salmorejo, tortilla de jamón, sopa castellana, ensalada de pulpo and salteado de verduras – and that was only for starters. Mains included cerdo ibérico a la brasa, merluza, fritura de pescado, liebre (hare) con arroz, hearty rabo de toro, to offer only a taster of what was on provide.
The desserts vary was equally extravagant with three forms of flan: pan de Calatrava from Murcia, tarta de Santiago, a Galician speciality, pudín and every kind of contemporary fruit, pineapple too. The complete feast, together with drinks, got here to an astonishing €9 every! How they handle to show in a revenue with these margins is a subject for a college thesis…
Garvey’s High Ten venta dishes (and the place to attempt them):
1) Liebre con Arroz. Hare cooked in rice. (Bar Tic Tac, Córdoba)
2) Pollo Ajillo. Rooster fried with heaps of garlic – finger lickin’ good! (Venta El Tunel)
3) Ajo Blanco. The basic chilly Malagueno soup made with breadcrumbs, garlic and floor almonds. (Venta Alfarnate)
4) Rabo de Toro. Succulent oxtail stew. (Venta La Duquesa)
5) Jabali al Horno. Oven-roasted wild boar. (Venta Puerto de Galis)
6) Alcachofas a la plancha. Pan-fried artichokes, an Andaluz delicacy. (Venta Esteban)
7) Gambas Pil-Pil. Shrimps in scorching spicy oil. (Venta Marinetto)
8) Sardinas en Vinagre. Ten instances higher than the standard boquerones! (Venta Pinto)
9) Salmorejo. The basic chilly soup from Córdoba province made with breadcrumbs, olive oil and tomatoes. (Venta del Pobre)
10) Carne Mechada Tasty cuts of larded pork (cerdo ibérico). (Puerto de Galis)
Certainly, ventas have already got a particular place in Spanish historical past. They crop up within the pages of Cervantes’ Don Quijote and have lengthy been locations the place weary travellers might search shelter from the slings and arrows of dangerous climate and tedious journeys.
A real venta is on a freeway, not tucked away down some metropolis avenue. It typically sells native produce, like pots of honey and pates, and its pedigree is mostly denoted by the standard of the hocks of jamon iberico hanging from the ceiling.
After all, there are ventas and ventas. Nineteenth century traveller Richard Ford turned up at one venta in Granada province, optimistically referred to as La Grande, and shortly wished he hadn’t. After describing La Grande’s ‘colossal inconveniences’ he determined to mattress down for the evening, however discovered one other assortment of hungry visitors mendacity in look forward to him.
He wrote: ‘Nonetheless devoid of creature comforts this grand resort, there’s a grand provide of creeping creatures and the traveller runs the danger of bidding adieu to sleep and passing the evening exclaiming “Ay! de Mi!” because the pulgas (fleas) start to chunk.’
In different venta adventures, Ford would typically ask the ventero (proprietor) what he had by means of vittles. ‘Hay de todo’ (All the pieces you need) would invariably be the reply. Then, as every of the dishes Ford advised had been dismissed with a shrug, it will definitely dawned on the Englishman that there was nothing he needed in any respect except he had introduced with him. Many travellers did simply that, utilizing venta kitchens to prepare dinner meals from the substances that they had bought alongside the way in which.
That’s not the case at present. Andalucía’s ventas at present are typically superb, quite a lot of them outstandingly so. Certainly, some have upped their sport past the easy fare served to famished travellers to change into eating places in all however identify.
Many, such because the Venta Alfarnate within the higher reaches of Axarquía, northwest of Málaga, have been serving travellers for hundreds of years. Set in an remoted spot within the midst of brooding hills, it’s not onerous to see the way it grew to become a hotspot for brigands and highwaymen.
Claiming, with some justification, to be the oldest inn in Andalucía, Venta Alfarnate was frequented by a number of the area’s most fearsome 19th century bandoleros, together with essentially the most terrifying of all of them: El Tempranillo. This infamous latter-day Robin Hood who was stated to ‘attraction’ the gold rings and bracelets off his feminine victims, arrived unannounced one sizzling day within the 1820s in a less-than-charming temper. Discovering there have been no spoons for him to eat with, he pressured the opposite unlucky diners to eat their picket ones at gunpoint, cracking their tooth within the course of.
Certainly, the venta as soon as had a jail cell for holding outlaws en route with their captors to justice in Málaga. The well-preserved cell has been was a eating alcove which should make it one of the offbeat locations to eat anyplace in these components. Notably so when a life-size effigy of one other infamous bandolero, the Madrileno Luis Candelas, is supplying you with the evil eye from a stool within the nook…