Santiago and I met as twenty-somethings typically do … at 4 AM in a club … and talking about cheese. But not just any cheese, the cabrales cheese made in the caves of Santiago’s homeland: Asturias. And there began our friendship. Later, in 2009, during my pilgrimage around Spain, Santiago showed me his city, Oviedo, and his family welcomed me into their home in the mountains. I tried an authentic fabada, or bean stew, made by his mum, tasted a local cider poured by his dad, and, of course, we ate Asturian cheese – all of this I blogged about in my training-wheels-blog, Flaming Peaches.
Santiago’s knowledge of Spanish gastronomy helped him land his previous post as a food journalist. Now, he’s a sports journalist, although I secretly hope that he’ll come back to the world of food writing, where he can write more articles like the one he wrote about Spanish salt for Foods from Spain.
Santiago recently stopped by Bilbao, where we had pintxos and txakolis (white wine typical in Basque Country) and eventually sat down to do the B2S questionnaire.* Hablamos!
Coffee or tea?
Only coffee, but just as a stimulant, very utilitarian. It’s sad but I can’t tell the difference between coffees – I only use it to activate myself. And that’s why I’m saying coffee, because supposedly it’s stronger.
Beer or wine?
In terms of quantity? Beer. The one I consume more per year, beer. (Pause.) What, I can’t make a plug for cider?** Even if the editor of the blog doesn’t like it? (Laughs.)
Describe your typical breakfast.
I really like to eat breakfast, and a lot, and usually salty… but sometimes something sweet. Many days I have to work late and the next morning I sleep in so I don’t have time to eat breakfast. But my typical breakfast, which is inexplicable – like my roommates don’t understand why I eat this – on the days when I eat breakfast, instead of eating something like milk and cookies***, I boil water, throw in two or three sausages, a raw tomato, take them out, add salt and I have breakfast on my way out.
What is your earliest food-related memory?
This memory isn’t from when I was a baby, but from when I was 7 or 8 – not a teenager either, definitely from my childhood. One of the dishes I never liked was lentils. You know, how all kids have fights over food – if you don’t eat, you can’t watch the movie, etc. I always loved cheese, but everytime we had lentils it was total drama. I don’t know if it was my mom’s idea or an idea of her friend’s, but what she did was she gave me lentils and took manchego cheese, cut it in pieces and threw it on top of the lentils. And that’s how I started liking lentils. And to this day, whenever I have lentils, I add manchego cheese.
Describe your ideal sandwich.
I’m going to explain two ways of doing my ideal sandwich, and the second was a cultural and emotional shock for me, in terms of sandwiches. Throughout my childhood, I ate sandwiches made by my mother, with butter. (B2S: Just bread and butter?) Sandwich bread, butter, ham and cheese, then grilled to melt the butter. Later, it was a discovery, in my twenty’s, I went out with a girl, and she made me a sandwich with olive oil instead of butter. This was the big magic trick, olive oil, even though to the rest of Spain it seems so simple. And me, an Asturiano, didn’t discover this until I was twenty-something.
Where would you travel to eat?
Well, I would say Japan, but I just traveled there, and I was surprised by everything that’s there beyond just sushi – ramen, okonomiyaki … On the other hand, I swear I know it’s annoying, but it’s true that in Asturias, although I know it’s my homeland, even if in the Catskills (where the author is from) there may be a thousand better things, but from my point of view, as small as it is, it’s a great place to get in your car and discover the gastronomy, and beyond just the typical things like fabada…. I love the sweets, like casadielles. (BS2: Casa-dee-a-yas?) Yes, casadielles. It’s an Asturian word. It’s a typical sweet – with dough that is long and thin and filled with a paste of walnuts and a touch of anise.
Also, there’s a restaurant I want to go to that I haven’t been to yet. In middle of Asturias, there’s a village, where an Asturian and a Catalan make Japanese food in a typical Asturian house. It’s called Fuente La Lloba, in Piloña. This isn’t a recent discovery – it’s been five or six years that I’ve wanted to go. But every time I go home [to Oveido] and call, there are no tables – there are only 5 or 6, something like that.
Name 5 people you would invite to a dinner party.
Well, I would have to serve cachopo****, so you can try it. There’s a song called Salvadore Dali’s Garden Party, and it talks about all the people that attend a sort of surrealistic dinner party with the singer. It’s from the 80s. And the singer is Dan Treacy . I would answer this question like the song … Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and I guess I would invite Soon-Yi also, to make the atmosphere comfortable. And you have to try the cachopo too, so you (the author) also. That’s five, right? Dan Treacy, Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, Soon-Yi and Caitlin.
What are you in the mood to eat right now?
Right now? We just ate! (Laughs.) Pacharán! (B2S: But do you always have pacharán after you eat? Is that your digestif?) Me? Not always, but yes, it’s a digestif, really good.
* The questionnaire was conducted in Castellano and translated to English by the author, and as such, a considerable amount of Santiago’s sharp sense of humor may have been lost in the translation.
** Cider is the typical boozy drink from Asturias.
*** “Galletas” in Spanish translates to cookies in English, but the breakfast cookies typical throughout Spain are less sweet, more biscuit-y than your average American cookie.
**** Cachopo is a typical Asturian dish. Ham and cheese sandwiched bewteen two filets of beef, then the whole thing is breaded and fried. According to Santiago, it’s becoming increasingly de moda to serve this comfort food in Madrid restaurants. Figures.