Beware the Bacalao: Three Ways to (Unknowingly) Order the Regionally Famous Fish

I pledge allegiance to Bacalao, and to the delicious tapas for which it stands, one Nation under Cod, indivisible, with tacos, croquetas, and alubias rojas for all.

Northern Spain, famous for the cliffs and coastlines frequently featured on Game of Thrones, is a linguistically diverse and culturally distinct region. Though Galicia, Asturias, and Navarra are in many ways fragmented by ideology and strong local character, they unite behind one commitment: cod. The serious older brother to sunny Andalucía, Northern Spain’s mountainous terrain and forbidding climate gave rise to a hearty maritime diet fit for a khal or khaleesi. The dish that reigns supreme in this region, in its many adaptations, is bacalao. Even if you think you have escaped it, look again—there’s a good chance a little cod jumped onto your plate.

1.     Tacos

This dish will never actually be tacos! No matter how enthusiastically the waiter claims they will be similar to the tortilla’d Mexican goodness you enjoy back home, be warned: the Spanish take many liberties with the naming of their dishes. The “tacos” that will likely grace your table will be reminiscent of a mashup between fish cakes and spaghetti that must be eaten with a spoon. Although oddly appetizing in its own semi-mushy fashion, probably not the wrap you were looking for.

2.     Croquetas

Sadie Pate | Lets Go Photo: Unsplash

Almost everyone on Cod’s green earth has heard of Spanish tapas. The practice of communally ordering small dishes “para picar”, or “to pick at”, when chatting with friends or even as the whole meal is a Spanish cultural hallmark, and it is even customary in most places to receive tapas complimentary with the purchase of a drink. In the Basque and Cantabria regions of Spain, you’ll be picking at  “pinchos” or “pintxos” instead of “tapas.” Although mainly characterized as a mini, open faced sandwich with meats and veggies, pinchos also often come as croquetas—a crumblier and altogether better version of the American mozzarella stick frequently blended together with bits of bacalao.

3.     Alubias Rojas

Directly translated, this dish is simply called red beans. When viewed on the menu, the stew sounds like the perfect meal during Northern Spain’s infamous rainy season. Don’t let the innocent and simplistic charm of the old-school dish fool you! The flavor rich gumbo is frequently fortified with a healthy dose of bacalao. If you aren’t in the mood for the addition of some maritime aromas to your beans, make sure to tell the chef to hold the fish.

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