A perfect mix of coast and mountains located between Valencia and Andalusia, Murcia is yet another culinary dream come true. I know I keep saying that as I travel through Spain, but can I help it that my adopted country has some damn impressive cuisine? Sometimes I feel like I've only begun to discover the flavors of Spain, and going to Murcia was proof that I need to travel even more than I already do! I learned new flavors, new dishes, new preparations-- and I was only there for two days!
We were tagging along with the fabulous Madrid based Restaurante el Caldero, a traditional Murcian restaurant in Madrid. This gave us insider access to the life of a restaurant owner, as we followed the Caldero team through their mission to stock up their trucks with fresh produce and much more!
Take a look:
Cured meats are nothing new, but eating some of them raw certainly was. I must admit my stomach churned at the first thought of eating completely raw pork (and not only raw pork sausages, but also raw blood sausage) but as everyone else took a bite, I couldn't look like a weak American! So I dug in, and as I expected, it was delicious.
From paella and beyond, Murcia is one of the best places to enjoy Spanish rice dishes. We tried the famous arroz al caldero in a beachside restaurant with views of small boats and mini cruises, and later in the trip enjoyed one of my all time epic meals, arroz con conejo. The secret is the area's locally grown Bomba and Calasparra rice varieties, which are super absorbent (and also super expensive!).
Murcia is famous for its fertile land and is often called "the vegetable garden of Europe". One of its most telling dishes is the creamy Pisto Murciano, a sort of ratatouille made of onion, pepper, tomato, and eggplant. We enjoyed both fresh and cooked vegetables at each meal, and even took a box of local produce home with us.
From lively fresh lobsters to scattering crabs and spurting live clams, a trip to a Murcian fish market allowed me to see what I would dare to say is the freshest seafood I've seen thus far in all of Spain. By freshest, I mean that half of it was still alive and moving around! While some people get bothered by seeing their food jump about, I appreciate knowing where what I'm eating comes from and seeing the living creatures makes me only more thankful for every bite.
Up and coming Murcian wines
Not many have learned of the Murcian wine regions, some of Spain's best kept secrets. Made up of Yecla, Bullas, and Jumilla, these areas produce some fantastic reds, whites and rosés. A trip to one of the Murcian wine region is recommended, or at the very least a glass of the local wine while on the beach is a must!
Home to many of the same lard based cookies as the rest of Spain, Murcia sets itself apart with the quality of its baked goods. I am not usually the biggest fan of these types of sweets, but after popping in to a local bakery I had to stop myself from bringing home a big bag of delicious almendrados, a sort of almond cookie that is perfect with tea. They were also selling the ever so strange tortas de chicharones, sweet anis pastries covered with pork rinds. That's right, a sweet, pork rind pastry does exist. Unfortunately, I still haven't developed a taste for it!
Murcian paprika and Ñora peppers
The dried Ñora pepper is Murcia's secret ingredient, making an appearance in nearly all of its signature dishes. It is also the base of the fragrant Murcian paprika, a lesser known variety of Spanish paprika. Unlike the traditional smoked Spanish paprika from the La Vera region of Extremadura, Murcian paprika isn't smoked at all. Instead, the ñora peppers dry in the sun, and later are ground into a very fine and fragrant powder.
Overall, Murcian food surprised me with some new flavors and combinations. The freshness of the cuisine is undeniable, and simplicity of most dishes is refreshing. I know I'll be back soon to discover even more to add to this list!
Curious on how to add Murcia to your Mediterranean itinerary? It makes for an easy drive south from Madrid, or there are tempting cruises like Moorish Delights and Mediterranean Medley that dock in Cartagena!
Have you been to Murcia? Any food recommendations for my next trip?