Cantabria’s location makes this region one of Spain’s gastronomic highlights and thanks to the clean, cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea, its seafood rivals that of Galicia or Asturias.
Let’s start with one of the star products of the region, anchovies from Santoña. In the 1880s a number of Italians who worked in the anchovy salting industry arrived in Santoña. One of them, Gianni Vella, had the bright idea of serving these little fish in olive oil instead of salt, giving us the anchovies we know today. This port currently holds the world record for the amount of anchovies landed in a single day: on 5 April 1960, one and a half million kilos of anchovies arrived at the docks in just 24 hours.
A visit to Cantabria in the springtime is well worth the journey, not just for the pleasant climate, but also to treat your taste buds. Since the 1990s, in the town of Suances they’ve been holding an annual Seafood Fair, where the restaurants offer delectable shellfish platters brimming with excellent quality lobsters, scampi, crabs (spider crab, brown crab…), prawns etc. This year the fair takes place from 26 April to 5 May.
Next up is the ‘Sorropotún’ a tuna and potato stew typical of the seaside town of ‘San Vicente de la Barquera’, which is the highlight of the patron saint celebrations of ‘La Barquera and El Mozucu’. During the festivities the tradition is for a crowd of people to gather on the well-known Merón Beach to prepare a huge pot of the dish, which is then enjoyed, usually accompanied by a wine from the region.
The main ingredient is white tuna from the Bay of Biscay, cooked over a low heat in a pot with potatoes, red onions, olive oil, pepper and tomato. The dish, a fisherman’s classic, has over the years become one of the mainstays of this Cantabrian town.
Leaving the sea behind let’s turn our attention to the meat products, because Cantabria, while bathed in the Atlantic, doesn’t lack excellent products from the land, such as the ‘Cocido Montañes’ or highland stew, the perfect pick-me-up after a long walk in the hills. It’s typical of the Cabuérniga Valley and is made with the main ingredients of haricot beans and cabbage, to which is added ‘compango’, a selection of meats: bacon, black pudding, chorizo…
And just like any decent menu has a starter and a main course, we can’t forget dessert.
‘La Quesada’, Cantabrian cheesecake and ‘Sobaos Pasiegos’, rich cup cakes, are without doubt the classics of the region.
La Quesada, originally from the village of ‘Vega del Pas’ is one of the specialities of the area. And while you can find sobaos all over Spain, the spongiest, most authentic are the ‘Sobaos Pasiegos’.
But if you want to taste Cantabria in the literal sense of the word, you can’t miss the ‘Gastronomic Fair’, to be held on 8 to 10 March at the Santander Convention Centre. There, a multitude of Cantabrian food professionals will be showing off their products with the aim of ensuring all the visitors have a chance of sampling them.