A la Riojana

My virtual trek has now taken me just past Nájera in La Rioja and there is one restaurant there, Los Parrales, that offers the following menu (plus individual items with a la Riojana as a modifier): [Note: translations are from Google Translate of webpages]

Menú Típico Riojano Typical Riojano Menu
Los sabores más tradicionales de La Rioja The most traditional flavors of La Rioja
Descubre la gastronomía riojana de la mano de nuestro menú típico riojano. Discover the Riojan gastronomy hand in hand with our typical Riojan menu.

If you’ve ever gotten wine from Spain you’ve heard of Rioja. This is the best-known and probably premier wine growing area. Like Napa (which is a region, county and town) La Rioja is a political entity, an autonomous community of Spain, consisting of a single province. The capital is Logroño which was my previous stop on the Camino. The wine region of Rioja is not exactly the same area as the political entity but roughly aligns with it. And Riojana is the demonym of people and things from this region. A la Riojana is a designation, used with food, to indicate the preparation is the one typical used in Rioja. This is similar to Italian practice, e.g. a la Bolognese (a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna).

But what is it?

For me to answer, neither being there in person nor an expert in either Spanish language or cuisine of Spain is a bit of a stretch, so I suggest you find other sources (I’ll be providing some), especially from anyone who is describing their personal experience with a la Riojana.

This article, while in Spanish, has a better description than I can provide. Teresa Barrenechea lumps La Rioja together with Navarra and Aragón, emphasizing the connection to La Ribera del Ebro (the second major river of the entire Iberian Peninsula; ribera is its riverbank, the obvious fertile area for growing crops). While wine is the hallmark of Rioja it is not used, directly, in the cuisine. Instead the cuisine is dominated by vegetables which grow well in the same conditions as vineyards. The cuisine uses less of the fresh seafood of further north but a bit more lamb and beef. It is simple and hearty.

Perhaps the most classic dish is:

Patatas a la Riojana Potatoes Riojana’s style

This is a fairly simple stew (description and typical recipe) of potatoes and chorizo (riojana version) seasoned with ample paprika. It definitely seems to meet the simple and hardy description that is characteristic of much of a la Riojana. It’s amusing that one of the links (for receta) I provided actually uses patatasriojana as the domain name (I guess someone thinks it’s famous).

In terms of fish this also seems to be a classic (description and typical recipe):

Bacalao a la Riojana Cod to the Riojana

I ate numerous cod dishes in Portugal (from desalted salt cod, interesting to see huge piles of it in markets) and, well, it’s pretty blah. The tomato sauce and at least some hint of pepper might elevate this dish above blah levels, but it seems hard to get excited about it.

A more interesting meat dish (again that seems to be a Riojana classic, although not on the menu of this restaurant is las chuletas al sarmiento (chops with the vine shoot, description) which is roast lamb but using the trimmings for grape vines as the smoking wood. The restaurant did have a special menu focused on this dish:

Menú Típico Riojano Especial Lechazo Typical Rioja Special Lechazo (lit: suckling lamb) Menu
Lechazo de Cameros Recién (lit: newly or recently) Asado Newly Roasted Cameros
A elegir de los primeros platos y postres del Menú Típico Riojano Choose from the first dishes and desserts of the Riojano Typical Menu

Now lechazo is a preparation (English link, Spanish link) [and also an alternative term] of cordero lechal . cordero is a lamb (in general), and lechal (derived from leche (milk)) imply a very young and unweaned lamb. So this menu is a variation (at this restaurant and therefore for a certain price) of their Menú Típico Riojano where the lechazo is the required segundo plato.

But it took some looking to finally conclude (as best I can) that the de Cameros (tough to search since a car gets most hits) refers to a geographical area within Rioja, i.e. in and around the Sierra de Cameros in in the south center of La Rioja (in the region of La Rioja Media). Presumably the sheep from this area must be special enough that they’d be labeled on the menu. But this is another typical challenge of deciphering menus.

And then there was this item on the menu:

Revuelto Riojano Scrambled Riojano

I’ve actually mentioned revuelto is a previous post but the images and recipes I find for this seem to be showing off the vegetables that also characterize Riojana. Here is a recipe focused on a version emphasizing peppers. And another recipe that seems to have a bit of everything in a big pile which seems to be merging revuelto and pisto (I love this spanishdict.com translation of pisto, hotchpotch, or more conventionally ratatouille).

So that’s our brief tour of La Rioja. Too bad it’s only words since sights and smells and tastes, in real life, would be some much better.

Note: This post took me so long to get it published I’ve passed Nájera and blown into the next town, Azofra. It has a couple of restaurants labeled on the Google map but none (thus far) that appear to have websites to extract their menus. But as a recommendation, Dear Reader, it’s handy to look at these places on Google maps because they collect many photos of food for each restaurant that is a POI. Here is a good interactive map with a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago.




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