I first encountered angula in the context of a menu item: gulas a la bilbaina. Now gula itself seems to translate as ‘greed’ or ‘gluttony’ so I assumed this was some outrageous dish. But a few more searches convinced me gulas is just a colloquial short form of angulas. The first time I tried to get a translation I mistyped angula as anguila which I then learned was ‘eel’. Also in searching about the dish I got some hint there was a connection with eels so I added angula as eel in my corpus.
But on a proofreading session I looked up angula again and got this definition (in Spanish with Google Translate):
|Cría de la anguila||Eel breeding|
which didn’t exactly make any sense. It turns out the 4th definition (in Oxford) of Cría makes more sense:
|Conjunto de las crías que tiene un animal en un solo parto o una sola puesta||Set of offspring that has an animal in a single birth or a single laying|
Switching dictionaries I just went back to a straight translation (not definition) and got ‘elver’. My problem was I’d never heard of elver before and so didn’t know it by the more colloquial ‘baby eels’ which would have cleared up all the mystery.
But as this very good article on this food item explains, elvers, while tiny, are hardly ‘babies’:
When these tiny eels arrive in fish markets, they are already two or three-years old, but are only about 3 inches (8cm) long, and as thick as a strand of spaghetti.
While they are tiny they are outrageously expensive, even more than caviar or truffles. So, in fact, they’re rarely used and instead a substitute “mock” angula, which is then known as a gula, is almost certainly what you’ll get with this tapas.
As this article explains:
the fake angula, made of the same surimi with which the Japanese fabricate artificial crab
surimi itself is:
fish (often pollock) that is minced to make a gelatinous paste that is then flavored, reformed into flakes, sticks, or other shapes, and colored
Now back to the original issue, what is the dish gulas a la bilbaina?
angulas in an earthenware dish with garlic, olive oil, and chili peppers cut in rings
recipe and picture found here.
So the claim that gulas are a reasonable substitute for angulas seems likely given the huge price difference and a preparation that probably masks the taste anyway.
Now anguilas seem to be more common and reasonably priced in Spain but don’t mistake this word for anguilla which is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean.