An Unplanned Stop in Burgos, Spain

When we were planning a road-trip in Spain in the summer as part of our three week vacation, Burgos was not in the itinerary. For scheduling conflict reasons, I was flying solo and my significant other had already flown a few days ahead. So I was on the plane, heading to Madrid for a 3 week vacation and I got seated next to a lady who was also heading home to Spain to see her family. We got to talking a little bit, and she told me that she was from Burgos. She described a whole bunch of things from Burgos, and she mentioned that Burgos was selected as the Gastronomy Capital of Spain in 2013. This immediately piqued my interest, because for me, food culture is really good way to explore a city. Burgos has a lot of good cuisine, namely morcilla and Queso de Burgos, but she mentioned that they make really good lamb (cordero) roasts. I got a few tips about names of places, and when I arrived in Spain, I checked the route, and it seemed Burgos was on the way. 

Burgos is a city in the Province of Burgos, and the historic capital city of Castille. The city has a lot more to offer than its cuisine, but for us, Burgos was basically the first stop, just to coincide with the time for lunch (yeah, it was a coincidence, for sure). The name of the restaurant in Burgos we were referred to is Casa Ojeda.


Their speciality is roasted meats, more specifically lamb, along with other regional dishes, like fabada (bean stew). What sets them apart is how they make it, which is in a brick oven, run on wood burning fire. This gives the meat a very specific flavor (very good) and puts them a different category. I have to give it up the lady in the plane - everything was delicious!


After lunch we took a walk around the city center, and the Cathedral de Burgos. The Cathedral was closed due to repairs being made, but it is majestic! It's right next to the Plaza Mayor, so the other side is great for viewing while taking a break. It was also set as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.


Walking around town we found some of the components of a historical town, that we also found on other towns on the road-trip - such as the Plaza Mayor (City Center), an area where people hang out and chill out with tapas and drinks and cobblestone streets. I can never really get tired of these things though, and every town offers a different version of this, so you really have to try them all.


A Walk in the Historic Town of Comillas, Cantabria

I've been to Comillas once before almost 6 years ago, when I first visited Spain. It was also my first foray into Europe, and we didn't take it easy. Straight into the heart of Cantabria, or "Cantabria Profunda" (Deep Cantabria), as they call it is where we went, away from the big cities and tourist attractions. One of these towns, Comillas, was the perfect stop. I remember we went on a weekday, and it was a quiet little town that I always wanted to come back to. Last year when we visited Spain for Christmas, we got a chance to go again with Cristina's brother, who is a childhood friend of the "Primer Teniente de Alcalde" (Deputy Mayor) of Comillas. A walk with the Deputy Mayor of the town. It's about 1.5/2 hours from Santander, so it was too good to pass up.

Commillas is a sleepy little town in Northern Spain, in the Province of Cantabria. It is designated a historic-artistic site, and It has all the charateristics of such a site - cobbled streets and squares with ancestral houses, and has pretty well preserved medieval architecture. It's also known as the "Town of the Bishops" - as five prelates were born here who later went on to be the heads of several different dioceses in the Middle Ages. It has been modernized a lot, just like Segovia and Pedrazza, and there are a lot of modern amenities. Most of these towns all have a "Plaza Mayor" (Like a city center, or city center square) where there is usually the church and lots of restaurants and bars. We met Pedro, the Deputy Mayor of Comillas and he took us for a personalized walk around tour of his town.


Comillas is home to Comillas Pontifical University, which used to be a religious university, but it has since reformed and moved to Madrid. The institution in Comillas now serves as a foundation for research. It also has a lot of different programs for exchange and international students. Its an awesome place to spend your summers, with the beach as your backyard and say to sheep as you walk to your classes.


The Comillas beach is near the Oyambre Natural Park, and is very well preserved as well. You can go fishing from the pier, or chill out on the beach. It was a little cold to be frolicking on the sand, and the summer town was a little bit empty in January.


After the walk around, we went a place recommended by Pedro for some really good tapas, Restaurante el Pirata. Lunchtime is late in Spain, so we had some caña and tapas to hold us off till lunch.


In town square is the parish church of San Cristóbal, dating from the seventeenth century. The town is a stop along the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, so you'll see signs all along the town. The church and town hosts all sorts of events when the participants of the pilgrimage arrive.


A Taste of Porrón

A porrón is a traditional Spanish wine vessel, used to store and drink wine. It is no mistake that the word, pronounced “pour-OHN,” contains the word pour, because that is exactly how you drink from it. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and watering can; the top is narrow and ends in a spout. Since it is also used to store wine, the top usually has a cork or a stop - its almost like wine ready-to-go. To drink from it, you tilt the porrón with the spout pointing at your mouth really fast, drink and then tilt it straight really fast again. The wine jets out really fast from the spout, so you never have to touch it with your lips. You really have to do this with no hesitation whatsoever, otherwise you can expect to have a lot more wine on your shirt than in your mouth. It is a festive device meant to facilitate communal activity, so you pass it around in a group and drink together - a little bit like how the Native Americans used to pass around the smoke-pipe around the fire. Its an awesome ice-breaker in a big group and a lot of fun. It’s nearly impossible not to not enjoy a porrón pour, unless of course, you're George Orwell.

Porróns mainly hail from Catalunia and Aragon, but they can be found all over Spain. They were designed originally to take the place of wine skins or bota bags and made with ceramic, but at some point switched to being made with mouth-blown recycled glass. This vessel originated in the middle ages and was used when there weren’t enough glasses for the guests. The design has a logic as well - It’s shaped this way so that the wine will have minimal contact with the air, which quickly ruins it. Porróns are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. Because you ingest a mouthful at a time, young wine is most suited for the porrón.

Porrón drinking is a pretty old tradition - and even though the ritual remains a symbol of Spanish sociability, as well as fine evidence of the country’s characteristically unpretentious approach to wine - being an old tradition in a modern world, it is dying. The young generation in Spain don't really drink from a porrón much, and if you go into a regular bar and ask for a porrón, they may look at you funny. I first saw a porrón being sampled by Anthony Bourdain while he was traveling through Northern Spain, and ever since then I've been wanting to try it. So my last trip to Spain, Cristina's Aunt Mili and Uncle Alejandro decided to take us out to an off-the-beaten path place, Bar Ruiz. This was really out of the any tourist zone and embodied what I would think would be like to drink at one of these places. The patrons were all local, and they all knew each other. The place was no-frills, but had a soul, like it had seen many things. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was. The only food you could get there is embutido, or charcuterie and cheese. We ate a bunch of chorizo, salchichón and manchego and enjoyed the experience of drinking from a porrón.


Some places to drink porrón in New York City:

157 E. Houston St.
(between Allen and Eldridge)
New York, NY

El Porron Restaurant
1123 First Avenue (btw. 61st & 62nd Streets)
New York, NY