Regional Dishes and TapasHere are a few hints aimed at helping you enjoy the gastronomic side to your visit and not find restaurants closed at unexpected time!
Lunch is normally the main meal of the day in Extremadura, tends to be served 1.45-3.30 p.m. and usually involves a set menu or à la carte meal. Set menus tend to be cheaper and sometimes nastier although they can be excellent value for money and often throw in cheap plonk as part of the deal. The starter are usually larger than in the U.K. and may involve a stew or salad, while the main course is invariably meat or fish with a very limited range of veg.
It's important to remember that many restaurants will hand you an à la carte menu when you walk in, but have a far more economical set menu available if you ask. N.B. The carta is à la carte, while the menú is set!
Evening dinners (mainly 9-11 p.m.), however, are different. Some people do go out for a sit-down meal, but many will go to a bar rather than a restaurant and have some tapas over a beer or wine. In Seville (i.e. western Andalusia) you have to pay if you want a tapa with your drink, but in Extremadura (especially in the south) you get a tapa or aperitivo for free. Many people will then go on to order some raciones - big tapas to share. Everyone has a bit of everything as if it were a Chinese meal in the U.K. if you see the analogy! When ordering a beer in Extremadura the terminology is as follows: a caña is a small draught lager, a tubo a bigger one and a botellín a bottled lager.
As for regional dishes, many guides provide long lists of recipes that might be traditionally associated with somewhere but are unavailable in local restaurants. My intention is rather to focus on what tends to be good and bad in Extremadura and what dishes are most commonly encountered.
Well, pork and cheese from Extremadura are great, and they inevitably play an important role in most of the region's restaurants. Retinto beef (a special breed) is worth trying if it's on the menu, while suckling lamb - cordero lechal - is claimed to be less flavoursome but more tender than the Welsh stuff. Paprika - Pimentón - is often used in northern Extremadura, especially in their renowned and widely available lamb stew, Caldereta de Cordero. Good fish is hard to get hold of from the coast, and boring, farmed bream, bass, salmon, etc, are unfortunately widespread. However, salt cod is a national passion in Portugal and has also become a key part of cuisine in Extremadura. Golden Cod, bacalao dorado, is a lovely mess of cod, mini potato chips and scrambled eggs.
Veggies struggle in Spain, and Extremadura is no exception. Fresh vegetables are widespread in local home cooking, but not in restaurants. Even peas or artichokes are often frozen/canned and then served with diced ham. This is possibly because eating out was reserved for high days and holidays during the tough years after the civil war. Restaurants consequently specialised in meat, which was something you couldn't often have at home on a daily basis. Pulses are popular, often as a starter, but in stews that also contain meat.
hese are just a few pointers that should help you on your way to exploring and enjoying meals out during your stay in Extremadura. There are countless hearty, homely restaurants dotted around the region, as well as several places that attempt to mix modern techniques with traditional ingredients. Good luck with your gastronomic odyssey!