Based on countless cider-fuelled trips to visit the in-laws with my girlfriend (Rosana is from Asturias), this is my foodie’s guide to the best things to eat and drink in the gastronomical playground of Asturias, northern Spain.
Renowned for its fresh fish and seafood, hearty meat feasts, vast variety of cheese and uplifting cider, Asturias is a dream destination for food-focussed travellers.
My Connection with Asturias and its Cuisine
Rosana, my girlfriend, was born and raised in Asturias and I try to tag along whenever she goes home to visit. Whether catching up with old friends around a table or heading out for family get-togethers, I’m always treated to endless plates of local dishes and kept topped up with cider.
It was at a wedding that I really realised just how deep this love of food runs in Asturians. Three meat courses – chicken, goat, beef – were followed by multiple courses (I lost count) of fish – salt-water, fresh-water, lobster, crab, prawns, clams, cheese platters and multiple desserts…
Then we drank gin and tonics and fell all over the dance floor. At least I did.
As with their Celtic heritage, food is an important element of the Asturian identity and they’re fiercely proud of their fertile lands and waters. Everyone has an opinion, everyone cares about food. I often sit there between dishes, glass in hand, observing as Rosana’s father, brother-in-law and sister ponder the quality of the shellfish on our table, or debate the calibre of the cheese and cider.
What to Eat and Drink in Asturias, Northern Spain
You could spend a lifetime eating your way through Asturias, so I’m not suggesting that this is a complete list of every dish in the land. Instead, it’s based on my personal quests of decadence and will hopefully paint a broad (and alluring) picture of what you can expect.
Sensational Fish & Seafood
Unlike much of Spain, Asturias is on the Atlantic Coast, which blesses the region with an abundance of both wild and local fish and seafood.
Insider tip: Rosana tells me that the fishermen in Asturias don’t go out to sea on a Sunday so if you want to eat the freshest fish and seafood possible, don’t buy it on a Monday.
Mariscada ~ Seafood Platter
Probably the best way to get a taste of many different dishes, a marisco seafood platter features everything from meaty lobster, crab, mussels, clams and more (which you can also order separate portions of). Portions are typically very generous, so be sure to start with one plate to share and order more if needed (which is unlikely).
Bogavante ~ Lobster
Freshly grilled and lightly seasoned, there’s nothing like digging into some local Asturian bogavante (lobster).
We had a particularly good one (pictured above) at Los Piratas del Sablón in the seaside town of Llanes.
Navajas ~ Razor Clams
A classic Spanish shellfish tapas dish, they’re best straight off the grill and drizzled in lemon juice. You might even get a sprinkle of parsley in some fancy places.
Vierias ~ Scallops
Torched on the half-shell and drizzled – you guessed it – with lemon, scallops are best washed down with a crisp Albariño wine. This is what it’s all about.
Percebes ~ “Goose-Neck Barnacles”
I know, they look strange and disgusting, like snails with horny hooves, but they taste delicious and are strangely addictive. Technically barnacles, the idea is to break the rubbery outer tube (goose neck) off at the base and chew away at their chewy flesh.
Mejillones ~ Mussels
Mussels, mussels, mussels – they’re everywhere in Asturias and an important staple at the local sidrerias (cider houses). They’re all fresh and lovely, but my favourites are the mejillones vinagretta, which come topped with finely chopped onion, red and green peppers, parsley, olive oil and a zingy apple cider vinegar.
Sardinas ~ Sardines
Cimavilla, the old fishermen’s quarter of Gijon, built itself off a strong sardine and whale fishing industry and sardines are still a “must-eat” whilst in town.
Insider tip: Sardines sell out fast so be sure to ask if they have any before sitting down at a table – (Tenés sardinas?).
For the best sardines in Asturias, leave the city centre and head out to the locals’ favourite sidreria of La Pumarada – the only place Rosana will eat sardines in Gijon.
Use your hands to pull the flesh away from the spiny bones. Leave the heads, but be sure to nibble on the crispy little tails.
Bacalao ~ Salted Cod
Although not exclusive to Asturias, the locals are particularly proud of their salted-cod offerings. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a free tapas portion of bacalao when you order a drink – free tapas with your drink is still “the norm” in Asturias – or a meatier chunk served with potatoes as part of a menu del dia (pictured above), which is an affordable way to eat a seriously good lunch in Spain.
Mountains of Meat
I put on weight every time I visit Asturias, and meat is the reason why. Piled high in prodigious portions, it’s clearly more suited to the local farmers and cattle herders than it is to this lazy laptop tapper.
You’ll find quality meat dishes all over Asturias, but be sure to visit a Tierra Astur, a local restaurant chain that specialises in Asturian cuisine, for ridiculously huge meat, fish and cheese platters and the best cider pourers in all the land.
Fabada Asturiana ~ Pork and Bean Stew (ESSENTIAL)
A rich bean and saffron stew elevated with a cocktail of chunky pork pieces – Fabada Asturiana is proper mountain folk food. You pour a ladle of the saffron-smothered beans into your bowl and mix in a few chunks of morcilla (delicious blood sausage – at least try it!), chorizo, ham and cured pancetta.
Explore the Region’s Famous Cheese
With mile-upon-mile of perpetually-green pasture land, Asturias’ dairy cows are among the most beautiful and productive in Europe. Because of this, Asturias is famous for its world-class cheese industry and there are said to be over 40 different varieties to explore, with quality and consistency that easily rivals what is produced in France.
I suggest ordering a tabla de quesos (a cheeseboard with multiple varieties of local cheese), which you’ll find at all good restaurants, and seeing it down with a good bottle of plonk (more on that later).
You can also buy these mixed cheese platters from the local stores that specialise in “Productos Asturianos”.
Cabrales ~ Asturian Blue Cheese (ESSENTIAL)
If there’s one thing you should eat whilst in Asturias… This strong blue beauty is the most iconic cheese in Asturias and its powerful flavour is similar to English Stilton or French Roquefort.
Historically it was produced in the famous caves that dot the Picos de Europa, where the natural abundance of penicillin – a blueish mold – gives the cheese its signature spicy finish. Enjoy with local cider or berry fruits to balance out its punchy aftertaste.
A few other types of cheese to try in Asturias:
Ahumado de Pria ~ Mild, sweet and smoky. A must.
Gamonéu ~ Originally made in the village of Gamonéu, hence the name, it’s smoky and nutty, with a moderately firm texture and a slightly spicy kick.
Afuega’l Pitu ~ Soft, sharp and with a slightly spicy flavour, this full-fat, unpasteurised whole cows’ milk cheese sticks to the roof of your mouth and should not be eaten without a full bottle of wine/cider to hand.
Los Beyos ~ Reflecting the richness of the local countryside, this crumbly and dense cheese melts and dissolves in your mouth. Perfect with a crusty bread roll and a glass of dry white. A beautiful breakfast.
Wines from Asturias, Northern Spain
Actually, Asturias isn’t known for its wine production – it’s more about cider – but its proximity to Galicia and various other white wine producing DOs means it’s paradise for white wine drinkers. Which of course goes spectacularly well with the fish and seafood-orientated diet.
The most popular white wine in northern Spain, though many would say otherwise, is Albariño, named after the tough, thick-skinned grapes that do so well in the cooler, rain-sodden vineyards of Galicia. Dry, crisp and sharp, it really is the perfect white wine in my opinion.
The Rueda region is another popular white wine producing region – Rosana always asks for Rueda wine – whilst reds from the nearby Ribera del Duero region (probably my favourite wine at the moment) have become immensely popular recently. And of course, as if I need to mention, La Rioja reds are ubiquitous in Asturias… and sax-solo smooth.
As Alejandro (Rosana’s father) likes to say: “Lo único que quiero hacer es comer bien y beber buen vino.” (All I want to do is eat well and drink good wine.)
Pastries and Cakes
Asturias has a sweet side too and Gijon is said to be home to more bakeries per capita than any other destination in Spain – you can literally smell it as you walk through the streets. Cheese continues to play its role, with plenty of sweet cheese cakes and flans to get stuck in to.
Arroz con Leche ~ Rice Pudding
Thick, creamy and sweetened with cinnamon sticks, lemon rind and caramelised (blow-torched) sugar. Guaranteed to transport you back to your childhood.
Drink Proper Asturian Cider at a Sidreria
If there’s one thing Asturias is known for more than anything else, it’s cider. But this isn’t the sugary, skull-pounding, chest-beating cider most of us are used to. No, in Asturias, cider is an art, a timeless ritual that draws on the region’s 250 varieties of apple.
Fresh, light and uplifting, it’s poured escanciada-style, from a great height so that the oxygen it obtains on its descent fuses with the liquid as it “breaks” into the glass, bringing it to life and giving it its galvanising characteristics. A different kind of buzz.
Cider Etiquette: How to Drink Cider in Asturias (Respectfully)
Cider is a very important element of Asturian culture and must be respected.
- One does not order a bottle of cider for themselves – instead, it must be shared with friends and family.
- One does not merely pour ones own cider into thine glass – one must ask expert pourer for “un culin”, which basically means “a little pour”. Don’t worry, they’ll come by eventually to ask if you want a “un culin”, to which all one need reply is, “Si”.
- One does not get upset about having to share thine glass with others – cider is all about sharing. And don’t forget: ladies first.
- One does not linger over thine glass of perfectly poured cider – one must empty ones glass in one swig whilst it is still fresh and “alive”.
- One does not sipeth every ounce of ones cider – one must leave a little drop in thine glass, which should be boldly splashed on the ground, a ritual that is believed to originate from the Celtic custom of returning to the earth a part of what it has given to you.
- One does not drinketh the last dropeth from the bottle – one must leave about two fingers’ worth, presumably for the same reason.
Craft Beer in Asturias
I won’t go into this too much as I’ve really only scratched the surface. But suffice to say, the craft beer movement is taking off in Asturias in a fairly big way – hardly surprising for such a gastro-centric part of the world. It may not be as mature as the Barcelona scene, there are some really exciting microbreweries producing some really excellent beers. Just ask for local brews and enjoy the ride.
But eating and drinking in Asturias really isn’t about following any set rules or guides…
My ultimate advice is far more simple: Just wander around, pop into places that catch your eye and order whatever everyone else is eating. Drink too much cider. Follow the crowds. Ask the waiters for their recommendations (waiters in Asturias, in my experience, are much more friendly and helpful than in, say, Barcelona). Try something new. Try everything. You really can’t go wrong.