Where history and food collide
By Geri Dreiling
“El Tostado!” Enrique said excitedly as we toured the Cathedral of Ávila in Spain. With that simple exclamation, our cultural and language differences crystallized.
The image that immediately popped into my head was of a tostada, a fried tortilla slathered with refried beans then topped with lettuce, tomato and salsa that is listed on a menu in a Mexican restaurant in the United States.
Of course, that was not what Enrique had in mind. Instead, he was referring to a renowned scholar, writer and bishop of Ávila in the 15th century. He had spotted the tomb for El Tostado behind the high altar of the Gothic church and was excited that we had discovered it.
El Tostado’s real name was Alonso Fernández de Madrigal and he was considered the most learned theologian of his time. In Spanish, to say saber más que el Tostado is to say that someone knows more than Tostado.
But my thoughts of food at the outset of the history lesson on the bishop weren’t completely off base. Tostado also means toasted in Spanish. And, as it turns out, El Tostado is also the name of a restaurant in Ávila just steps from the cathedral.
The restaurant is located sun-drenched atrium of the Palacio de los Velada hotel. And unlike many other restaurants in Ávila, it is open on Mondays. We were in Ávila on a very chilly, windy Monday in January and El Tostado was a place where we get out of the cold and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
Diners can order a three-course meal that serves many of the culinary treats unique to Ávila and the nearby region. The first course includes a very tasty stew that uses the jumbo Judías de El Barco de Ávila beans combined with chorizo. According to Foods from Spain, the Barco de Ávila beans are produced outside the village of El Barco in Ávila and the town of El Tejado in the Salamanca province. To grow them, manual labor is involved which means production is limited.
In addition to the judiones de la huerta stew, the first course consisted of a modern take on morcilla, a blood pudding that was prepared with apple and jam, and patatas revolconas, a potato dish with paprika and fried pork crust.
The red wine that was served with the meal was the hotel’s own label. Coming in from the cold, the hot stew in the first course accompanied with a full glass of red Spanish wine went a long way towards thawing me from the inside out and returning me to a toasty state.
The main dish of the three-course luncheon menu is chuleta or a steak filet. Enrique ordered the larger chuletón or T-bone steak. The beef comes from the Iberian Avileña-Black breed of cows raised mainly in the meadows of Castile-Leon and Extremadura. Both were cooked in coal. The meat was moist but I honestly have to say I would have been thrilled with a second bowl of the soup. Yes, it was that good – and I was that cold.
For dessert, a cake-like cheesecake with a raspberry glaze drizzle was brought to the table.
I ordered a cup of coffee and savored the view from the comfort of the indoors for just a few moments more. Then, we headed back out to walk along the tenth century walls that lay just beyond the hotel’s entrance – walls that must have even impressed the intelligent El Tostado when he was bishop of Ávila.