It was raining in Vienna when my plane took off. The sun was ablaze where I landed; in Spain. On my way to my temporary home in the mountains of the Priorat, I made a stop in Benidorm, Alicante to celebrate my mother’s 50th birthday with her et familia at my aunt’s vacation home. The dates just kind of worked out that way. Days were all pretty much spent the same. They began with a wonderful smörgåsbord of breakfast put together by my aunt (who, appropriately, is half Swedish and lives in Sweden). There were fruits and veggies, fresh bread and sweet pastries every morning, nutty ibérico, spicy chorizos and mild chorizos, 2 types of manchego and 2 of the stinky French stuff. There was also a packed tin box of libatepertő (goose cracklings), which I brought for my mama from a market in Budapest. And there were anchovies – the salty kind and the pickled, white kind. We would sit around on the patio overlooking the sea for hours before heading out to the beach, where we would stay pretty much until dinner time.
But my uncle is a man who cannot sit still, especially when there’s good food within walking distance. As the ladies lay soaking in the sun he sat watching the water, itching to get up and head over to Baden-Baden. He started recruiting companions only about a half hour after our beach chairs hit the sand. He had me at “ice cold beer.”
Bar Heladería Baden-Baden is a great little spot right along the beach. A counter with stools on either side allows guests to be both at the bar and on the promenade simultaneously. Order a round of iced cold cañas for the table and you get a little snack gratis. Drink enough cañas and you start ordering for real.
Mejillones a la vinagreta are a popular little tapa and super refreshing when paired with cold beer on a sweaty beach day. The plump, luscious mollusk is cooked in a bit of white wine and topped with a simple salsa of tomato, peppers and onions mixed up in good olive oil and vinegar. Thrown over the top are the briny, fleshy green olives that come free with pretty much any drink anywhere in Spain.
My favorite of the tapas are the boquerones, meaty little filets of white anchovy. They are salted and pickled in vinegar for 6 hours. They’re then served drenched in good olive oil, seasoned with garlic and parsley, garnished with the same green olives. I love anything pickled so this dish is a top pick for me at any Spanish bar. The fish are the perfect size for a small bite. They’re meaty and firm since they are cooked by the acidity of the vinegar, as is the case with ceviche. The olive oil hydrates them, helping them slip down my gullet easily. So simple, yet one of the things I will miss the most about Spain.
We also ordered a gambas al ajillo just for kicks. This is perhaps one of the most classic Spanish tapas, though Baden Baden’s version is far from the best I’ve had. Little shrimp are drenched in the olive oil in which they’ve been sauteed together with a generous handful of chopped garlic. It’s garnished with parsley and a sprinkling of paprika. Fish out the plump little bastards (which in this case were a tad too baby-sized for me) and lay them on a slice of bread, watching the excess oil soak off of them and into the soft flesh of the bread.
The beachside tapas at Baden Baden in Benidorm were nothing remotely fancy. But they were three bright little snacks that put me in the correct mindset for Spain.