Cookbook Review! Or, garlic, the beaten track, and a tiny little moan about the monolingualism of Rick Stein’s otherwise rather fabulous SPAIN

Is it really still possible to present oneself as an expert on Spain – especially Spain ‘off the beaten track’ – without at least mentioning the country’s multicultural, multilingual reality?

If you’ve been watching TV or reading the UK press in the last few weeks, you can’t have missed the news of TV chef Rick Stein’s new venture, Spain: 140 New Recipes Inspired by my Journey off the Beaten Track. The book’s been out for about a month now (available in all good bookshops… not to mention the retail-behemoth-that-shall-not-be-named, which is, naturally, selling it at a knockdown price) and the TV series starts on BBC 2 this month.

First up, let me just state for the record that I like this book. I do! It’s colourful, passionate, knowledgeable, and the recipes are entirely sensible in terms of both ingredients and instructions. We roadtested the Haddock a la plancha with caramelized garlic (p.24) from the Galician section last night, and it was just as promised. Seriously, I think the book might be worth buying for the caramelized garlic recipe alone, although truth be told, since it just involves garlic, olive oil, and time, I am taking it less as a recipe than as a weekly obligation <wanders into kitchen to prod latest batch>

I’m excited to try out some more of the recipes, but before I do, I have to get one thing out of my system. See, Stein’s book is the product of passion, but also – he is very keen to tell us – of a longstanding knowledge with a country he first visited at the age of seven, back in the mid fifties. The subtitle’s reference to his journey ‘off the beaten track’, combined with his insistence on his insider knowledge of less familiar parts of the country such as Cantabria (his earliest Spanish memory is of a holiday in Laredo), places Stein’s project firmly inside Britain’s long Hispanophile tradition.* And he certainly does go off the beaten track – there are chapters on Asturias & Cantabria, the Basque Country, Rioja & Navarra, Catalonia, Valencia, Castilla la Mancha, Andalusia, and Extremadura. And the whole project begins in Galicia! In fact, his opening words are “If you go to La Coruña, there’s a place I think you should visit” (p.7).

Can you see where I’m going yet? I’m thrilled that Galicia occupies such a prominent place in the book, and Stein’s Galician-inspired recipes (he’s quite open about the recipes being ‘not always completely authentic’ [p.11]), including that Haddock, are all very tempting. But this is a resolutely monolingual version of Galicia. Coruña keeps its Spanish article ‘La’ all the way through, rather than the authentically Galician ‘A’ (and dude, if Wikipedia can do it…!) and all of the foods and ingredients are given only their Castilian names – it seems so odd to see Pimientos rather than Pimentos de Padrón, and Mejillones rather than Meixillóns or Mexillóns.

‘Isto nom é Espanha’ (This is not Spain) – Galician independentista graffiti, via

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a second suggesting that Stein and his people should have presented each chapter solely in the local language – in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually pretty exciting that British readers are getting recipe names in Spanish as well as English. Nonetheless, in a book that presents itself as inspired by the ‘authentic,’ ‘off-the-beaten-track’ Spain, I’d have expected at least a note to let readers know that Galicia has a perfectly fine language of its own, which you’ll see all around you when you travel there, not least on the restaurant menus and road signs that are the main navigation points for most of the gastro-tourists who’ll undoubtedly be following Stein along this freshly-beaten track.

So, Mr Stein, thank you for the caramelized garlic (which, incidentally, is divine over stir-fried courgettes), and for all the future dinners your excellent book will no doubt inspire. But if you do a second edition, please don’t forget that Spain is not just a multicultural country, but a multilingual one. Your readers, and a large proportion of Spain’s citizens, will thank you for it. Oh, and if you want a(nother) adviser,  estou ao seu dispoñer. You know where to find me.


ETA#2: ‘In Catalan dialect…’ (p.130). Um … do you mean ‘language,’ Rick?

ETA: There are also a bunch of seriously annoying typos in the Spanish –  two special horrors, ‘torro’ (for ‘toro’) and ‘croquettas’ (for ‘croquetas’), even appear on the same page. Also (and then I will stop, I promise!) isn’t ‘tapas’ a plural noun, singular ‘tapa’? Talking about ‘a tapas’ just sounds odd </pedantry corner>

*Seriously, some bits of Spain could have been written by some of the Edwardian travel writers whose works I’m currently steeped in – people like Helen Colvill, Catherine Gasquoine Hartley and Hans Gadow, who stayed firmly ‘off the beaten track,’ prided themselves on their network of local connections, and made sure their readers were left in no doubt of the authenticity of their knowledge.



  1. Let me just say, I loved that review. I just had a similarly annoying experience: yesterday, they showed Vicky Cristina Barcelona on German TV, and since it was on the public channel (no ads!) I decided to give it a go – but then nearly gave up midway through because of the stereotypical way Spain was presented. The whole country morphed into one big blob of guitar music and screaming women. Needless to say, I now fully understand why my Spanish friends weren’t too thrilled with the film.
    So, yay for multi-faceted representations of Spain!

    1. Yay indeed for multi-faceted Spain! Have avoided Vicky Cristina Barcelona so far … glad to hear I haven’t missed anything 🙂

  2. I was surprised at the lack of research and after covering most of northern Spain he didn’t stop in Aragon, just went straight on to the Costa Brava! Interesting blog by the way.

    1. Hi there, yes, he did miss out Aragon, which seems a massive shame. Love your blog, btw – and as you say, maybe this means Aragon will stay a secret from the rest of us!

  3. So, I guess I should thank Rick for finding your blog..

  4. robinnis · · Reply

    I loved the programme, pity it was only 4 episodes but still at least it put a positive slant on Spain unlike many TV/press pieces.

    1. Hi Rob, and thanks for stopping by. Yes, it was good to see a positive and individual view of Spain. I just wish they’d taken as much care over the book!

      1. robinnis · ·

        Doubtless the BBC’s budget for qualified researchers, writers, editors, proof readers etc could not be stretched given their wage bill of millions for the C List celebs they employ these days…………

      2. I have just returned from exploring in Extremadura – partly because of Rick’s visit (the power of TV!) Really enjoyed it and will return next year.

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