Journey to the source: Dining out in Córdoba

Córdoba makes the ideal base to get a taste for southern Spain, says Fiona Dunlop.

It was a simple, timeless-looking tavern, though in the low evening light no sign was visible. Peering inside through a wrought-iron gate I saw several occupied tables, half-tiled walls, a stag's head sprouting impressive antlers, a priest and, most important of all, a leg of jamón on the counter. Within seconds I was inside, seated at a wooden table. Photos of partridges and footballers hung randomly between rusty rifles and kitchen utensils. The voices were all Spanish. Taberna Góngora felt like an auspicious start to my gastronomic investigation of Córdoba.

Córdoba lags behind Seville and Granada in terms of visitor numbers, but for me it's Andalucia's most beguiling, authentic city. The delights start with the orange trees in the patio of the Mezquita mosque and continue through the web of whitewashed backstreets and flowery patios, into the exquisitely crafted old synagogue, past the Roman temple and into a convent to buy a bag of homemade perrunas (almond biscuits). Onwards, to the fabulous Palacio de Viana with its 12 patio gardens, each one more perfumed and evocative than the last, and finally ducking into a Peña Flamenca for a homemade paella and an improvised cante jondo.

From a gastronomic point of view, Córdoba excels thanks to its position in a triangle formed by the Sierra Morena, source of excellent game and pata negra ham from Los Pedroches, the vineyards of Montilla-Moríles, where fino and dessert wine are produced; and the olive groves of La Subbética. With the essentials covered, Córdoban taverns push the boat out into oxtail or wild boar territory: all part of the sierra tradition. There's plenty of fresh fish, too, brought from the nearby Mediterranean.

In summer, a cornucopia of quality vegetables ripen; the juiciest tomatoes become Córdoba's ubiquitous salmorejo soup, liberally laced with olive oil and aged sherry vinegar. Salmorejo is the gastronomic barometer of a Córdoban tavern. On this trip, the first I tasted, at Taberna Góngora, was thick and creamy with great chunks of garlic and a generous sprinkling of jamó* and boiled egg. It was beaten a few days later by an intense version I came across in Cabra, a small town of La Subbética, as part of a €9 menú del día. Fewer breadcrumbs and a larger dose of ambrosial olive oil defined it and made it positively unforgettable.

Nearly all the taverns have a shaded internal patio to escape the merciless summer heat – akin to the courtyard restaurants of Damascus, hardly surprising as it was the Umayyad dynasty from that city which founded Córdoba back in the 8th century. This announced two centuries of cultural and intellectual glory, the heyday of Al-Andalus, and the flowering of its gastronomy thanks to a wealth of new ingredients.

Other traditions are more Spanish. At the Casa el Pisto, as you chew through your ración (sharing plate) of pig's trotters you can't avoid Córdoban bullfighting history in countless photos of the great Manolete (a Buster Keaton lookalike) and fellow toreros. The chequerboard marble floor here has witnessed a stream of artists, celebrities and intellectuals since 1880.

Córdoba, like other big Spanish cities, has experienced a slow groundswell of nueva cocina. One place that has set the bar high for innovative raciónes is Ziryab, a sleek white tavern named after a 10th-century sybarite who imported the art of fine dining from Baghdad. Here chef Ramó* Montilla produces exquisite seasonal dishes that mirror the Andalus cultural setting, all with a contemporary twist. I was wowed by a slab of juicy suckling pig crowned by a crispy skin and sitting on a dollop of lemon purée, which I mopped up with gently wilted pak choi. Equally, a sublimely textured bacalao (dried salt cod) came with black potatoes – a startling visual effect produced by squid ink.

At Góngora, a plate of jamó* ibérico from Los Pedroches had proved to be a luscious treat. At under €6 for a half ración, it led me straight to a second.

Next day I drove straight to the source of those black Iberian pigs that snuffle for acorns beneath centennial holm oaks. This was in the bucolic dehesa, an ambivalent word that refers both to agricultural stone wall defences and to the wooded hills and meadows that undulate west to Extremadura and the Portuguese border. Nearly all the farms of Los Pedroches rear Iberian pigs alongside Charolais cattle, sheep and goats.

At Ibesa, the smaller of two local farming co-operatives, I was amazed to see thousands of legs of ham suspended in vast, naturally ventilated cellars, a kind of purgatorial penumbra where they remain for up to three years to reach optimum condition – and price.

Upstairs I sampled some of the velvety jamón, lomo and salchichón, all sliced and vacuum packed by hand. This was located in Villanueva de Córdoba, the centre of all things porcine. Lunch at La Puerta Falsa, a labyrinthine restaurant, kicked off with a local soup, salmorejo jarote ("hunter's gazpacho"). The liquidised tomato concealed morsels of rabbit and partridge.

Later, at the Finca Cortijo Era Alta, I watched pigs trot over the meadows to gorge themselves on acorns, before I finally retired to contemplate my own expanding girth, holed up in an 18th-century mansion-hotel of Dos Torres, an unexpectedly elegant Renaissance town of this sierra. After some pungent local cheeses with a glass or two of Rioja to toast the beautiful main square, I was fast asleep, dreaming of salmorejo, acorns... and jamó* ibérico.

Travel essentials: Córdoba

Getting there

* Fly to Madrid or Málaga, then reach Córdoba by AVE high-speed rail (renfe.com).

Eating & drinking there

* Taberna Góngora (00 34 957 490 362). Casa El Pisto/Taberna San Miguel (00 34 957 478 328). Ziryab, Calle San Felipe 15 (00 34 957 484 138; bodegasmezquita.com). Bodegas Campos, Calle Los Lineros 32 (00 34 957 497 500; bodegascampos.com).

Staying there

* Hotel Posada de Vallina, Córdoba (00 34 957 49 87 50; hhposadadevallina.es). Doubles from €69. Palacio del Bailio, Córdoba (00 34 957 498 993; hospes.com); from €184; both room only.

Visiting there

* La Puerta Falsa (00 34 957 120 110; lapuertafalsa.es). Ibesa (00 34 957 122000; ibesa.es). Centro de Initiativas Turisticas (00 34 957 156102; citlospedroches.com).

More information

* Turismodecordoba.org

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style