Beware the Bacalao: Three Ways to Unknowingly Order the Regionally Famous Fish

Northern Spain, famous for the cliffs and coastlines frequently featured on Game of Thrones, is a linguistically diverse and culturally distinct region frequently fragmented by ideology and local character. Yet the region unites around one staple: bacalao, or cod. This fish reigns supreme in this region in all its many adaptations. Even if you think you have escaped it, look again—there’s a good chance they have found a way to incorporate this cod fish into your platter.

1. Tacos

This dish will never actually be tacos. No matter how enthusiastically the waiter claims they will be similar to the tortilla’d Mexican goodness you enjoy back home, be warned: the Spanish take many liberties when naming their dishes. The interpretation of tacos that will likely grace your table is reminiscent of a mashup between fish cakes and spaghetti—one that must be eaten with a spoon. Although oddly appetizing in its own semi-mushy fashion, they’re probably not the typical wrap you were looking for.

2. Alubias Rojas

Literally translated, this dish is simply red beans. When described on a menu, the stew sounds like the perfect meal during Northern Spain’s infamous rainy season, but don’t let the innocent and simplistic charm of the old-school dish fool you. The flavor-rich gumbo is frequently fortified with a healthy dose of bacalao. If you aren’t in the mood for the addition of some maritime aromas to your beans, make sure to tell the chef to hold the fish.

3. Croquetas

Anyone who has been to Spain is familiar with the Spanish tradition of tapas. The practice of communally ordering small dishes para picar, or “to pick at,” has become a Spanish cultural hallmark, and it is even customary in most places to receive tapas complimentary with the purchase of a drink. In the Basque and Cantabria regions of Spain, the institution of tapas carries on by the name pinchos or pintxos. Although characterized as a mini, open faced sandwich topped with various meats and veggies, pinchos are often found in the form of croquetas—a crumblier and better version of the American mozzarella stick, and, of course, frequently blended together with bits of bacalao.