Cáceres has an old walled town in its center. Walk around and you are in the middle ages, given the buildings, the stone streets and total absence of cars. There is a blend of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture, not to mention the stork nests. There are thirty towers from the Islamic period still standing.
Humans have inhabited the area since prehistoric times. Evidence of this can be found in the caves of Maltravieso, with cave paintings dating to 25,000 BCE. The city was founded by the Romans in 25 BC and is a Unesco World Heritage Site, quite justifiably so.
Cáceres is in the part of Spain called Extremadura. I always thought that the name Extremadura referred to the extremely hard (dura) quality of the soil and life there but more accurately extremadura is from Latin words meaning literally “outermost hard”, the outermost secure border of an occupied territory. During La Reconquista it was the westernmost holding of the Christians.
We arrived knowing next to nothing about the cooking here, other than the accolades from our friend Pedro. He was born in the area.
We had lunch the first afternoon at Restaurante Minerva. I ordered the bacalao (cod). Before refrigeration they probably could get this fish here as it is salt dried. It is still sold that way far more often than not in Spain (and Italy). I am not sure if this one was fresh but my guess it was salted. You have to soak it for a day or more to remove the salt.
They deep-fried it to perfection in fact it was almost dry to the touch yet crunchy through and through. It was served with a ‘gamba crujente,’ a crunchy shrimp cracker. They finely chopped or ground the shrimp and added flour of some sort and I don’t know what else to make a cracker, which they probably then deep-fried. It was fantastic. The wine was Habla del Secreto, an excellent red from the region. With regards to wine, there is one Denomination of Origin Protegida in Extemadura: Ribera del Guadiana. For dessert I had a ‘panna cotta.’ I know, it’s Italian but looked like the best thing on their menu, and I was right. It was better than any I have ever had and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy.
Game is a part of the local cuisine scene: partridge, pigeon, turtledove, rabbit, hare, wild boar, deer. Wild mushrooms, truffles, wild asparagus or the excellent thistle are on the menus of the fancier places. “Torta del Casar” is from here and one of the most fabulous cheeses you can get anywhere. It is a soft cheese like those made in France, with a huge flavor. Wow! Other regional cheeses are – La Serena, Ibores, Gata and Cabra del Tietar.
The region is known also for honey, which even has a DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida). For deserts they use thyme, heather, rosemary, lavender, lime and eucalyptus which combine with almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, eggs and flour, and perhaps a liqueur to make “rosquillas” (ring-shaped biscuits), “alfeñiques” (caramel dessert), “perrunillas” (small round cakes), “nuégados” (egg yolk and orange), buns, “técula-mécula” (cinnamon, almond and tea).
For dinner we went to Restaurante los Ibéricos. We ordered tapas for €16, thinking it would be a light meal. It was substantial, however. The first to come out was two good size servings of pork roast (lomo or loin) on very good baguette. For another meal we went to Taperia Yuste is in the NH Hotel. It offers elegant surroundings and very good food. At one of the places we had lunch we had a Payva red for €11.
The last evening we were there was a procession. A statue of Mary resides upon the hill out of town. It takes hours to get her to the Plaza Mayor. We waited in one of the sidewalk restaurants having wine and tapas, snuggling under the gas heater against the night air.
Cáceres was a surprisingly interesting visit and not at all expensive. It takes 4 hours by train from Madrid as there is no high-speed train service and is still comparatively remote and lightly visited. It might not stay that way.