I wanna be your holy man
Well, I find it hard to believe there´s sleepier city in Spain than Cordoba. After a super-efficient ride on the AVE from Atocha I landed in Cordoba about 1300 sometime in the 1970´s (and that´s not just because all the signeage used fonts from that era). A couple of hours later the whole population disappeared and I mean the whole population. If you ever wanted to reenact the film 28 Days Later then Cordoba on a Sunday afternoon would be the place. Actually, it wasn´t a bad way to explore the town and it is a very attractive place albeit a bit rough around the edges - as all the best places are.
Virtually the whole of the centre is made up of small alleys (many unsigned) which you soon get lost in. What makes navigation more difficult is that the outsides of the buildings are all uniform so you navigate a bit by the Sun - maps are useless. Every now and then there will be an open door which will lead to one of the hundreds of patios. It´s like looking in on another world. At night everything is lit by dim white lamps which although they don´t help driving lend an atmospheric air to the city.
Cordoba doesn´t seem to have the cluster of tapas bars and restaurants that other cities in Spain have. There are a lot of bars obviously (this is Spain) but you have to put in a bit of walking if you are to escape the tourist area (the Juderia). This is mainly populated by Americans who don´t venture too far from their hotel because Frommers said they would face certain death (Spain as you know is one of the most lawless places on Earth whereas Detroit is one of the safest) and by a lumpen group of Brits continually asking if their meal will come with vegetables (of course it won´t this is Spain, read a frigging guidebook).
When I eventually came across a taberna or bar the food was generally served in enormo portions and was of good quality although ordering media raciones usually meant a portion of chips cooked in olive oil which were very good but then there´s only so many you can eat (what am I saying - I scoffed the lot).
The best things to try are the Cordoban specialities: Salmorejo is a sort of gazpacho made without water and served with bits of jamon and hard-boiled egg. Flamenquin is pork wrapped around a filling usually jamon and deep fried (you can´t eat a lot of these). My favourite Rabo de Toro is Oxtail slow cooked until rich and melting. Combining this with chips and the inevitable bread is a real appetite killer - but what the heck. Even the tapas when they were available were not small and as well as the normal croquetas,jamon you also got more unusual stuff like criadillas (bulls testicles). Very good and very similar to sweetbreads. Fish was usually in the form of bacalao or cazon en adobo - not much fresh stuff going on here.
All these were washed down with the local vino Fino. Not the stuff from Jerez but the unfortified wine from Montilla-Moriles. It tastes similar but you don´t get so rat-arsed after a few. The beer compared to Madrid and (dare I say it) Sevilla was a bit disappointing - not as cold, no head. Still, everything was ridiculously cheap. Those media raciones were about 4 euros each and a glass of fino rarely broke the euro mark.
Unusually, I did find a couple of good places right by the Mezquita: Bar Santos is the place to go for Tortilla and Taberna Mezquita had a very good range of wine, tapas and raciones. In other words it´s not that touristy (as say Sevilla is).
Bar Gallo is an old-timers bar where I struck up a conversation with a couple of the locals. Soon we were buying each other drinks and laughing and laughing and then they were telling me how the Atocha bombings were a plot by the Spanish Left and how they were all Nationalists and were "por la derecha". Maybe it was something to do with Cordoba having a communist government or something but I decided to keep my racially impure origins to myself. However, when some of my new amigos started throwing a few straight arm salutes I decided it was probably a good time to leave. Nice bar though and well worth a visit. Watch out for the falangistas though.
Another excellent Bodega whose name escapes me is just up from the Plaza de la Corredera. There are English menus as in a lot of places around town but as usual get the Spanish menu and translate if you want to know what you´re going to eat (alternatively live a little dangerously and don´t give a damn).
If you want to go off the tourist trail I can recommend El Abuelo as a typical Spanish bar which has a good range of everything and you´ll never here the ping of the microwave. In fact I never heard it once in this town.
I went a little off piste to some nuevo place I´d read about in an online version of El Pais called EL Choco. The meal didn´t really impress (it was quite heavy cooking but with foam, although not completely terrible) and in the two hours I was there no one else turned up. When I went past the kitchen there wasn´t any sign of the featured chef so who knows. Anyway approach with caution.
Cordoba has put itself up as a canditate for the 2016 city of culture. It´s an admirable aim but to me, Cordoba doesn´t feel like a city going anywhere in particular. There´s a distinct lack of dynamism. Maybe they think that having the Mezquita is enough but I don´t think it is. A city is more than a few old buildings and a history - it´s also about the present and the future. Anyway it´s a pleasant enough place to spend a few days so here´s hoping they get want they want. Salud !