Traditional bars and prestigious restaurants will compete at San Sebastian Gastronomika - Euskadi Basque Country for the title of the country’s best Russian salad in front of a jury headed by Pedro Subijana.
Its name evokes distant Russia, but it is one of the most popular recipes in Spanish cuisine. It can be found in almost all bars from San Sebastian to Malaga and Madrid. Leaving aside Spanish omelette, potato salad is the only common ‘tapa’ across the entire country. In order to decide which deserves to be crowned the best in the country, the Spanish Championship, which is sponsored by San Miguel, is held every year as part of the San Sebastian Gastronomika - Euskadi Basque Country congress. A jury made up of specialist journalists and presided over by chef Pedro Subijana will be in charge of deciding which of these salads will be the tsarina of Russian salads in the country after a rigorous blind tasting.
Surtopía. Núnez de Balboa, 106 (Madrid)
José Calleja, from Sanlúcar, has been serving up his particular version of classic Andalusian cuisine which goes “beyond fish and cold soups” for the last nine years in the heart of Madrid. Russian salad has been on the menu since day one because in the capital “everybody had their own version”, so the chef was clear that Surtopia's had to be different. He achieved this by incorporating pickled prawns into the mixture, the juice of which he also uses to make mayonnaise. However, the key to the success of the whole thing is using highly prized Sanlúcar potatoes that are grown on beach sand and provide a delicate touch of salt.
Bar Fénix. Plaza Santa Catalina, 1 (Murcia)
Everybody in Murcia knows the 'marineras' in Bar Fénix. This classic Russian salad tapa decorated with an anchovy in oil is the bar's signature dish, along with other classics from the more traditional repertoire such as 'matrimonio’ (a tapa of two types of anchovies), octopus or battered shrimp. Located in the lively Plaza de Santa Catalina and with almost 40 years of experience behind it, this veteran of Murcia's catering industry sees the championship as “an opportunity for us to become known outside our region”, said Daniel Navarro, son of the founder. A modest David versus Goliaths with their Michelin stars.
Hidalgo 56. Paseo de Colón, 15 (San Sebastian)
Juan Mari Humada plays at home with a recipe that his mother made more than 60 years ago in the old Hidalgo. A talented cook who, due to circumstances, did not have the career he deserved, Humada managed to win a Michelin star for the family business in 1993, but the business was sold and he dedicated himself to trying his luck in other projects. Since 2005, he has been working at Hidalgo 56, where he serves a must-try, well-established salad. Made with pickled tuna and finished off with a gilda (cocktail stick skewer with an olive, a salted anchovy and pickled Ibarra chilli pepper), it has made a name for itself among the demanding public of San Sebastian.
Bar Nerva. Calle Cristo de la Epidemia, 55 (Malaga)
Having a local clientele in a city as touristy as Malaga is a guarantee for Bar Nerva's future and a guarantee of quality for visitors. This classic cafeteria is famous for its traditional Malagan cuisine and its dishes eaten with a spoon, and also for serving an excellent Russian salad. Quino Fernandez remembers his father dispatching huge bowls of a recipe which included shrimps, the key to which is in the mayonnaise. “It contains 60% of hojiblanca olive oil, which gives it an unmistakable taste of Malaga”, he revealed.
La Guisandera de Piñera. Rosario Pino, 12 (Madrid)
This popular-looking name hides an elegant, centrally located restaurant in Madrid that was once a temple of modernity and today is dedicated to cultivating great Asturian market cuisine, without sacrificing the creative touch of star chef Pedro Martino. Among the dishes such as fabada (rich bean and pork stew), green kidney beans with seafood or rice with pitu de caleya (Asturian free-range chicken), the highlight is a creamy salad with arbeyos (peas), roasted sun-dried pepper, slices of bonito tuna, carrot, piparras (Basque chillies) and grated egg with parsley.
Pan de Cuco. Calabazas, 17. (Suesa, Cantabria)
This friendly eatery with naturalistic aesthetics on the road from Santander to Somo is the personal project of chef Álex Ortiz Cayon after years spent in the legendary Bodega El Riojano in the Cantabrian capital. He borrowed a recipe from there that he himself helped to refine and that stands out for its original presentation. On the traditional base of potatoes, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, bonito and pickles, it incorporates piquillo peppers, trout roe, gherkins, piparras (Basque chillies), croutons and anchovies as toppings. You won’t get bored.
Petit Comité. Pasaje de la Concepción, 13. (Barcelona)
An exquisite Russian salad is served in the informal restaurant of the group of restaurants managed by Nandu Jubany, which is prepared with seasonal produce from the chef's garden. It includes potatoes, carrots, tuna, olives stuffed with anchovies and roasted Catalan red peppers, but the key is that the preparation “does not go near the fridge”, explains the chef, Ramón Blanch. Jubany is of the opinion that “the best salad is the one that is freshly made”. Amén.
Chinchin Puerto. Puerto de Caleta de Vélez, 3A. (Vélez, Malaga)
Watch out for this young but mature gastronomic project dedicated to highlighting the treasures of the Alboran Sea with a very refined technique using sustainable methods. Lourdes Villalobos and Belén Abad are committed to unknown, underrated seafood, such as the coloradillo, a variety of langoustine which is barely 2 centimetres long but “has a very powerful wild seafood flavour”. They use them to make an oil that is used to make the mayonnaise that surrounds a salad full of contrasts: finely chopped raw onion, blanched carrot brunoise, egg white and coloradillo crowning the whole. An abundance of work beneath a simple appearance that represents the style of the establishment very well.
Xerta Tapas. Carrer de Córcega, 289. (Barcelona)
Chef Fran López, who has one Michelin star for Xerta, offers a more informal approach in the hall of the Hotel Ohla Eixample, “with simpler cuisine and service but with a lot of technique”. His aim is to bring the cuisine of the Ebro Delta to the heart of Barcelona, which is why, in addition to fresh vegetables, his Russian salad contains a blue crab that began as an invader but with which the local cuisine has learned to coexist. He uses it to make the spherical shapes that top his Delta salad.