When is a slipper not a slipper? In the Mesón del Jamón in Logroño, the provincial capital of La Rioja, a zapatilla is a sandwich made with rustic bread smeared with tomato and olive oil, layered with Serrano ham and toasted until it is transformed into a squidgy tastebomb. Ask for underpants – calzoncillos – in the Bar Torrecilla and you get a piece of bread topped with a dollop of thick béchamel sauce dotted with bits of ham and egg.
With at least two dozen tapas bars to choose from, most with their own specialities, an evening in the Calle Laurel in the heart of Logroño is a crash course in Riojan cuisine. Chunks of black pudding, chicken and pork are squashed onto skewers and smeared with spicy sauce, peppers are stuffed with crumbled cod and asparagus is deep-fried in a light, fluffy batter.
In the Bar Soriano, I ordered a champi, just like everyone else, and got piping hot mushrooms with a prawn and garlicky mayonnaise, all speared onto a hunk of bread with a cocktail stick. Each tapa is accompanied by a glass of Rioja of course, with a variety to choose from in every bar. It’s loud, boisterous, messy and you invariably end up spilling wine down your front as you jostle for space, but for an exhilarating – and inexpensive – night out, it’s hard to beat.