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Synopsis

The menú del día is Spain's equivalent of the prix fixe menu of the bistros of France. On it are good, no-nonsense dishes that are as long on flavor and tradition as they are short on pretension and fuss. Influenced by a unique blend of culinary and cultural influences -- wine from the Romans; rice, cinnamon, saffron, and cumin from the Moors; slow-cooked stews from the Jews; tomatoes, peppers, chocolate, and chilies from the New World -- these are the tastes that have made Spanish cooking as vibrant as it is today. To start, there might be Gazpachuelo, the mayonnaise-enriched shrimp and monkfish soup straight from Mediterranean Málaga, followed by a main course of Fabada, the gloriously sticky stew of pork and white beans from mountainous Asturias, and Bienmesabe ("Tastes good to me!"), the almond, cinnamon, honey, and lemon cream so beloved by the people of Canary Islands. A menú in northerly Navarra, which borders France, might begin with Menestra Riojana, a delicate dish of spring vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, and continue with Pichón Estofado, a robust dish of pigeon stewed with red wine. Arroz con Leche, creamy rice pudding with a burnt-sugar crust, makes a sweet ending.

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