Have you ever visited a new country, fallen in love with the food, and then returned home to search for your newest favorite cuisine? Jason and I have done this often. After a trip to Costa Rica we learned to make casada--a simple fish dish with rice and beans. Thanks to a cooking class in Japan, I know how to make udon from scratch (seriously better than the packaged stuff available in the store). I’ll admit that Jason and I are a bit food obsessed, so maybe we are alone in this endeavor. Somehow though, I think there are other couples like us, so I wanted to share how we dealt with our new found love of Spanish cuisine.
After learning of our recent trip to Barcelona, friends told me about a Spanish market called La Espanola Meats in Harbor City (for those not in the LA area, this is near Long Beach, a bit Southwest of Los Angeles). They raved about the food at this market. After doing a bit of research I discovered that Melting Pot Food Tours partners with this market to offer tours combined with a paella lunch. I was sold! So off to Harbor City we went.
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Tour of La Española Meats
Arriving at La Espanola Meats needs a bit of explanation. Since their primary business is as food manufacturer its located in an industrial area of Los Angeles County, so not your typical location for a food market or restaurant. Let me give a little background about this place. It’s a small, family run business started by a Spanish native, Dona Juana, and her Italian American husband, Frank. They started their business as a deli in 1982 and over time, through frequent trips to Spain, learned to make the traditional cured and smoked meats like jamon, salami, and chorizo. So they expanded the deli and began manufacturing Spanish meats, some of which are produced for their own store, but mostly for large grocery chains and high end restaurants. Today their son, Alex, runs the operation, and we were fortunate to have him provide our tour.
Accompanying Alex was Diane, our tour guide from Melting Pot Tours--a tapas chef turned food tour guide who was a wealth of information about Spanish food and wine. Our tour group gathered on the patio so Alex could provide some history. Next we donned the attractive hair nets and entered the manufacturing rooms to learn all about the process of making sausage--weighing, grinding, mixing, stuffing, curing, slicing and packaging. Depending on the type of meat, it can take up to 50 days to cure. La Espanola can produce up to 1,000 pounds of sausage a day. I have a new appreciation for all the work that goes into the delicious charcuterie platters we order at restaurants.
Where to Get Paella in Los Angeles–Lunchtime at La Española Meats
After the tour we returned to the patio to enjoy lunch. First we were served plates of meat and cheese with olives and bread. Everything provided in the first course was delicious, but I was trying hard to save room for the paella. The meat is made on site of course, but the cheese, olives and bread are all imported from Spain since the goal here is for everything to be an authentic Spanish experience. To further that experience we were also offered Spanish wine--both white and red.
Then the highlight of the meal was presented by Alex--a very large and artistic pan of paella. Jason and I thoroughly enjoyed the saffron flavored rice loaded with seafood, chorizo, peas, red peppers and white beans. The Spanish wine continued to flow which paired beautifully with the paella.
Finally we enjoyed a desert of churros and chocolate. If it had been possible to take a nap at the table I would have done so. Between the excellent food and wine, I was relaxed and happy. Diane was even kind enough to pack-up the leftovers which Jason and I enjoyed for lunch the next day.
While I highly recommend taking the Melting Pot Food Tour of La Espanola Meats, it’s also possible to just enjoy the paella lunch on Saturdays. Its strongly recommended that you place your order a few days in advance since a limited amount of paella is made each weekend.
Shopping for Spanish Food in Los Angeles
The final part of the day was shopping in the market with a 10% discount for tour guests. It’s a small space, but they’ve managed to pack in a wide variety of Spanish foods including olive oils, olives, cheeses, meats, wines, crackers and cookies. Both Alex and Diane were available to provide guidance on our purchases. We left with a little bit of everything. If Harbor City is too far, but you love Spanish food, then consider ordering online.
Melting Pot Food Tours
The price for this experience was just $50 a person which was a good deal. I perused the list of other food tours they offer throughout Los Angeles and am eager to try them, especially the East LA Latin Flavors and Little India. Whether you live locally, or are visiting from out of town, I hope you’ll try this company.
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