Do you know what is Spain’s most expensive delicacy?
Super-expensive delicacies are considered to be weird. The weird element in such delicacies can be the main item or after which the dish has been named, or maybe the procedure of cooking it. These delicacies are not really something you will find on a regular basis, as they are pretty much seasonal. Seasonal availability of the food makes it more expensive.
Spain: the country of tomatoes the second largest country to produce wine, makes a super-super expensive delicacy and it’s not really pleasant to hear about it. ‘Baby eels’ are one of Spain’s most expensive foods!
We are not kidding. Baby eels are called ‘angulas’ in Spain. They literally look like snails which when cooked, looks like noodles. The recipe is very simple though. With garlic and hot peppers fried in lots and lots of olive oil, these angulas are finely fried, giving the Spaniards the traditional taste of Spanish delicacy.
Angulas are so expensive that they are not randomly sold in markets. Instead, they are auctioned. In 2016, the first lot up for sale weighed 1.25 kilos and sold for 5,500 euros. Wholesale. And yet the second lot, which weighed about the same, sold for a ‘mere’ 1,070 euros.
In 1991, Angulas Aguinaga, using surimi, a paste of processed fish, they created imitation angulas, which are called simply gulas. They look almost the same, but that’s about it. Gulas are softer and taste vaguely fishy. Well, Gulas are literally the low-cost version of Angulas and they are found in almost every grocery shop like every other sea-fish/creature.
Angulas live in freshwater, but can breathe through their skin and travel over land for long distances. They eat about anything, living or dead.
At the age of 10 or so, they swim downstream in rivers across Europe to the Atlantic Ocean and then to the Sargasso Sea, some 5,000km away. They live in the depth of 500m of freshwater and after they spawn and die, and their hatchlings drift on the Gulf Stream currents towards Europe. When the angulas finally arrive on Spain’s Atlantic shores, fisherman with scoop nets are waiting for them. The season starts in November, and the best time to catch them is in the middle of the coldest, blackest, rainiest nights when the tide is strong and the water is rough and turbid.
Angulas have entered the list of endangered species now and this credit goes to over-fishing of them. In the past, live angulas were exported to China, where they were fattened and sold as mature eels, but that has been banned since 2010.
Still, a lively black market persists. In 2017, Spanish police uncovered an international angula-trafficking operation that, when busted, had a stash of gold ingots, 1m euros in cash, plus 2m euros worth of live angulas headed for China.