Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Sampling menus from regional vegetables to Neapolitan-style pizza

Above: Casa Lac roasted pimientos del cristal with hake

We’ll start this post exploring a few restaurants in Zaragoza with a leisurely meal at what some claim is the oldest in Spain – Casa Lac – dating from 1825 but with a decor updated sometime during the 19th-century. While Casa Lac features tapas downstairs, upstairs offers old-school, formal, multi-course service – perfect for whiling away time on a cool, rainy afternoon.

The six-course meal suited our mood, but what really drew us was Casa Lac’s reputation for putting fresh vegetables, instead of meat, in the primary spotlight. Ricardo Gil’s restaurant group grows and harvests seasonal regional vegetables, such as borage and thistle, on its own farm on the banks of the Ebro River. Gil says: “Our dishes are full of tradition, but with lively flashes of innovation. This is how we understand our cuisine; this is how we keep it alive.”

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Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Cheerful toasts echo around plazas

Above: Well-muddled mojitos at Gran Cafe Estrella de Cuba

Gathering for lively conversation over cocktails seems important in Zaragoza, and not just for young late-night partiers spilling out of tapas bars crowding the narrow streets of the city’s famed El Tubo district. People like us, canosos (gray-haired), jockey for hard-to-score tables on neighborhood plazas with college students and families with baby carriages to enjoy beer, wine and gin and tonics at all times of day – our kind of place.

We were there in the late spring, and, with COVID restrictions just loosening up, the few tourists around barely had a chance of winning the competition for outdoor spots. Maybe we were witnessing the first exuberant gatherings locals were having with friends and family they had missed seeing, their first opportunities to finally escape their apartments after the long lockdown, their first reunification with vices given up for Lent. Perhaps this is simply the year-round pursuit of happiness in Zaragoza – a good way to live.

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Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Competing patron saints and cathedrals, plus some miracles

Above: La Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar is on the left while La Seo de Zaragoza anchors the far end of the plaza.

Although conquered by The Battler, Alfonso I (1073-1134), the Moorish rulers of Zaragoza left rich architectural contributions in their wake. The main mosque was an impressive one, so The Battler opted for adaptive reuse, making alterations for Christian purposes and consecrating the new church in the name of San Salvador in 1121.

The Battler’s predilection for war unfortunately extended to his life with his wife, with no heirs produced from the contentious marriage. Leapfrogging over the resulting confusion following Alfonso I’s death, Ramon Berenguer (1114-1162), the Count of Barcelona, was betrothed to one-year-old Petronilla of Aragon (1136-1173) in 1137. The toddler’s father, known as Ramiro II (1086-1157), transferred the rule of the kingdom of Aragon to his new son-in-law so he could retire to a normally peaceful monastic life. As this post is not really about Ramiro the Monk, we will not dwell on his priestly qualifications that include the legend of his beheading of a dozen nobles who opposed him and using the head of their leader as the clapper for the bell of Huesca.

Demonstrating his dedication to the marriage-acquired territory of Aragon, Ramon had much of Zaragoza’s mosque/Catholic church razed to begin construction of a Romanesque replacement in 1140. This church became the home for coronations of Aragonese kings, and, with the papal appointment of an archbishop of Zaragoza in 1318, a cathedral.

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