Spain isn't really well known for its contributions to the global noodlescape. Many of us are familiar with, and duly appreciative of, the great strides Spaniards have made with rice (see: paella). But does their work with noodles have similar merit? Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves with that question. First things first: is there such thing as a traditional Spanish noodle dish?
The answer is yes, actually. Meet fideuà, paella's overshadowed cousin. It's a rich, brothy number, usually chock-full of seafood, shellfish, sweet peppers, and fideos—vermicelli-like Spanish pasta noodles. Just how overshadowed is fideuà? Well, seeking it out in Chicago led me to only one source: Cafe Iberico in River North.
Cafe Iberico's fideuà de marisco ($13.95) gets the brothy bit right, with a creamy, buttery base accented with paprika, garlic, and saffron. The array of seafood, from mussels and clams in their shells to chopped white fish and scallops, washed the bowl with a pleasant Mediterranean perfume. But I was thrown by the pasta, which was not at all like fideo (my guess was bucatini, in fact). What's more, fideuà is usually either finished in the oven to give the noodles a nice crisp texture, or the fideos are dry-toasted in a pan before hitting the broth. Neither had been done here. What gives? I thought.
Despite my disappointment with the noodles, I couldn't argue against the flavors; Cafe Iberico's fideuà tasted great. If anything, it convinced me that I need to shed more light on this unsung dish. If more fideuà exists in Chicago, I'd love to know about it.