No matter how well you speak Castellano or know the area, as Murcianos of southeastern Spain can always tell you’re not a local by how you eat a paparajote!
You might be tempted by the treat’s sugary, crispy exterior, but if you continue ahead and take a bite straight through, you’re in for a bitter surprise!
In fact, the crucial ingredient in this traditional treat is the leaf of a lemon tree.
Nestled inside, the leaf gives the paparajote its shape and slight citrus tang.
But, interestingly, it is meant to merely lend a hint of flavor to the fried batter…and not to be eaten!
It makes sense that the paparajote has become a symbol of regional pride for Murcia.
Located on the banks of the Rio Segura, the city is surrounded for miles by fields of plump citrus fruit.
Moreover, the fertile soil and almost year-round blue skies make the area (also known as “Europe’s Orchard”) an ideal agricultural hotspot.
Paparajotes were introduced by way of the Middle East to Murcia and were made in peasant homes. In the region they were made daily, cooked using firewood, and eaten after each meal often accompanying by puchero coffee or café de olla, a traditional Mexican coffee beverage prepared with a traditional earthen clay pot, as this gives a special flavor to the coffee.
Main ingredients are flour, egg, milk, and lemon leaves, and still today the origin of the name remains a mystery.
To make the treat, It is important to choose the perfect leaves from the local huertas (orchards).
Ideal candidates should be a healthy shade of light green, and neither too soft nor too hard to the touch.
After that, once a leaf is chosen, it is coated with dough and fried in olive oil, then dusting with sugar and cinnamon. Yeast is used in the dough to cause the dough to rise and coat the leaf.
You can also find lemon zest and a little anise in some versions but, whatever ingredients are used, you can be fairly sure they’ll be local.
It just wouldn’t be a paparajote if it wasn’t Murciano!
Today they are typically available during the spring at local festivals and fairs, and It’s recommended to pair them with dessert wines, coffee, or herb liqueurs, while a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side is sometimes served as an accompaniment.
The ritual of eating paparajotes is simple, yet still seems to confound visitors to the point that it has become a sort of cultural test.
If you want to pass the exam with flying colors, just follow these simple instructions:
Pick the leaf up by its stem and pull the batter off.
And that’s it!
And don’t forget that peeling the delicious sugary skin off the leaf in one smooth go is one of the greatest pleasures of local gastronomy!
Images from web – Google Research