Welcome to Pamplona, Spain.
Before I visited the city in September, I was worried that I wouldn’t get quite enough of a bull fix, because the annual man-vs.-bull chaos known as the Running of the Bulls had taken place two months earlier, in July. How naive I was.
Pamplona, after all, is practically synonymous with bull. The town in Spain’s northern Navarra region became famous in 1926, when Ernest Hemingway outed its raucous bull-filled San Fermin festival in his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Today, the bull theme is everywhere. There’s the Running of the Bulls Museum; the third-largest bullring in the world (behind Mexico and Madrid); pious statues dedicated to San Fermin and bulls; ubiquitous bull T-shirts (the best of which was “The Bull Father,” with a bull in a tux scowling at bull runners); preserved bull heads mounted on walls.
Pamplona wants to have its bull — and eat it, too.
Now, as it happens, bull meat is hardly uncommon around the world. I recently toured the Vienna Beef factory in Chicago and learned that Vienna Beef hot dogs are actually 75 percent bull meat. Bull is also in a lot of ground beef in the United States; it’s just not marketed as such. I’m not sure why. Bovine sexism?
In Pamplona, bull consumption makes perfect sense. Any culture that embraces actually running with bulls probably isn’t going to shy away from a nice bull fricassee. After all, that’s why bull running began in 1385. Back then, only the butchers — adorned in their all-white outfits, just as Running of the Bulls participants dress today — ran alongside the bulls to the bullring, staring down supper. Then and now, after a bull is fought and killed in the ring, the butchers set in, parceling and carting away the animal so that all Pamplona can, literally, have a piece of it.
I want a piece of it, too. But I don’t want to cook it myself. So I eat my way around Pamplona’s restaurants, looking expectantly at menus. The result? Nada. The reason? Seasonality. The restaurants I visit all have a farm-to-table way about them. This is Europe, after all, where eating fresh and local is a way of life rather than a trend. If the bulls aren’t fighting — and the only bullfighting in Pamplona takes place during the running of the bulls — then most restaurants aren’t serving. (Thankfully, there’s always the farmers market for bull steaks, bull chops and bull liver if you’ve got a hankering that won’t let up.)