When ever I come back from Spain I'm laden down with the usual pork products, the jamons, the chorizo and the blood sausage and a healthy couple of bags of calasparra rice, not to mention some quince paste and saffron. These are the bits that I usually end up sharing with friends and relations, and I have no problem with that. Spread the love, says I. Stashed in the depths are the secret things, the stuff that doesn't get shared. Those choice items that I'll keep to myself and enjoy in those moments when no one else is about, in that hour or so before the girlfriend come home after I've got in from work. Now, you'd be expecting that this would be chocolate or some such. In fact no, it's something all together freakier, something, that when I actually stop to think about it is a bit twisted. White asparagus comes from the process of etiolation, which is the deprivation of light. Dirt is kept mounded around the emerging stalk, depriving it of light. The plant cannot produce chlorophyll without light, thus there is no green color to the stalks and the flavour is something all together different. It's basically the veal of the vegetarian world. Cruel, probably, delicious, yes.
The problem is that obviously these canned treats are heavy and I'm not one for loading up a whole bag and then having those awkward questions at customs. So, when the Spain sourced stash runs out, it's off into London's slightly fractured and dislocated Iberian community to find some more. Now, traditionally that meant Ladbroke Grove and Portobello. The Spaniards settled here during the Civil War, the population made up of refugees and later political exiles as the course of the war turned sour. During those subsequent years of dicatorship, many more left Spain (mostly from poor areas like Galicia and Andalucia) to find work and send money home settling where the republican refugees had seeded communities. In subsequent years those communities where augmented by a slow trickle of Portuguese and these days by swiftly growing communities of Central and South Americans.
Luckily, with proper Spanish food growing in popularity it's getting easier to lay your hands on these pearly white stalks of sweet tender flesh. They demand freshly made mayonnaise, absolutely demand it, and a dash of good sherry vinegar. They taste nothing like green asparagus, they have a delicate sweetness and a yielding quality that melts in the mouth, and you thought steamed asparagus was sexy. Despite all that, they will make your wee smell funny, those canny Spaniards obviously haven't figured a way of ridding them of that particular quality.