Churros, Again|Susumu Yamada|KnowLedge World Network|Activities|KNOWLEDGE CAPITAL

  • 2021.11.22
  • Churros, Again
The first article I contributed was published on the Knowledge Network (KN) website on January 20, 2015. The topic of the article was churros and porras, typical foods people eat for breakfast in Spain. My profile photo on the KN website is still the one taken when I was researching that story and shows me (looking as though I am in training) in the kitchen at the renowned churro shop Churrería Kiosco Catalino, which opened in 1946 in the ancient city of Toledo.


Photo 1

That profile photo doesn’t clearly show what’s going on, right. The full-size photo (Photo 1) shows a man with a surprised look on his face, looking as though he has been caught in the middle of mischievously scooping up a thick, coiled porras from a deep frier, and beside him, freshly fried, thin, circular churros. In the article I describe these two foods made from dough fried in oil, but since the article is no longer on the website, I am reproducing some of it here.

I wrote this about churros.
“They’re commonly eaten for breakfast in Spain. Even though they look like ‘skinny fried doughnuts,’ they’re not confectionery, it would be embarrassing to call them sweets, although they’re described as a type of doughnut, they don’t contain eggs or butter, and the dough isn’t based on yeast. They’re a simple ‘deep-fried dough’ made by mixing strong wheat flour with a little salt and hot water then deep-frying the dough in oil, that’s all. Maybe the reason you never get tired of eating them every morning is their simple plainness.
If I had to describe a feature of churros, I guess it might be the star-shaped cross section. If you drop blobs of dough straight into the hot oil, there is the risk of them exploding, but the star shape increases the surface area, so the dough can cook through quicker.”
There would certainly be no shortage of people in Spain who eat churros for breakfast every day. Which is the first point of difference from churros in Japan, right.

Porras are often mistakenly thought to be made with the same dough as churro, just thicker. But as I mentioned in my previous article…
“The differences, however, are:
- You use soft flour for porras.
- You add a little baking soda.
- You use lukewarm not hot water.
- The dough isn’t firm, it’s more like pancake batter.
- The cross section diameter is bigger (about 3 cm) than churros (about 1.5 cm).”
Although the shape and the ingredients are almost identical to youtiao (Chinese deep-fried dough), which is typically eaten with Chinese congee, you don’t leave the dough to rise overnight or shape it before frying, so maybe you could call them cousins or brothers-in-law.


Photo 2

But these descriptions of churros and porras only apply to Madrid and surrounding districts. Different regions call them different things and prepare them differently. Photo 2 is from my article six years ago and shows churros and porras I bought at my local shop. They assure customers that five churros or three porras are enough for one serving, and each is currently 1.5 euros (about 200 yen). One churritos at Universal Studio Japan in Osaka costs the same as 15 churros or nine porras, unfortunately another example of the same old stinginess.

It’s not just the prices that differ. The differences between churros in Japan, where they are quite popular, and the original Spanish churros start with the ingredients. The only ingredient that isn’t different is the base, wheat flour and water. Other than that, it would appear to a Spaniard that you can shamelessly add anything extra like milk, eggs, butter, vanilla essence, cinnamon, honey, and so on. This has ended up with a version that isn’t even deep fried. They have evolved or changed into something so different to churros that a large Japanese food manufacturer has on their website, "popular dessert and confectionery recipes using eggs and milk.”

There would be few countries where the people are as good as the Japanese at adopting a type of food from another country and crafting it to suit their tastes. Can you get a peek into the character differences between two countries by looking at their food preferences, for example, putting Spain's churros, with their plain and simple taste, a perfect example of the traditional Mediterranean diet with no animal fats or oils, alongside churros in gourmet nation Japan, which have been altered into something rich made of eggs and dairy products, and that come in a variety of flavors? That might be overstating things a little.

By the way, a large Japanese flour maker registered the name "churros" as a trademark in 1985 and has been using it ever since, while “churritos” has also been registered by a trading company, which means they are common nouns that anyone can use in Spain but is not permitted to use indiscriminately for commercial purposes in Japan. “Churros” might be like “udon,” which is a registered trademark in Spain, so if you open an udon shop here, you can't use the word “udon” without permission.
The ingredients in the churros made by that flour company are flour mixture (starch, processed corn flour, shortening, egg white powder, egg yolk powder, cracker powder, spices, skim milk powder, vegetable fat, salt), vegetable fat/sodium caseinate, flavoring, emulsifier, thickener (guar gum), raising agent, coloring (annatto, vitamin B2), (contains wheat, eggs, milk ingredients, soybeans).

Coming back to the topic of churros in Spain, they mainly come in two shapes, stick shaped or circular with the two ends attached. In olden times, when people couldn’t easily get polyethylene plastic bags or wax paper, when you bought a hot, freshly fried churro from a churro shop on a street corner in Madrid, they would put a stalk of a type of sedge called junco churrero (bulrush) through round churros to act as a handle so that you can hold it. When I came to Europe, this method of selling take-out churros was still in use. Photo 3 shows my attempt at reproducing it.


Photo 3



This is the old counter at Churrería Atilano, a long-established churro shop that opened in downtown Madrid in 1903. They made churros, porras, and two kinds of buñuelos, a type of deep fried pastry, and in the background, there is a bunch of the sedge stalks for taking them home. Professor Joaquín de Entrambasaguas, the great scholar and author of “Gastronomía Madrileña” (“The Food of Madrid”), the book from which I borrowed this photo, described the counter as a “still life of Zurbaranesque (bodegón zurbaranesco).”


Madrid Churros & Buñuelos Makers Association membership card showing that the owner of the shop, Mr. Atilano Domingo, was member number “1.” To our dismay, this legendary shop unfortunately closed down in 2001.


While I’m at it, Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts put on an exhibition called the "Masterpieces of the Museo del Prado" from summer to early autumn in 2006, including works by Zurbaran, a painter from the 17th century, Spain’s golden age of painting, so some readers might have seen his paintings. The work I am including here is said to be one of the still life masterpieces exhibited at the time, along with religious paintings. The word “tranquil” fits this style of painting perfectly.


Bodegón con cacharros (Still Life with Vessels) by Zurburan (Prado Museum collection)

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  • Susumu Yamada
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It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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