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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

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Spain

Madrid’s Split Personality… A Tale of Three Cities

Back to Madrid, and this time a visit to McDonalds is out of the question… With a whole week to explore the delights of the city with local friends and family I have certainly had an eclectic experience of Madrid’s many characters. Whether it be hanging out with african pumpkin drummers and sipping coffee in a literary cafe in quirky La Latina; enjoying churros and suckling pig in the touristy but charming oldest churrería and bodega in Madrid; or sipping cocktails on the roof of a palace and taking tapas at Lateral with local friends about as far in from La Latina as possibly imaginable, Madrid is certainly full of character! Continue reading “Madrid’s Split Personality… A Tale of Three Cities”

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Food and Wine Tour Comes to an End: Merci, Gracias, TA!

The food and wine tour of France and Spain has come to an end. Kicking off the trail in Tarifa back in July seems like an eternity ago, with so many memories along the way. These include (deep breath…) fresh hand-caught seafood dinners with local friends in Tarifa, meeting the ham man and blind nuns in Ronda, a sherry winery tour in Jerez, a home-cooked Spanish Sunday lunch in Valencia, the two-hour visit for suckling pig, playing families in Galicia, cider and farmyard fun in Asturias, dancing chefs in Logrono, molecular gastronomy and pinchos in the North of Spain, Michelin Star chef Ferran Adria’s fairground tapas in Barcelona, hunting Paris for macarons, wine tasting along the Loire, cooking mussels roadside during a storm in Cognac, stuffing ourselves with duck in the Dordogne, a midnight tour of a restaurant in the Basque Country, market exploring in Toulouse, the bouchon experience in Lyon, a secret wine room and restaurant in Burgundy, an international gastronomic festival in Dijon and not to forget the potato farm in Franche Comté… (pause for breath!!!)

Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
'We love our luggage' on the road again!
‘We love our luggage’ on the road again!

The list goes on and on and just goes to show the vast amount of experience that we have packed in to two months. Travelling up Spain by bus (with many a near miss due to ‘I love my luggage’ disasters!) and then around France in the little GB-stickered car, which also provided our home and shelter for nine nights along the way, we have certainly come a long way. My favourite travel companion will be greatly missed: the pet pig.. no, just kidding; the creative cook that is my friend Gala! We have managed to do all of the above, living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for the past 3 months with not so much as a single cross word.. I think that’s pretty impressive! Thank you for being your weird little easy-going self, constantly putting a smile on my face and putting up with my cringe iPad moments!

'Cheers!'
‘Cheers!’

So many people have helped us along our way.. our fellow language students at the University of Bath who directed us towards their favourite year abroad haunts, university lecturers sharing their wisdom on local culinary traditions, and even a supermarket product developer. Our fabulous hosts have also shown us things we would never have found without their local insight. So thank you to Lara, Flekki, Loren, Sergio, Chris, Francisco, Churro, Beto, Sonia, Angelina y familias, Pedro, Clovis, Nathan, Arthur, Johan, Béatrice, Romain, Jordane, Zoe and David. Each one of you made our journey that bit more special adding that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to our experience!

Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Galicia family dining
Galicia family dining

So all good things come to an end. And come to an end has this chapter, but my culinary journey of exploration through the world certainly has not. As one door closes, another one opens, and I am privileged to at some point in the near future be moving to one of the most culinary diverse cities in the world: London! Other journeys of discovery are also beckoning, next projects including the likes of Italy and Central America. Bring it on!!

Thank you for following my journey so far. Your comments, recommendations and accompaniment are all valued highly and i hope that you will continue to travel with me, wherever I may go,

Alex

Back a few Steps: Spanish Gastronomic Tour Videos!

Our first video, providing entertainment for no one but ourselves on the bus. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PP1DCIhu0ZI

Chapter 1: ANDALUCIA! Spanish fish and chips, Willy Wonka’s sherry factory tour, buying virgin cakes from blind nuns, meeting the ham man and other adventures… http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=16pH20e14Z0

Chapter 3: GALICIA! Attempting our first try of oysters, a foodie pilgrimage and picnic in Santiago de Compostela, and playing pepper roulette in Vigo. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J2dC82vwRu0

Chapter 4: ASTURIAS! Meeting a pig, fun on the farm and singing a out cider production. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YS4PB8Xg0is

Chapter 5: BARCELONA! Last breakfast, salad dressing chocolate tasting with a pigeon intruder, Ferran Adria’s Crazy Tapas Bar. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HuYXwXQFFj0

Barcelona… A bit of Organic, a bit of Market and a bit of Fairground!

Our final stop of the Spanish part of the gastronomic tour was Barcelona which saw a huge variation in meal times, thus perfectly encapsulating the diversity that this cosmopolitan city has to offer…

Our first evening we found ourselves at a loose end when the tapas bar where we had planned to eat was sardined with anglophone tourists, with no chance of two more squeezing in, no matter how little! However luck found us again as we wandered along and peered through a steamy window into what appeared to be a private dining room. We checked the menu to find that it was absolutely perfect for our tour: Catalan specialities cooked using organic locally sourced produce. We entered to a wonderful aroma of home cooking and ordered some previously recommended specialities. Beautifully cooked duck with pear, coca pizza from the Balearic Islands topped with romesco sauce from Tarragona and some delicious stuffed onions. All of the ingredients were presented alongside their respective dish so that we could see exactly what we were eating and also take note for future culinary experiments!

A sea of colour in La Boqueria

The following day was spent gawping our way around the overwhelming displays of vibrant colours and fresh produce of all types in the Boqueria market. If we had thought to bring a basket, it would definitely have been overflowing with our chosen lunch items… there was just too much to choose from, so we went for un poquito de todo (a bit of everything: truly Spanish!) deep fried cod balls, skewers of huge prawns, a tray of little fried eels, some pomegranate seeds, a carton of every type of mushroom under the sun and some super Spanish croquetas. All was carted to the nearby extremely busy La Rambla where we set up camp picnic style, despite the waves of passing tourists. Al fresco!

Buying Lunch at the Fried Fish Counter

Our last supper in Spain was more than worthy! Earlier on in the day we passed by the infamous Ferran Adria’s circus style tapas bar, Tickets, to see if we could squeeze in (there is a two month waiting list)! After sufficiently peering through the windows to watch the intricate attention to detail in preparations for that evening’s clientele, we enquired if there were any vacancies. The waiter’s answer was to come back at 7 when they opened to see if there were any cancellations… which we did and there were! Lady luck strikes again!The idea of the restaurant is to have fun in the circus ambiance, giant icing hamburger and all, and to play with the senses. The latter was certainly achieved with our first experience… liquid olives. Carefully placed onto a silver fish shaped spoon, these parcels of jelly-like olive replicas are burst on the roof of the mouth to release a unique liquid with the exact taste of the olive but in the form of a liquid, though surprisingly not like olive oil. Onwards through the courses passing a tomato cone full of tomato seeds with an ice cream texture, rabbit taco with red sauce and carrot, cheese ravioli of the same consistency as the olives, and finishing with a tantalising dessert. The first was black sesame and white chocolate lava rock which literally came in the form of a rock. Yet it certainly didn’t taste like one… a consistency similar to an Aero which melted in the mouth. This was followed by a huge commotion with a bell, a bicycle and an old school ice cream trolley. We were unaware of what was going on until the lady asked if we had ordered mango sorbet… which we had! Though it’s name makes it sound way too simple… a perfect balance between creamy ice cream and refreshing sorbet. The food, the experimentation with the senses, the kitsch and busy ambiance… the whole experience was unforgettable!

Playing with the Sense in Tickets

So three equally distinct yet equally enjoyable experiences in a wonderful city! The perfect way to end the variation in our journey tasting our way around Spain… Next stop France!

Logroño… Where the Streets are Paved with Pinchos!

La Rioja is a region in Spain that is renowned worldwide for its beautiful of wine, yet the gastronomy of the area is relatively unheard of. But surely a land of vineyards and wine connoisseurs must have some excellent food to pair with its velvety liquid. This is what I wondered before arriving in the region’s capital Logroño, and my doubts as to the lack of culinary gems were most definitely confirmed! Hearty country food, market garden vegetable dishes and a whole neighbourhood full of pinchos!

A friend from university, Francesca, spent her year abroad in Logroño and after a mere hour wandering the centre we were already extremely jealous that she had been privileged enough to spend a whole year in this buzzing town packed full with bars and pouring wine and food out of its ears. Her immediate recommendation as soon as she found we were heading to her Spanish home town was the tapas-bar-lined street of Calle Laurel where the streets are paved with pinchos. When our couch surfing host Pedro suggested this, we did not hesitate to nod our heads in enthusiastic agreement.

Unfortunately we had timed our arrival for the end of the harvest festival. Therefore post-festival-blues (or rather just want of a well-deserved break) meant that doors were closed all over the city, including on this particular street. However we still managed to fit in the best and it did mean that we did not have to deal with the “herd of elephants” as Norman Miller from the Guardian was subject to.

First up and in hindsight my definite favourite was Soriano, a mushroom haunt with no menu, no choice, there’s only one dish. When I enquired as to the variety of mushroom used, the barman looked at me confused and replied “I don’t know, this is the only mushroom I know.” His colleague, an older gentlemen working away very hard but still giving me a smile and passing on his wisdom, has been doing the exact same job for forty years… cooking mushrooms. He has thus altered this recipe to absolute perfection and when biting in to the crunchy tower of mushrooms, the garlic oil dripping through the base of bread, and topped off with a tiny prawn, his forty years of practice were evident and very much appreciated!

A trailed and tested method… Works a treat!

A few doors down hosted another house with another speciality… chorizo with a marinade of paprika and garlic and then barbecued. The detailed recipe is kept as a secret of the family, through which the recipe has been passed for many years as the recipe that will make their fortune!

Secret sauce passed down in the family will!

Other weird and wonderful pinchos were a matrimonio (marriage) of sardines and gorgeously creamy goats cheese with peach jam and pine nuts. We had a great time, always a glass of Rioja from the surrounding vineyards in hand accompanying laughter and story exchanges from the many nationalities in our party. This neighbourhood will most definitely be revisited at some point in the near future!

The following morning this was all washed down at the Franco Españolas winery where the local wines were explained, tasted and enjoyed! What a wonderful place!

Washing down the pinchos with some velvety Rioja

Muchas Gracias Pedro for being a fantastic guide and host, and Chess for the great recommendation!

Plant Pots, Ice Pops and much more: dining in San Seb!

 

So for the most part our journey has been one of getting out in to the thick of things in the country and dining with the locals in a very traditional organic way. However, considering that we are doing a gastronomic tour of Spain, it would be rude not to have a sample of what is going on in the culinary world right now.

When I have mentioned the tour to those interested in England, every single person has stated ‘Oh, you just HAVE to go to San Sebastian!’ This Basque beach town seems to be all the rage at the moment amongst Brits everywhere and is where it all appears to be ‘happening’. Our purses didn’t quite stretch to the infamous Michelin Star restaurants, however we were recommended a much less stuffy and more secret A Fuego Negro by one of my dad’s foodie friends!

Although we booked in advance, there was a mix up with the tables so we had to wait for half an hour. However, the staff (very interested in what we were doing and delighted we had chosen their place) were very accommodating and treated us to Basque wine and appetisers of frozen gazpacho on the house! These were presented in the form of ice pops, one a deep purple with flavours of beetroot and the other orange with hints of cumin.

Savoury Ice Pops

We chose the nine course tasting menu which played around with the senses and traditional Spanish recipes to create wonderful twists on the classics! Here is a breakdown of what our experience involved:

Frozen Cheese: a weird and wonderful texture that I had definitely experienced before but couldn’t quite pin down. Gala hit the nail on the head when she said it tasted like snow! It was as though putting a fluffy snow ball in to your mouth which melted in to a creamy delicious mild cheese.

Huge olives filled with very complimentary Vermouth

Frozen squid which was then fried and served on a bent fork. This has a similar texture to a croqueta with a wafer thin fried crust and the squid ink dying the contents black.

Pickled pork with Mexican mole ice cream. The pork was paper thin and so delicate, yet with a very strong flavour and a melt in the mouth jelly. Served with an ice cream that tasted of Christmas; chocolate, cinnamon… Very festive!

Christmassy and full of variety!

Octopus and spinach salad with fried purple potato, rock salt, olive oil and mustard. One of my favourite courses; beautiful colours and a very interesting and varied combination of textures: crunchy spinach and potato chips with soft octopus!

Creamy garlic rice wrapped in tomato paper with a poached quails egg. So eggs are the only things I just cannot eat. I have always said that even if the Queen served me an egg I would have to refuse it. Gala did the honours and ate mine for me, however the rest of the dish was exciting enough to eat alone…

Cod topped with pepper syrup and cereal. Cod is very popular and sought after in Spain, and this modern twist on a traditional dish worked a treat and the topping gave the beautifully soft fish a crunch and a kick!

Mini burger with Kobe beef. This was absolutely exquisite… So soft that the meat quite literally melted on the tongue. The bread was died with ketchup and the burger was served with banana chips. We agreed that we could definitely eat a regular sized version if this! Simply the best burger I have ever tried.

 Beef Burger… Melt!!

Liquorice and chocolate ice cream with almonds. This was served in the form of a tiny plant pot. Almost like an upside down cheese cake, with the ‘soil’ layer fine chocolate crumbs and almonds which covered a light and smooth base of moussey chocolate and liquorice ice cream. A divine end to the meal!

A plant Pot full of surprise!

All of this was only 35 euros each, which for the experience and intricate preparation was not bad at all!

I would recommend this experience to anyone, foodie or not. It is not the stuffy and snobby atmosphere you may expect, but open to anyone who shows an interest and just wants to taste good food in an innovative way!

http://afuegonegro.com/lang_english/jan.html

Basquing in Pintxos in Bilbao!

Our short visit to the Spanish part of the Basque Country provided many interesting gastronomic experiences, one of which was gorging on bite-sized regional delights on cocktail sticks, pintxos. The tradition is to collect the sticks and count them up at the end of each visit and the norm is to bar hop trying the house speciality of each place. However we are saving this practice until Logroño and in Bilbao we stuck with one bar, but that does not mean that we were not provided with a huge variety of yummy bites.

Our favourite was Bacalao al Pil Pil, a regionally renowned speciality of cod with a very Spanish sauce made up of garlic, chilli and olive oil. We also had Pimentón con Boletus which was red pepper with a creamy mushroom filling of a similar consistency to a croqueta. We were delighted that the Basques seem to be big fans of caramelised onions, putting it with tuna, courgette and just about everything, as it is a mutual favourite of ours! To satisfy my sweet tooth I ended with a creamy goats cheese pintxo with quince, cranberry sauce and walnuts… divine!

Basquing in Pintxos

The rest of our time in Bilbao saw us wander round taking in the sites with the highlight being the iconic Guggenheim, and stopping for more pintxos of calamares, mushrooms and prawns. Oh to be Basque…

Recipe for cod al pil pil http://www.sabormediterraneo.com/recetas/bacalao_pil.htm

Eating in Asturias… Never Judge a Book by it’s Cover!

During our time in Asturias, as well as roaming amongst the farmyard animals through country towns, we visited the two largest cities in the region, Gijon and the capital Oviedo. Being large towns, these stops were full of eateries of all kinds so our search to satisfy our appetites proved rather overwhelming. However we managed to find the perfect experience in each place, both very similar in their local and unpretentious nature.

Our guide book lead us to the first, Casa Tino in Gijon. This restaurant, moderate in appearance but bursting in character, was packed full of chattering local regulars. We are used to being stared at, being two blonde English girls (a tad different to the Spanish mould), but here we definitely felt we had walked in to an establishment that didn’t see many tourists. Thus the waiter, fascinated by the ‘exotic’, was very interested in all that we are doing and guided us through the menu. I was disappointed that Fabada did not feature as I had been looking forward to this since the beginning of the trip in the South. Fabada is a typical Asturian dish in the form of a stew made of faba beans with chorizo, morcillo (black pudding) and ternera (beef). Traditionally eaten by mountain climbers to help the on their way, this is an extremely hearty choice, hence why it does not feature on evening menus. When enquiring about the stew, the waiter said he would see what he could do and granted our wish! We decided to share, which was still plenty, but it was exactly what we wanted and we finished extremely satisfied.

Enjoying Fabada amongst the locals!

Our second experience, although very similar, was not a guide book suggestion but rather somewhere we happened to stumble upon. We are now experienced in avoiding the tourist traps of what appear to be ‘typical’ Spanish tapas bars full of pretty tiles, busy small rooms and jamones hanging from the ceiling. The best places to go are those that appear plain and boring in decor as what gives them their life and character is the important stuff: the cooking and the customers!

In Oviedo with only half an hour to go before the lunchtime slot came to an end, we walked in and out of a few touristy joints and then found a buzzing restaurant full of local businessmen and family lunchtime gatherings. We climbed up to the first floor dining room, no fussy decor, just a wonderful smell of garlic! (THE single most important ingredient in Spanish cooking!) We were also greeted by many pairs of eyes, confused as to how these ‘guirris‘ (foreigners) had found their local haunt.

Once we had established ourselves as Spanish speakers the clientele seemed to accept us and continued with their own business. As we were in Asturias, we figured it would be rude not to have the speciality of chorizo a la sidra (chorizo cooked in cider), a terracotta pot sizzling with extremely soft and oily cider-soaked chorizo… Whilst enjoying this delicacy, another dish caught our eye that appeared out of the kitchen every five minutes. Every table seemed to have a plate piled high with this crispy looking meat that gave the restaurant that distinctive garlic smell. The answer to our enquiry about what it was was the house speciality of fried garlic chicken. We decided that we had to have it. After all, it’s not a regional speciality, but it was the speciality of where we were at that moment! And the result was perfectly fried, crispy, very garlicky and succulent chicken pieces piled high… Out of this world!

Garlic… The single most important Spanish cooking ingredient!

So, a lesson to all of us, don’t judge a book by its cover… judge it by its cooking!!

Two Girls Running around Spain, A Short Movie!

Two blondes went to a farm, met a pig, sang about cider and left a trail of popcorn in the country… Food and Sine tour of Spain, Asturias video!!!

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