February 16, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

As I sat in the bus licking the open half of my oreo cookie, I thought about how I really wanted an hórreo. Yeah, this really happened during my trip to Galicia last week.

So, you’re thinking, “I know what an oreo is, Tortuga Viajera (and I could kind of go for one right now with a glass of milk), but what, pray tell, is an hórreo????” I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, bear with me as we take a trip down memory avenida.

Years ago, when I first visited the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia, I marveled at these odd structures that were perched up on stilts in the gardens of so many homes. They were stony, unfriendly and somewhat peculiar with their reliably placed cross at the head of each roof. Driving through the lush countryside of Northwestern Spain I discovered that these bizarre buildings were truly a staple in the Galician landscape. Like cerveza on a hot Spanish afternoon, they were everywhere.

I searched all corners of my brain – what could these creepy structures be for? Then, I branched out and searched all corners of Jacobo’s brain (which I do about pretty much everything I come across in Spain, much to his irritation). As usual, when he couldn’t give me a solid answer, I crossed my arms, pouted, and then turned to my trusty BlackBerry where I looked it up. Sure enough, a quick search later and I had the answer I needed. They were, you guessed it, hórreos!

Truthfully, in the days (minutes, hours, I don’t remember) that I spent agonizing in curiosity, I genuinely thought they were tombs, raised up to be protected from the tumultuous (nonexistent) flood waters that threaten the rolling hills of Galicia. Not a logical hypothesis, and clearly not the answer.

It turns out that they are like old school Spanish pantries that people used (and perhaps still do) to store goods like flour and other grains. The non-tombs are elevated on stilts to protect from rodents, and have slits on the sides to provide ventilation. Brilliant! And because I know you’re craving some nerdy facts, you should know that they can be found in countries across Europe, and that their existence in Spain traces back to the first century. (Feel free to “wow” your amigos with those impressive facts!)

Obviously, these fancy pantries are exceptionally rad, so I kind of want one. Don’t you? I’m pretty sure I know just what I’d store in mine too. Why, oreos of course!

February 11, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain

During lunchtime, the workers of Madrid hit the streets and head to their favorite local restaurants. After ordering, they are served a basket of bread followed by a generously portioned first course and then an equally as filling second course. While sipping on their glasses of wine, they contemplate whether they will finish with a dessert or an espresso. Finally the bill comes – each person pays their 10 euros, leaves some spare change for a tip, and heads back to work.

What was wrong with this picture? Surely not the wine, nor the generously portioned meal, and most definitely not the dessert. But did you raise your eyebrow when I said 10 euros? I bet you did.

Indeed meals like this are a staple of weekday lunches, and they come from what is called the menú or menú del día – and no that is not in reference to the regular menu as we know it (called la carta). Instead, it actually refers to a menu of the day, which usually includes several options to choose from for each course – a handful of firsts, seconds and even desserts. Drink included (that also means wine, my friends). All yours for roughly 10 euros (obviously more or less depending on the quality of the restaurant).

This menu concept, while clearly a killer deal, exists for various reasons. First, given that lunch is the biggest meal of the day here in Spain (not just in terms of quantity, but often in terms of length), it is important that people be able to have a reasonably priced meal while at work. In addition to this, the menu items, traditionally speaking anyway, are those that are homemade and often specialties of the house. Theoretically, having the menu allows the restaurant to make large quantities of their best dishes and then serve them to the masses. Given that Madrid is full of non-traditional restaurants, however, don’t count on the menu dishes being extraordinary. For 10 euros, though, I don’t discriminate much….actually for something remotely edible and a glass of wine, I’m pretty much pleased as Sangria-style punch.

So the next time you buy yourself an $8 glass of wine, and throw down another couple bucks as a tip (because you’re generous like that), just think, if you were in Spain, you could have not only had that wine, but an entire feast! Sorry to tease you like that – I suppose a trip to this fine land is an order, along with a Spanish value meal of course. Salud!

February 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Back in December, I wished so hard NOT to go scuba diving that all flights in Spain were cancelled. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but we turned our sour grapes into vino by taking a trip to Spanish wine country. Here’s a little look back at the exotic trip to the Canary Islands that got replaced by a chilly journey around Ribera del Duero.

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