September 30, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Food and wine, Spain

I’ve got a soft spot in my pretend Spanish heart for American chicas who’ve randomly happened upon their
maridos while here in Spain. This latest guest post comes from one of those chicas: Melanie, a Michigan native, who met her Spanish husband, Alvaro, on a bus while traveling from Madrid to Cáceres in 2006. Now living in Dallas, Texas, she knows a thing or two about embracing her inner Spaniard and getting her tapas fix while a continent away.

Upon returning to the USA after having lived in Spain, my Spanish husband and I thought that our evening tapas routine (tapas for dinner – our favorite!) would have to come to an end. Suddenly we could not find our Spanish cured meats or cheeses anywhere. While jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) is still something we greatly miss, over time we have been able to find some pretty appetizing alternatives – or sometimes, even the real thing – in the gourmet grocery stores around Dallas, TX. For those of you with Spanish palates who have relocated to the USA, here are some of our favorite tapas:

Mild crackers or bread

A tasty tapa is best accompanied by a mild cracker, toasted piece of bread, or “picos” (small, crunchy Spanish breadsticks).


We have found and enjoy chorizo (Spanish sausage) from the Palacios brand. This chorizo is on the spicier side, but it is very flavorful. Cut into thin, round pieces, and enjoy with picos.

Manchego Cheese

Manchego cheese, depending on the cut and age, can be mild to strong. We prefer strong Manchego cheeses, cured about 6-12 months. Cut off the rind, slice thinly, and enjoy with picos.

Italian salami

This cured meat choice is not Spanish, but it tastes much like Salchichón (“spiced sausage”), and that is why we like it. We usually pick the Fratelli Beretta Gemelli salami. Cut into thin, round pieces, and enjoy with picos.

Serrano ham
We prefer the “Revilla” brand sliced thinly for taste and versatility. Because the Revilla brand is quite flavorful, thin slices are enough to provide a rich flavor. A thinly sliced piece of Serrano ham goes very well rolled around a pico or rolled up on top of a cracker. Or simply – eaten alone!

Sidra (“cider”)

And last but not least, to drink we recommend a cider, or a beer that tastes close to it. We have been able to find here the Spanish sidra made by Mayador. The seasonal variations of the cider from Woodchuck are also decent replacements for sweeter brew lovers.

While living in the USA is no Spain when it comes to tapas, we have been able to recreate and continue to enjoy our fabulous ham and cheese plates for dinners. It has taken two years or so of exploring various local supermarkets, but these selections are some of the best and closest-to-the-real-thing that we have tried. If you are looking for similar alternatives to Spanish tapas in the USA, give these a try and enjoy!

Has anyone else found legit Spanish tapas while in the States? Share the details, please!

September 28, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Europe

I’m not joking, either. My recent and sixth trip to the shoe-shaped country was Guido-filled. But not the way you’re thinking. I’m actually talking about my host – one of my best friends, who also happens to have a name with a certain fame in the US (I had the pleasure of breaking that news to him).

This latest trip brought me to Guido’s hometown of Cesena, a city near the Adriatic Sea and about 50 minutes southeast of Bologna.

Home to the Europe’s first public library and a hilltop castle, the town definitely met my charming Italian pueblo criteria. High-end fashion shops dominate the tiny streets of the affluent city, making for one painful window-shopping-only visit. And rather than tourists, the village teems with bikes as locals go from one place to another (I’m assuming from the pizzeria to the gelateria, as that only makes sense since they’re Italian and all).

From Cesena, we hit the Italian road. Our road-tripping was punctuated by me trying to convince Guido that I had “moves like Jagger” (because I do), me educating him on the key features of American bologna versus the Italian city (by singing the Oscar Mayer wiener song – yeah, that happened), and me interrogating him about the landscape and various crops. I’m almost certain he had an amazing time.

And then of course we ate. We devoured homemade pasta at least once a day made by his drop-dead gorgeous Italian mamma. We noshed on the regional pita-like bread called piadina. Then we drank the famous spritz – a mix of prosecco, bitter liqueur and carbonated water. Of course I also consumed cappuccinos and caffe shakeratos (shaken and iced espresso awesomeness) like it were my sixth and final trip to Italy – the smart thing to do, really.

Now don’t you worry – I’ve got more Italian goodness coming your way. Stay tuned for the rundown on our road-trip stops – minus my moves and the songs about American B.O.L.O.G.N.A.

September 19, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Europe

Gosh. Life is rough when you feel compelled to head to Innsbruck, Austria for a travel bloggers conference. But because I’m committed to my craft, these are the sacrifices that I’m willing to make (along with massive consumption of Spanish cuisine).

In all seriousness, the trip exceeded my expectations in every way – from the sessions, to the sights and the people. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn a million new things about the ever-evolving world of blogging (fascinating, isn’t it? Just nod and smile), but I had a pretty spectacular time in the process. Believe it or not, the travel blogging industry (yes, it’s an industry) consists of a fairly tight group of tech-savvy travelers. Nothing beats seeing old friends and new while chatting about SEO over wine and wiener schnitzel, all with the Alps as a backdrop. Nerdy, but also pretty awesome.

And then there’s Innsbruck with its colorful buildings all nestled together at the based of neck-crick-inducing mountains. I gave up skiing years ago (for more rational things like not falling down mountains full of cold ice), but hanging out in Innsbruck seemed like enough to turn anyone into an avid skier. Fortunately, it was nothing but sunny perfection during my visit, so there was no need for me to try my foolish luck.

With that, I leave you with some shots from the trip. Quite a darling city, isn’t it?

apple strudel

A big thanks to Oliver Gradwell for putting together a topnotch Travel Bloggers Unite conference!

September 13, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain

I am perhaps overly excited to share with you all the US release of the book Or the Bull Kills You by Jason Webster – an author with whom I had the fortune of meeting some months ago. He’s a Brit by blood, but based in Valencia, and married to a stunning Spanish flamenco dancer. Considering I’m fascinated by all things Spain, when I learned of his book last spring, I quickly snatched it up from Amazon UK.

And I couldn’t put it down. I seriously gobbled up every last word. Not just a murder mystery, the tale takes you on trip right to the heart of Spanish culture – from bull fighting, to cuisine, traditions and the pink press. I knew the storyline would be based in Valencia, but I never expected to so vividly experience and contemplate Iberian culture – something I think I know a thing or two about.

If you like reading, or like a good mystery novel, or just want to get under the skin of Spain, then I promise you will be as obsessed with this story as I am (seriously, if you aren’t, I’ll treat you to a caña). I feel honored to have had the opportunity to pick Jason’s brain a bit about the creation of the story, and more important, to find out when to expect the next book in the series (yes, series!).

LTV: I understand that you didn’t know much about bullfighting prior to writing the book – so what made you decide to write about it?
JW: Bullfighting is one of those iconic Spanish things that – whether you’re attracted to it or disgusted by it – any student of Spain has to look at and grapple with at some point if they want to further their understanding of the country. I’d written books on Flamenco, the Moors and the Spanish Civil War, and I wanted to find out more about bullfighting, so writing this book was one way of doing that. Bullfighting throws up all kinds of moral questions – it becomes less and less of a black-and-white issue the more you delve into it. What are its origins? Why do people find it so fascinating? How is it ever justified? What does it say about the Spanish, and about us as humans? These were all questions I wanted to look into when I started my research.

LTV: What was your opinion on bullfighting before the book? Did researching arguments on both sides sway your opinion one way or the other?
JW: I deliberately took a neutral position, suspending judgement as much as possible. Any other approach would only end up clouding my vision. And the result is that I’m still very much on the fence on this. Not that I don’t want to come down on one side or the other, but the more you understand about a subject the more difficult it is to think of it in simplistic terms. And bullfighting is very complex. So my main character – Chief Inspector Max Cámara of the Spanish National Police – approaches bullfighting as someone who hates it, essentially, but has to find out more about it in order to investigate the murder of Spain’s top matador. In so doing he learns things about himself, and his own violent urges (and those of others).

LTV: When researching the story, was there anything you learned that especially surprised you – whether it be politics, the police department, bullfighting, etc?
JW: The biggest surprise came when I met the head of the Valencia murder squad – the ‘real Max Cámara’. It turns out that ‘he’ is actually a ‘she’. Spain is still quite a macho society, and it’s no mean feat for a woman to reach such a high position in the Police.

LTV: What was the hardest part about writing the book?
JW: I had to pick up the basics of the crime genre, which meant quite a steep learning curve. There are certain rules and norms which more-or-less have to be obeyed before you can even begin to write the book. Essentially you have to work out very thoroughly two different but linked narratives – that of the murder and that of the investigation. The reader only sees the second, but the writer has to have both very clear in his/her head.

LTV: Where did you find inspiration for your characters – from specific people? How was the idea for Max Cámara born?
JW: The main characters – my detective Max Cámara; Alicia, a journalist; Torres, Cámara’s police side-kick; and Hilario, Cámara’s anarchist dope-growing grandfather – all appeared in front of me almost fully formed. I didn’t want to intellectualize the process too much, so allowed my instincts to take over as far as characterization was concerned. I’m going to be living with these people for some years (I’m just finishing the third novel now), so they need to be as real and as organic as possible.

LTV: I understand that there will be more Max Cámara books in the future, can you tell me a little bit about them and/or give any clues about future storylines? When will the next book be available?
JW: The second book in the series is called SOME OTHER BODY and is also set in Valencia, involving the murder of a paella chef, the abduction of an abortionist and a visit to the city by the Pope. It’s published in the UK next February and will be coming out in the US in September 2012. The third in the series is provisionally titled THE ANARCHIST DETECTIVE and takes place in Cámara’s home town, Albacete.

LTV: Will this book or future books be available as e-books?
JW: Yes, all of the books will be available in electronic format.

LTV: Do you plan to release the book in Spanish?
JW: We’re negotiating with Spanish publishers at the moment on this, so watch this space!

To get a copy of the book please click here – and yes, clicking exactly HERE will give me a minuscule cut of the sale so that maybe, just maybe, I can afford to peel myself away from the computer to get some jamón and cheese or something. Happy reading!

*To find out more about the book, and particularly Valencia, check out the video below. (Thanks, Erik from American in Spain, for sharing this!)

September 12, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain

I’m excited to share with you the first of what will hopefully be many guest blog posts on La Tortuga Viajera. This first one comes from Christine from Christine|in|Spain – a Seattlite who left the American Northwest behind to give a shot at life in Southern Spain. A girl after my own heart, she’s fallen in love with her new home in Iberia. More important – she’s also fallen in love with the cuisine. Below, Christine shares some of the South’s most famous dishes. Hope you’re not hungry, or else this might be a bit painful.

Almost two years ago, I stepped onto a plane heading to the southernmost region in continental Spain; Andalucía.

I had no idea just how little prepared I was.

Not only did I not speak a word of Spanish aside from simple niceties like “hello, how are you?” and “fine, thank you very much,” I also had no idea that my palate was going to be taken hostage–and Andalusian food and wine were my captors.

From nutty jamón Ibérico, to sweet sherry wines, allow me to introduce you to Andalucía’s most mouth-watering, steeped-in-tradition, foods and wines:

This hot, southern region likes their cold summer soups, and gazpacho reigns king. The most traditional recipes call for fresh tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil, though it is made in hundreds of different ways and ingredients vary.

If gazpacho is king, salmorejo is its thicker, more filling queen. Made with more bread, but essentially with the same ingredients, salmorejo is typically eaten during the summer, served cold.

Spain really won me over with this. Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian Ham, is a dry-cured ham from acorn-fed black, Iberian pigs. Though jamón Ibérico isn’t a strictly Andalusian speciality, this region arguably offers some of the highest-quality ham to be found in Spain. Served alone, or as I prefer, with a drizzle of olive oil and picos (small breadsticks), jamón Ibérico is a point of Andalucía’s–and Spain’s– culinary pride and joy.

Crispy, fried baby squid. I first tried these at a chiringuito in Zahara de los Atunes earlier this summer. I’m not a huge seafood lover, but their crunchy texture and salty-meets-lemony flavor were hard to resist. Puntillitas now make regular appearances on my dinner table when I go out to eat.

Pescaíto frito
If you know Andalusian cuisine well, then you know the sheer amount of fried (in olive oil) food typical here beats out the fish n’ chips of England any day. The fried fish of Andalucía dominate most seaside menus.

Olive Oil
Spain produces a large majority of the world’s olive oil, but the Jaén province, produces the most olive oil in Spain. It claims over 150 million olive trees. A recent drive through this province easily proved these numbers. The rolling red hills are dotted with lines upon lines of olive trees as far as your eyes can see.

Though I studied in Athens, and Greek olive oil was my first love, Spanish olive oil has taken over my heart. I use it in cooking instead of butter, and toss it into my salads with a bit of sherry vinegar instead of fatty salad dressings.

North African influence on Andalusian cuisine is noted in migas, a dish that could be a cousin to cous cous. Made with a base of bread crumbs, the recipe differs greatly around Andalucía and Spain, but I prefer it with bacon, sausage, olive oil, garlic and dried red pepper.


Sherry is popular the world over and has been mentioned everywhere from centuries-old Greek texts to Shakespeare. What makes sherry different from other wines is that it is fortified with brandy. It comes in ten recognized varieties ranging from light to dark and dry to sweet. Though purists may disagree, I think sherry is best-enjoyed in the form of a rebujito–a 50/50 mix of sherry and Sprite, and wildly popular at the férias (fairs).


These powdery, crumbly desserts are especially popular around Christmastime and are most highly produced in Andalucía, but enjoyed throughout Latin America and the Philippines. They’re made with flour, milk, sugar, and nuts; sweet and simple.

So now that you’ve virtually sampled and surely drooled over typical Andalusian fare–what would be on the top of your list to try while in Spain’s south?

*Not feeling tortured enough after reading about all these amazing southern platos? Check out my guest post on Christine|in|Spain where I fill you on Madrid’s most popular dishes.

**Photo credits: pescaíto frito, migas, polvorones.