Food and wine

July 14, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain


Baklava. What could the syrupy, nut-ified, largely Middle Eastern treat (that I’ve confessed my undying love to) have to do with Barcelona? Oh something, alright.


And I’ll get to that, but first let’s back up to a couple of months ago, when I set off to Costa Brava for a conference. Wanting to maximize my kid-free visit to the region, I decided to spend some extra time in the big seaside city.


Barcelona and I have this weird relationship, though. I’ve been there countless times, at least three of which were on my own. Though I’m a big fan of solo travel — the way it empowers me and heightens my senses — it changes how I experience a place, particularly when it comes to food. Perhaps you can imagine how you might not bravely elbow your way up to a packed bar, or sit down for a long meal across from an empty chair. Sometimes you will, but sometimes you won’t, and, when you do, it will be different than if you were with someone else. Still great, but different.



My first trip to Barcelona, in 2006, was a solo trip

Indeed, Barcelona and I have had a lot of solo meals together. So when I recently went back to the city – alone, again – I decided to work on our weird relationship. I’d join a food tour. Me, Barcelona, other people, and food. Perfect!

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It would be a Devour Barcelona Food Tour, to be exact — and for good reason. You might remember that I joined their Madrid tour a while back, a euphoric experience that had me high on Madrid life and local cuisine. Naturally, having the opportunity to do so in Barcelona was a no-brainer.


So come along with me (virtually) as I flash back to my foodie bonding session with Barcelona, which, believe it or not, has something to do with baklava.


First we set off to sample this sausage-y sandwich. Don’t be fooled by its less-than-impressive appearance, though. That meat you see there is called butifarra, a specialty of the region of Catalonia, and which tastes like heaven when heated up and served atop a fresh baguette that has been rubbed all up and down with tomato.


Then we went to the Mercat de l’Albaceria Central, the Gracia neighborhood’s central market, and a less-touristy alternative to Barcelona’s fan-favorite La Boqueria. This market epitomizes all things local, from the people, to the fresh-from-the-nearby-sea fish, and of course the ready-to-be-devoured eats (like this fatty platter of cheese and fruity membrillo).


At our next stop, we sampled one of Barcelona’s most signature and storied tapas, the bomba. It’s probably not that hard to imagine why this could possibly be called a “bomb” — I mean, look at that thing! But there is more to its name than just the fact that it’s a spicy and flavor-packed fried ball of calories. The culinary creation was concocted in the 1920s to represent the anarchist attitude of the times, thus the tapa resembles a bomb both visually and in terms of its explosive flavor. BOOM.


And behold: the moment you’ve been waiting for (or was that just me?): the BAKLAVA.


No, you aren’t imagining things — baklava is not a Spanish or Catalan creation. But this is the part that I especially love about this tour: that it featured a food speciality created by one of the city’s esteemed immigrants, who forms an integral part of the community here.


(Also, it’s baklava, so I really don’t even need a beautiful backstory to justify why its inclusion is awesome.)


At this point I was in a baklava stupor (which might have contributed to the fact that I bought a whole extra to-go tray of it, which I swear I could hear calling my name from the bag, just begging me to eat more). But there was more non-baklava food to be had, like this fuet-topped bread with a side of pickled anchovies, both meant to be washed down with that glass filled with dense, red vermouth.


Then there were these meatballs swimming in some magical sauce along with perfectly tender garbanzos. But honestly, my mind was still on the baklava.


Finally, we moved on to our last stop, a sweet little cafe-meets-bakery. And just when I thought I might have to excuse myself to go to the bathroom for a baklava binge, these little guys came along. Called cremats, the chilled slices of poundcake-like goodness came topped with a dollop of crema catalana (similar to creme brulee). Between the texture, temperature and hypnotizingly delicious flavor, I quickly tuned out the call of my beloved, stored-away baklava. I’d found a new love.


Well, until I left and hopped on the bus to my conference, at which point I cracked open that box and — among new friends and no longer alone — nearly polished off the entire thing. Indeed, I’d finally forged that missing bond with Barcelona, and this time with good company, and, of course, baklava.



*Full disclosure: Devour Barcelona Food Tours generously invited me along as a guest on this excursion. Tasty food is sacred to me, so rest assured that my rave reviews are legit.

**If you’re keen to join the tour, note that this post hasn’t even covered all of the amazing foods we tried and stops we visited! 

June 10, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

Allow me to take your nose on a journey. Close your eyes and imagine a waft of scents made up of melting chocolate, freshly made waffles, and the crispness of rain drops on spring flower petals. It’s a paradise of smells, wouldn’t you agree?


Where have your nose and I taken you? If you haven’t guessed it already, you’ve been transported to Belgium, what I’ve decided is the world’s best smelling country.


I recently visited Belgium with my toddler, husband, and mom in tow. It was my first introduction to this magically fragranced country — a country that also happens to be a feast for the eyes too.

Grand Platz

Our trip there took us first to Brussels, with its terrace-filled alleys and chocolate-dominated window displays. We marveled at the dazzling rainbow of lights that illuminated the Grand Place by night, and then marveled just the same at the rainbow of flowers that blanketed the cobbled square by morning.

Grand Place Brussels

Brussels alleyways

A quick train ride brought us to Bruges, a canal-lassoed town that is crossed by a web of waterways. It’s one of those walkable places that requires no map; just a desire to get lost as you fall in love with the scenery around you, and become hypnotized by the ever-present smell of deliciousness.

Bruges canals

Bruges Grand Place

Deliciousness that includes more than just sweets: we’re talking mussels, pomme frites, and, of course, beer, TONS of beer — all things (chocolate included) that I was too busy consuming to be preoccupied by taking pictures of them. Let’s be real: between kid wrangling, starvation, and an enthusiastic passion for food, the whole “wait, let me get a picture first” approach was pretty much thrown out the Belgian window.

Belgian waffle

But today (on this day when I’ve finally polished off my last Belgian truffle, sigh), I don’t need pictures to remind me of how lovely Belgium is or how divine it tastes. Just the thought of its mesmerizing smells takes me there — and I hope it does for you too.

November 26, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you probably know that experiencing travel via food is kind of my religion. Sure there are museums and monuments and castles and bla, bla, bla. But then there’s food and wine!

Lauren, a fellow blogger at Spanish Sabores, feels the same. A couple of years back, she founded Madrid Food Tour. A brilliant idea, really, because there is truly no better way to get to know this country – or probably most any country — than via its flavors.

Around that time, Lauren mentioned I should come along on one of their tours sometime. I said, yeah, maybe, let’s see. But the thing is, I figured I was an expert on Spanish food and plus I was busy having a kid and all, so ya know, the timing wasn’t right no matter how hungry I was and always am for Spanish food.

But a couple of weeks back I finally joined one of her (growing) company’s tours. With a nice chap named Luke (chap because he’s English) as our leader, we spent four generous hours exploring Madrid’s historic center, largely with our taste buds as our guides. Hope you’re not hungry, because here’s a little look at some (yes, just some!) of the foods we sampled.


Our first stop was El Riojano, an over-century-year-old café, where I tried their speciality, the soletilla, a ladyfinger-like pastry that is meant to be dunked in hot chocolate. Though I knew the place, I did not know the soletilla, a treat I wisely plan to get to know better during many future visits.


At Mercado de San Miguel, I savored an early-morning glass of fresh-from-the-tap vermouth as I snacked on my olives, called Campo Real. Somehow I failed to realize until this tour that these olives only come from Madrid — all the more reason to love them!


This rabo de toro, or oxtail, came wrapped in crispy dough and topped by pimiento del piquillo, and served with a glass of wine. It was magical.


Fresh-from-the-oven empanadillas filled with egg and tuna are never a bad idea.


At Bar Cerveriz, I tried a new tortilla (!!), acclaimed as one of the city’s best. My top tortillas in Madrid still stand, but this particular one was pretty darn good too!


No Spanish food tour would be complete without trying jamón. In this case, we contemplated the curious differences between jamón serrano, jamón ibérico de recebo, and jamón ibérico de bellota – a side-by-side comparison that I’ve never done before (and really think I should repeat more often, because jamón).

Our last nibbles of the tour included a fat sandwich of fried calamari, a very typical Madrid treat, followed by a Spanish holiday favorite — and a personal year-round favorite — turrón (an almond-y, nougat-like sweet whose soft version can most closely be compared to peanut butter, and is therefore amazing). I savored every last bite.

So what was my tour take-away apart from a very full and satisfied stomach? Well, truth be told, I was wrong: there was so much more for me to taste in Madrid. Indeed, not only did I taste the city in a way that I didn’t know possible, but I learned new things about it — beyond just the food — and experienced it with new eyes. What I especially appreciated about the excursion was that it really focused on the Madrid specialities that tell the city and country’s culinary story. And my tummy was very happy to listen.

*Full disclosure: Madrid Food Tour generously invited me along as a guest. I was quite skeptical, so trust me when I say that I was completely won over by the experience and that my rave reviews are legit. 

June 4, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Oh dear. Do you still remember me? The deep passion for tortilla española? The adventures with sheep? The cheese, ohhh, the manchego cheese!?! Yes, it’s me Tortuga Viajera, and I know, it’s been a little while.

After a couple of weeks of silence, though, I’m back, and (sort of) have an excuse: my father recently came to visit me in Spain. During his nearly two-week trip, we traveled up north, weaving in and out of the regions of Asturias and Cantabria, and covered ground here in Madrid, heading to places like El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. We ate, we saw, we ate some more, and then my dad finally got food poisoning (because apparently this runs in the family). Overall, though, it was a magical a trip. And here are some of the photos to prove it.

The seaside town of Cudillero, where I will live one day. Promise.
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The Cudillero lighthouse.
The world’s best arroz con leche – EVER!!! – from Restaurante Isabel in Cudillero. See that mess drizzled on top? That, my foodie friend, was sugary syrup burnt to form a crusty layer of magic atop the tapioca-textured concoction. It was a miracle in my mouth.
I present you with extreme fishing at Cabo Vidio. Shortly after this, the guy left his two poles propped up on the ledge and left. We still can’t figure out his strategy. Seriously, can someone tell me how the fish he’s apparently catching don’t yank the pole straight out into the ocean? Really, I want to know.
The view of the Picos de Europa from just above the mountain village of Cahecho, and after an uber-Cantabrian lunch of cocido montañes at Casa Lamadrid (well worth the car sickness-inducing drive, should you be in these parts).
A backroad in the Cantabrian village of Potes. Not a bad place to get lost during a countryside stroll.
On our final night, we slept in the 30-person village of Bárcena Mayor. We stayed at the only open hotel (if you can even call it that) in town and were their only guests.
Blooming flowers in the gardens behind the El Escorial Monastery. Spring and summer have been trying to make an appearance here in Spain, but it’s been slow going.

May 9, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel

How to get food poisoning? Be me. Truly, that’s practically all. But let me back up a little bit.


I get food poisoning like every five minutes. OK, obviously not that often, but at least once every few months (not exaggerating, unfortunately). I also happen to be a professional at getting it when absolutely no one else does. I’ve got a weak stomach, what can I say.


This became ever so evident to me again on my trip last week to Chipiona in Cádiz, Spain, where, among seven people, Jacobo (also Mr. Sensitive Tummy) and I were the only two to fall victim to some bizarre food bug.


Rookie mistake in Morocco: After eating this dish with fresh veggies I spent a day in bed instead of a day on the beach in Essaouira.

So, you ask, why then, Tortuga, are you in any position to give advice? Because, when I play it smart, I don’t get sick. Like, for example, when I went to a place where almost everyone — everyone — get’s sick, and yet I didn’t: India! And that’s because I employed the following tummy-bug-avoiding tricks (disclaimer: while my extensive knowledge may fool you ;), I am by no means a doctor!):


      1.During the month before travel, take probiotics. Those are the fancy little pills that carry tons of different healthy bacterias that help make your tummy stronger at fighting off dicey food.
      2.During the month before traveling, eat yogurt. Prior to going to India, I ate Greek yogurt every morning to, again, build up healthy bacteria in my tummy.
      3.In developing countries, avoid consuming fresh water at all costs. That means no ice cubes, no tap water for brushing your teeth, and beware of fresh-water-based food items (like, for example, in India, I stayed away from chutney).
      4.In developing countries, avoid eating fresh vegetables (potentially poorly washed and/or washed with fresh water) unless you really trust the source.
      5.In developing countries, or if eating questionably intense cuisine, consider taking a medicine (only while traveling) that helps coat your tummy, giving it an extra layer of defense. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to see if and what they recommend.


    Unfortunately, these tricks mostly only work for occasional travel — I’ll be darned if I’m going to consume (expensive) probiotics on a daily basis, or regularly avoid fresh water or vegetables (which, to clarify, is not a concern here at all in Spain). So, of course, I still get sick. But to avoid ruining a big trip, especially in developing countries, these should be your weapons against spending more time in the bathroom than you do sight seeing. And of course, try to avoid being me.

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