Food and wine

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?

Tulips

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.

Bruges

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.

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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.


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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.


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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!

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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.

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

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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!


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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).
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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. 


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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.

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The seaside town of Cudillero, where I will live one day. Promise.
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The Cudillero lighthouse.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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A backroad in the Cantabrian village of Potes. Not a bad place to get lost during a countryside stroll.
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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.
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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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April 25, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Camel races are a good time, to be sure, but after a trip to relatively alcohol-free Dubai, my mother and I needed to follow up with some wine. What better place to do the trick than a couple of days in Spanish wine country?


Truth is, though, that pretty much all of Spain is wine country — head in any direction and you’ll end up in one of the 62 (!) official Spanish wine regions (called denominaciones de origen, or DO’s). But on this trip we had our sights set on undoubtedly the nation’s most famous wine region, la Rioja, and, more precisely, a return to one of the country’s – and the world’s – most prestigious hotels, Marqués de Riscal.

Do you recognize it? Unless you’ve been under an architecture rock (totally possible), the structure’s undulating steel panels might seem a little familiar. Perhaps they remind you of the artsy exterior of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or maybe the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, just to name a few.

Designed by revered architect Frank Gehry, the Marqués de Riscal Hotel was built in 2006 as an addition to its namesake winery, located in the miniature pueblo of Elciego. Its goal: to raise awareness around wine and the region, and also of course to increase visits to the winery itself. And oh boy, has it ever worked: Annual visits have surged from a humble 5,000 (pre-hotel) to over 60,000. It worked for me too, I guess, as I’ve stayed there twice now and can only hope that we’ll go back again one day (fingers crossed!).

Apart from lounging around in our rad hotel room while spying the Elciego Cathedral from a cushy bed, we also went on a tour of the winery’s bodegas, and even ventured outside of town to some of our other favorite La Rioja spots.

First was the pueblo of Laguardia, which sits precariously on a maze of bodegas and, as such, cars aren’t permitted to traverse the fragile, walled city.

Then we headed to the village of Ezcaray to do a little shopping (undoubtedly my mother’s favorite pastime). There, we stopped by the Mantas Ezcaray workshop to peruse its shelves, which bulge with rainbow-hued scarves and fuzzy blankets (many of which are exported around the world and sold at much higher prices!).

On my last visit to Ezcaray, I stayed at Casa Masip (pictured above) and dined at Michelin-star-rated Echaurren — both recommended, especially the restaurant, which is one of my favorites in Spain.


And that was my mom’s trip to Spain (and beyond, really): Dubai, La Rioja, and even quick visits to Segovia and La Granja. Next up: My father will be making his second and much-anticipated visit to Europe. Stay tuned for more family adventures, but next time — I’m guessing — without the camels.

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