The traveling turtle

La Tortuga Viajera

Welcome to La Tortuga Viajera (the traveling turtle). It’s a travel and Spanish food blog based on my experiences as an American living in Madrid with my Madrileño husband. Who would have thought a 15-minute bar conversation would change my life forever? Join me on my journey through Spain and its top spots, best-kept secrets, culture and cuisine.

March 6, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Asia

I was ready to head out the door, where my mom was waiting in a just-arrived taxi so that we could go to downtown Dubai. Something was missing, though.

I reached in my bag to fumble around for a few key items: Wallet? Got it. Sunglasses? Yep. Camera? Camera?!? Camera!!!!!!!!!

And then panic.

I don’t typically lose things, you see. Wallets, sunglasses, cameras — you name it — I can’t remember the last time I lost something of any value (pardon me while I knock on every piece of wood in sight). But on this particular day, I was coming off of a camel-racing high, and somehow misplaced my camera in the process.

So, naturally, a freak-out session ensued. During minutes that felt like hours, I frantically dumped out my bag, called a contact at the race track, and rung up the taxi company that had dispatched my earlier cab. And nothing. No leads. Just panic.

And then in ran my mom with news. Get this: The lovely Indian taxi driver, who had dropped me off almost 30 minutes earlier, had come back to bring me my camera. Shaken by his generosity, I broke down in tears, and thanked him profusely for his kindness.

The lessons learned here: keep an eye on your stuff, always be nice to cab drivers, and mostly, of course, never doubt how tremendously kind people can be all around the world.

The end.

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February 22, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia

My trip to Dubai in summary: camel races, surprise boxes of baklava, and up-close-and-almost-personal sheikh encounters. Yes, yes, I might just have to stay.

More to come soon…

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February 13, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

Wafts of tasty fumes seeped from my friend Nacho’s outdoor brick oven. It was 2pm and if my stomach could talk it would have said, “oh yes, come to mama.”

But there was a slight problem: Cooking inside that oven were two of my biggest food foes.

You might remember that years ago, after pretending to be a shepherd for a day, I fell in love with sheep. I snuggled with lambies and made buddies with a sheep named Numantina. Since then, I decided that – as illogical as it may seem – I would not, could not, eat lamb (except for that trip to Turkey, during which exceptions had to be made, obviously). And I’ve stuck to it pretty steadfastly, even putting in special effort to avoid forming relationships with other lovable-but-tasty animals, like full-grown Wilbur-style pigs (lest that leave me feeling compelled to give up my beloved jamón).

Last weekend I was faced with two baby farm friends, though, that would challenge my resolve: a suckling pig, called cochinillo, and lechazo, a lamb that had only drunk its mother’s milk. Inside that oven, the cuddly little critters roasted. Yes, I would eat bread and salad, and nothing more, I affirmed to myself.

Oh but then came lunch, in a setting that infused me with me Spanish-ness. Warmed by a glowing fire, my mind danced with images of a castañuela-clicking flamenco dancer, and a bullfighter waving the electric-pink cape that hung on the wall beside me. It was as though the room were filled with propaganda solely for the purpose of converting me into a lamb-loving, baby-pig-craving, meat-eating Spaniard. Grrr, Spain!

The others at our table of eight relished each bite of the clay-pot-cooked creations. Meanwhile, I cowardly dipped and dunked my bread in the lamb broth, savoring the rich flavor without fully committing. Jacobo wouldn’t let it be so, though, oh no. He taunted me with me a fork-full of lechazo, insisting, deviously, that I try it.

And then it happened: I indulged in a few beautiful, perfectly cooked, decadent bites of lamb. It was brief and magical, and, like (the country of) Turkey, a worthy exception to the rule.

Now, being the completely contradictory eater that I am, I think I’m going to treat myself to a fat plate of jamón ibérico. All this talk of pig and Spanish food has really made me hungry.

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January 31, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

I found a hidden wonderland here in Madrid, but I’m a little hesitant to tell anyone about it. I know I’m not the only one who’s discovered it, but I’m certain most tourists never make it there. So promise me you’ll keep it our little secret and not tell a soul?

I’d heard whispers about this mystical place before, but, until recently, I never knew where it was. And that’s because it basically hides inside a city block, like a parallel universe revealed behind a magic closet door. In fact, having recently moved to this secret spot’s neighborhood, I’d actually walked by it for months, not even realizing it was there. It’s that secret.

But then one day last autumn, I peered down an alleyway from which I regularly saw Spanish grandmas depart with grocery trolleys brimming with fresh vegetables. There was a certain hustle-and-bustle that indicated the alley was more than just a breezeway, but rather a tunnel to awesome, unexpected things.

So I wandered down it like Alice in a fantastical Wonderland adventure (and if you know me, then you know that the discovery of fresh and exotic foodstuffs is nothing short of Wonderland). And there it was: the most beautiful market in Madrid, Mercado de la Paz!!! I almost shed a full, proper, drip-able tear (not even close to exaggerating). One kiosk after another glowed with expertly arranged fruits and vegetables, fish that gawked at me with blank-but-tasty stares, and mountains of round, square and triangle blocks of cheese that tempted to timber into my mouth (these things are possible in Wonderland, you know).

The Art Nouveau-style market was constructed in 1879 in the residential/shopping neighborhood of Salamanca, and has around 60 kiosks. And while I’ve noticed a couple of the them are closed (a sad and probable outcome of la crisis), you’ll still come across almost every goody your market-loving heart could desire: vegetable sellers, butchers, fish stands, an herbal shop, a cobbler, dry cleaner, hair salon, bakeries, a couple cheese Meccas, gourmet products, and even a few tapas bars for good measure. Basically it’s heaven crammed into a small Spanish city block.

You’ll discover my hidden market paradise concealed between the streets Claudio Coello, Hermosilla, Ayala and Lagasca, with entrances on Lagasca, Ayala and Claudio Coello (the last being the most discreet of the three, despite its fat “MERCADO DE LA PAZ” sign, which I somehow managed to initially miss).

Now go find your market bliss amongst the La Paz kiosks, but just don’t go telling anyone about it. It’s our little secret, remember?

January 18, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

I think I ate an entire tortilla española last weekend. Yeah. I hadn’t eaten any of the egg-and-potato omelet since my return to Spain after the holidays, and so I really made up for it. Like a lot.

Now I realize you too may be longing for Spain a bit – after all, my blog posts these days have been filled with more about places like India and Morocco than anything to do with Spain. And I think we can both agree that this is pretty tragic. So allow me to beg your forgiveness with a little talk of tortilla and, more importantly, a list of my favorite places in Madrid where you can get your hungry hands on some.

First, let’s address what makes a good tortilla. The most telltale sign of a good or bad Spanish omelet is its juiciness. Almost nothing in the world is worse than a dry tortilla, and anyone serving one as such should immediately be exported from Spain!!!!!!! (Can you tell that I’m passionate about this?)

A distant second to juiciness is the subtle flavor of caramelized onion (mind you, some tortillas are served without onion, which I think is just silly and unreasonable). Other components come into play of course, but for me, these are the main points that — *in my opinion* — tortillas tend to hit or miss.

Enough of that — let’s get down to business. Here I present you with my list of best places in Madrid to get yourself the perfect Spanish tortilla.

1. Wherever my mother-in-law is (LOVE her). I know everyone thinks their Spanish mother or mother-in-law makes the best tortilla, but you’re all wrong ;). Glad that’s settled. Moving on.

2. Juana la Loca in the La Latina neighborhood serves up proper pincho-style tortilla, with its gooey masterpiece delicately balanced on a slice of baguette bread. In terms of flavor, this one ticks all the boxes. The only downside is that the portion is rather small and, while I realize I can simply set my bread aside (like it is often served), I would prefer this tortilla beauty as a stand-alone.

3. Txirmiri has four brag-worthy locations, making it a great go-to in times of tortilla desperation, which can, honestly, strike at any moment. But truly, they may very well have the most reliably delicious Spanish omelet in town. The portion is generous, always juicy, and salted and onion-ed to tortilla perfection.

3. La Ardosa in Malasaña wins for over-all tortilla experience, though. While theirs can occasionally miss the salt-mark (too much or too little), the quintessentially Spanish bar filled with tiled and dusty-bottle-covered walls makes up for anything that its egg creation lacks.

4. My runner-up is Sylkar in the Chamberí neighborhood, which I lived practically next door to for almost a year without even knowing it (thanks, Colleen, for making that discovery!). The juiciness of their omelet is on point, but often lacks that subtle kick of onion that could elevate it to best-tortilla status.

Alright tortilla fans, I set you free to get your tortilla fix, whether making it at home, or hunting it down here in Madrid.

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