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.


Salmorejo
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.


Jamón
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.


Puntillitas
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.


Migas
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.


Jerez

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).


Polvorones

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.

Share
January 12, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Remember awhile back when I took the road trip to Granada? You know, the one where the sheep hated me and I discovered that my dreams of becoming a shepherd would never be realized? Yeah, that trip. Since it was such a memorable experience (and fortunately, not just because of the little lambies), I’ve put together a video of the adventure. So, while I get accustomed to my return to the Iberian Peninsula after three long weeks in the US, I leave you with this small video in order to whet your appetites for all things Spain.





If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.

Share
December 2, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

After my shepherd-for-a-day experience last Spring, I suppose I thought I’d somehow acquired a magic sheep touch – that I was an urban sheep whisperer of sorts. So, when we came across a massive herd of the critters crossing the road in the mountains of Granada last week, I enthusiastically leapt from the car. I was eager to impress everyone (both my friends and the sheep) with my expert shepherding skills. I placed myself in the middle of the pack, anticipating a friendly encounter with my furry friends. But I don’t know what happened – every time I sachayed my way over to pet or hug them, they all bolted as though I wanted to eat them for Thanksgiving or something! (The turkeys that I saw earlier that day were the ones I actually wanted to eat. Don’t you love how gracefully I’ve made the turn from a vegetarian blog post, to this?)


While the sheep despised me, the experience was impressive nonetheless. I was, after all, weaving through the ethereal white mountain towns of La Alpujarra with two of my very best guy friends. La Alpujarra, a region in the province of Granada, boasts spectacular white villages nestled impossibly into the crevices of Andalucia’s mountains. Walking the steep pueblo streets, I couldn’t help but imagine how the darling Spanish grandpas managed to traverse such inclines. I myself struggled not to tumble to the valley floor.


My return to the province of Granada also brought me back to its namesake city and one of my favorite places on earth – the Alhambra. Having now visited the Alhambra four times, I feel as though I’ve really gotten to know its many personalities as it evolves through the seasons (kind of like my husband, but that’s another story). The Alhambra of the hot toasty summer is vibrant, fragrant and refreshing like a cold drink of water. During the winter, it seems more pensive, humble and, well, vacant. In fact, arriving there at 4:00pm in the afternoon, we nearly had the place to ourselves! The usually crowded Palace seemed to be our own personal playground, finally allowing for photos without a million zombie-like tourists cluttering up the background.


I know what you’re thinking – the Alhambra is fascinating and all, but let’s return to the subject of the food in Granada! I agree – a visit to any given region in Spain requires excessive sampling and analysis of its cuisine (even if one has been there a million times already). And good thing Granada meets this challenge with its famed, massively portioned tapas.


You’re already familiar with the concept of going out for tapas – you hop from one bar to the next, grabbing a drink and downing a small free (or sometimes not free) appetizer. Granada, however, seems to take a Texas-approach to tapas – everything is bigger, A LOT bigger. For 12 euros total, we each had two beverages and two mammoth-sized plates of free food. After two rounds of drinks (and meals, really), hopping into bed seemed a lot more realistic than hopping to another tapas bar.


Between the Alhambra, La Alpujarra and the awkwardly large and satisfying tapas, a trip to Granada is never a disappointment – you know, unless you consider it sort of disappointing to have your hopes for becoming a brilliant shepherd crushed. It’s OK. I guess I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a certain affect on other living things: I can’t keep a plant alive, I make babies cry, and sheep are horrified of me. I think I can live with this, as long as I have yummy regional cuisine and delicious Spanish wine to console me.


On that note, I leave you now with a video of the sheep running away from me as fast as they can.





I should mention that I did take some really oscar-worthy video footage on this road-trip, but sadly my computer is too ancient to handle it. So, for now, I only have this unedited, albeit rad, video of the sheep. I will keep you waiting on pins and needles until after the holidays when I can fully reveal my awesome video skills. You can also see pictures by visiting the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

Share
November 22, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

You’ve gotten the memo by now – Spain has lots of delicious food, but a healthy chunk of it involves meat. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that you’re a vegetarian, which kind of makes the idea of really enjoying the country, much less not starving to death, kind of seem impossible. Lovely. Just what you’ve always wanted in a vacation – lots of good wine and a totally empty stomach.


Fear not, my friend. A couple of weeks ago I had my first vegetarian visitor (eh hem, challenge). Most of my guests have been more or less like me when I arrived here – not terribly carnivorous, but willing to try a bite of just about anything. (Years later and I cannot live without my beloved jamón, but you already knew that.) So with the arrival of this new cuisine-restricted friend, I was enthusiastic to show her that a vegetarian can not only avoid starvation while traveling in Spain, but can actually come to appreciate its cuisine. Challenge accepted.


Our journey through Spain took us to Ávila, Toledo and down south to Sevilla, Carmona and Granada. Our first stop in Ávila required a visit to one of our favorite restaurants, El Molino de La Losa, where we noshed on their giant tortilla española (made with some 24 eggs), which was as spectacular in taste as it was in size. This basic Spanish dish (usually made with a humble six or so eggs) is often a vegetarian go-to, but can’t really be fully appreciated unless it’s done right – that is, homemade and slightly moist in the center (nothing is worse than a dry, hard tortilla – I’m an expert, I know this). Accompanying our tortilla, we sampled a variety of Spanish cheeses along with membrillo, which is a sweet jelly-like substance that is orgasmic when served with a little bread and queso manchego (strict vegetarians should note that, as with many cheeses, animal product may be used in the making of manchego cheese). I should mention that the texturas de chocolate dessert also happened to be vegetarian as well (crazy, right!?), so of course we had to try that too.


Down in Sevilla, we made like natives and ordered gazpacho and salmorejo like they were going out of style. Salmorejo is similar to gazpacho, but thicker and typically served with hard boiled egg and pieces of jamón on top (so be sure to ask for salmorejo “sin jamón” if you are a vegetarian). Accompanying our many meals were setas a la plancha (grilled mushrooms) and that fabulous ratatouille-like dish, pisto manchego (you learned how to make that a few weeks back, remember?). And to start our days, we fueled ourselves with classic Spanish breakfasts such as pan con tomate (toast with olive oil and crushed tomato) and churros con chocolate. Doesn’t sound half bad, does it? Well, it wasn’t.


On the way to Granada, we stopped in Carmona, a pueblo famous for having one of the longest histories in the region and also, as fate would have it, for its dish of espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzos). It was so awesomely delicious that we ordered two plates of it and even tackled a couple more bowls of gazpacho for good measure.


Heading east we ended up in Granada where we dined at the always-a-crowd-pleaser El Huerto de Juan Ranas. There we had an epic dinner, taking in the view of the Alhambra and chowing down on vegetable couscous (a common dish in Southern Spain). Perfectly cooked carrots, zucchini, squash, onion and even raisins danced in our mouths along with the pearly bits of couscous. Seriously, if this is what being a vegetarian in Spain looks like, then sign me up!!


Returning to Madrid, our tummies were oh so happy, not to mention oh so meat-free. Being a vegetarian in this country may draw lots of weird looks (like “you poor thing” kinds of looks), but otherwise is entirely doable, if not utterly enjoyable! Just note down some of these delicious vegetarian dishes and arm yourself with two short phrases: “lleva carne?” (does it have meat?) and “sin carne, por favor” (without meat, please).


Here is a list of some other commonly found vegetarian-ish dishes in Spain:

    Patatas bravas (potatoes with salsa – and no, it’s not Mexican-style salsa!)
    Paella de marisco/verduras (seafood/vegetables)
    Croquetas de setas/gambas/bacalao (mushrooms/shrimp/cod croquettes)
    Empanadas de atún/bacalao (tuna/cod)
    Gambas al ajillo (shrimp served with garlic in olive oil)
    Verduras a la plancha (grilled vegetables)



*La Tortuga Viajera has finally gotten on the Twitter bandwagon. I’m still not entirely convinced, so come follow me to see if I end up getting on board with the whole thing. I make a persuasive argument, don’t I?

Share
November 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

As we walked Sevilla’s labyrinth of streets, my friend snapped pictures of the yellow and white buildings, the cathedral and the lush, green patios. Meanwhile, my camera remained nestled all lonely in my purse. It was my third trip to the city and I wasn’t as inspired by the usual sites.


But then, suddenly, I spotted a humble statue of the Virgin Mary wedged up above into the corner of one of Sevilla’s quaint little buildings. I grabbed my camera and captured a quick shot. Walking another 100 feet, I reached for my camera again – above me yet another Mary, but this one colorful, made of tiles, and flanked by two lanterns. Every few blocks or so, I would spot her thoughtfully displayed on the yellow-trimmed facades. With each one I grew more bewildered and hypnotized by her sorrowful gaze and how she was almost always showered in radiant colors of blue, gold and red. I was becoming engulfed in my own little scavenger hunt, scanning the city walls to see where I might find her next.






I suppose during my several visits to Sevilla it had never occurred to me the excess of Marys around the city. Living in Spain has gotten me quite used to the abundance of Catholic images, street names and, well, people names. (The names “Inmaculada” or “Concepción” no longer perplex me – that said, I don’t think they are on my short list of future baby names.) While I’m not a particularly religious person (I’ll go with the very cliched “I’m spiritual”), I find myself fascinated by these symbols, such as Mary, as much for their beauty as for what they say about the culture. And who wouldn’t be curious about the image of this stunning lady, plastered throughout one of Spain’s most famous cities?


So then, you may ask – why so many Marys, Sevilla? Well, it turns out that the city is an especially Catholic one, not to mention that it happens to be famed for hosting Spain’s most famous processions during Holy Week. When this religious week arrives, people flock to Sevilla to witness float-like structures (often of the Virgin Mary) hauled solemnly across the city. Onlookers watch in admiration, clamoring to get near it, as though it were the Pope himself. Needless to say, Mary is quite a famous lady in this country, but even more so in Sevilla.



Beyond just the Marys, Sevilla seems to represent everything that one might imagine Spain to be – hot and sticky summers, yellow and white buildings with flower-filled window boxes, soulful flamenco wherever you turn, and a passion for bullfighting. It’s a city to get lost in (whether you like it or not, really) given its jumble of twisting and turning narrow streets, in which you’ll find yourself dodging cars like a torero dodges bulls. I’d already fallen in love with the city for these reasons, however – this time my fascination was a bit more Mary-related.


As our two days in Sevilla came to a close, it became abundantly clear to me that my search was not over. So the morning before we headed home, I rose early with my no-longer-lonely camera in hand, and set out to go Mary hunting on my own. The air was crisp and the city still seemed to be yawning and stretching as I got lost in its quiet streets with my eyes glued to the building walls. Coming upon my new favorite gal, a big grin would spread across my face (a possible fist pump may have been involved a few times too) and I would start clicking away, drawing strange looks from the few people that passed by. I couldn’t help it, though, there was just something about Mary.


*To see all the pictures of Mary that your heart could ever desire, and more, visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Share