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.

Tags: ,
14 comments
October 10, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Africa

On any given trip, my number one priority is to taste a country through its food. My recent visit to Morocco was no different, but this time the whole “tasting the country” thing got taken to a different level – like a “high altitude, eat it straight from the bush” level.

It wasn’t supposed to be a foodie excursion, though. No, not at all. It was just supposed to be a leisurely trek through the red-soiled High Atlas Mountains and a few of its Berber villages. Nothing more. With our guide Sharif – a 40-something-year-old native – in tow, though, we set off into the dusty, shrubbery-powdered landscape, completely unaware that our surprise culinary journey was about to begin.

The weather was cool. Well, cooler – perhaps hovering around 90F instead of a suffocating 120F. Sharif bumbled through the underbrush, leading the way as he plucked leaves off of bushes. “Smell it. This is peppermint.” Then a moment later he’d pass back another twig. “This one is thyme.” Only steps into the trip and we’d already collected enough fragrant herbs to season a steaming tagine of veggies.


Our path became swallowed by bushes and trees as the brush thickened and the landscape sheltered us with welcome shade. With a swipe of the hand, Sharif would masterfully collect blackberries from their bush, rattle a tree to grab hold of a dangling grapevine, and smash a walnut pod to reveal its crunchy inner treasure. He’d pass the goodies on to us with indifference, meanwhile we’d gobble them up as we walked, churning up a dust storm in our wake.


We passed through near-century-year-old Berber villages held together by foundations of melon-sized rocks, and walls of the land’s terracotta-colored earth. And between each town, we filled our traveling tummies with more of the valley’s treats, from juicy figs to miniature green apples and fresh-from-the-shell almonds.

We even made a little friend along the way: A chameleon crawling along a grapevine. Sharif scooped up the reptile like he were a little toy, telling us, as he opened its mouth, that if we gave him a little water, he’d be our friend. A few healthy gulps later and our new lizard buddy was crawling on Jacobo’s white shirt, slowly shifting from a vibrant grapevine green to a lighter, less conspicuous shade.

We ended our walk in the town of Ouirgane, where, almost full from trail snacking, we dined on cous cous, olives and freshly baked slabs of bread. Indeed, the day wasn’t what we’d expected, and certainly wasn’t the foodie version of Morocco that we’d had in mind, but I’m pretty sure that no country has every tasted quite so good.

*Update: Our tour was booked through Linaya Transport. They can be reached at 00 212 524 33 03 99 (apparently they’re in the process of getting their website up and running).

August 1, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Europe

When your family insists that you hop on a two-hour flight to meet them in Florence, Italy, you say “yes.”

Oops, at first I said “no,” but I quickly came to my senses. After all, the two-day trip to Tuscany would be filled with a bike ride through wine country, and enough good food to cancel out every last calorie burnt on said excursion. So – clearly – off I went to my favorite Italian city to meet up with my aunt, uncle and two cousins. Would you like to come along for the (virtual) ride?

Like any good trip to Italy, my latest began with pizza. That is, soft pillowy dough covered in melty disks of mozzarella, a smattering of pesto and slathered in chuggable tomato sauce. Served with a side of wine, my trip could have ended right there with that meal and have been well worth the journey.

Fortunately, though, that was just my first taste. After devouring every last bite, we digested our carb-tastic meal by taking a short trek down the street, where the sun had just dropped below the horizon, casting an ethereal glow on the Ponte Vecchio (photo above). Gelato may have also been involved in this picture of Florentine perfection, but the truth is that I scarfed it down so fast that there just wasn’t time for photos.

The next morning, we set off for Tuscany, piling into vans for a 45-minute drive into the countryside. But not before kick-starting our systems Italian-style with my beloved caffe shakerato — espresso, ice and sugar, all martini-shaken and served in a fancy glass. Honestly, any day that starts with this, is sure to be a good one, don’t you think?

A twisty and turny drive later and we were almost ready to go – almost. But first, we toured a 12th century castle, followed by a sip-and-nosh fest on wine and olive-oil-topped bread. OK, now we were ready to go.

So over the vineyard- and orchard-covered hills we went, zipping through the thick and sticky near 100-degree air. Single file, we shifted gears, grinding up inclines and coasting down into valleys, savoring the momentary and much-needed breeze. Tuscany was as picture-perfect as ever, but perhaps not at its finest for hitting the asphalt by bike.

And then we were done, returning to Florence to finish our weekend of biking, wine, caffe shakeratos and pasta just as perfectly as it had begun. From atop the Piazzale Michelangelo, we took in a panoramic view of the Arno River, twinkling with reflections as it crept under the Ponte Vecchio and across town, with the Duomo lit up in the background like a giant centuries-old Fabergé egg. Not too shabby for an impromptu weekend away with the family.

9 comments
July 19, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

You didn’t think I was done talking about food in Montseny, did you? Not a chance. Actually, though, in this post we’re going to skip all the chit-chat and instead cut straight to the photos.

Below, feast your eyes on the museum-of-modern-art-worthy plates that I ate (and ate and ate) at Les Magnolies in the Girona region of Montseny. It was imaginative and decadent and, more than anything, a sight to see. So, without further ado, I present you with another calorie-free journey through food.


Anchovies that aren’t exactly anchovies, but instead a crunchy cracker-like outside filled with a fishy interior.

This “cappuccino” is a soup-style mixture of squash and anis, while the muffin is made of anchovies and oats. Honestly, I didn’t even know that until now (when translating the Catalan menu) — as weird as it sounds, it was positively divine.

Oh yes, that’s what it looks like. A baby scallopburger served with a side of fish and seaweed broth. Exactly what you guessed, right?

White asparagus with a farm-fresh egg, and jamón (and other things that I can only assume are laced with addictively delicious substances). This was probably my favorite dish — it was such a perfect mixture of flavors, temperatures and textures.

Vall d’Arbucies peas (code for “awesome,” I think) with stewed mushrooms. Ahhh, Catalonia and its beloved mushrooms! The fungi alone are enough to make me swoon.

Fish with onion, tocino (Spanish for “pig fat that goes straight to your booty”) and laurel. It tasted just as pretty as it looked.

Their award winning “best restaurant dessert 2011,” called gin-tonic. It was intoxicatingly good.

Apricot, verbena gelato, and other things I ate but have no idea what they are.
Honestly, this shouldn’t even be legal.

PS: These represent only half of the dishes served that night. I might still be full.

*Disclosure: I traveled through Montseny as a guest of Turístics Montseny. Rest assured that I’m keeping it real – all opinions are entirely my own. Don’t believe me? To read reviews about each place we stayed, ate at, and went, please click here.

[travelist location=”Carrer de Passeig de Mossen Antoni Serres 7, Arbucies, Spain” type=”img” url=”http://www.latortugaviajera.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/IMG_3781.jpg”]

July 13, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain, Video

Admittedly, blog trips can be a little perplexing. All of our hosts share their food, hotels and products with such love, that I finish the trip overwhelmed with gratitude, full of food, and with my eyes a bit crossed. In the end, it seems near impossible to pass all the experiences on to my readers, lest my blog posts turn into nothing but one large promotion. Beyond that, it often leaves little room for me to really highlight the places I loved, mention those I liked a little less, or even provide fair critiques.

Perplexed by this, I spent the final night of last trip dando vueltas (tossing and turning) over the issue. But somewhere between 1am and 2am in the morning, I had an epiphany and decided that I would provide a candid review for each hotel, restaurant and activity (!!!). My goal: To not only honor the generosity of my hosts, but also respect my readers, to whom I want to give the most honest input possible. Obviously, I will continue to share the highlights of my trip in more detail via my blog posts. Here goes….

Activities

El Parque de los olors
This is one of those activities I probably would have never thought to do. I mean, an herbal farm? Sounds illegal. But no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Rather, it’s a fresh-smelling paradise of fragrant plants – from lavender, to chocolate mint (no joke – it’s a variation of peppermint), and hunger-inducing curry plant. A visit will open your eyes and nose to the world of fragrant plants.

Castanya de Viladrau ~ Highly recommended
I was unnaturally excited to visit this chestnut farm, and couldn’t have been more impressed. Run by volunteers committed to keeping the chestnut-love alive and strong, the farm not only sells chestnuts but every nutty product you can think of – from chestnut beer, to crushed-chestnut-filled sausage, cookies and honey. The tour cured me of all my chestnut curiosity, and left me looking at the little roasted fellers with a new set of taste buds, err eyes. Read more about my visit here.

Cervesera de Montseny ~ Highly recommended
I don’t really drink beer, but my visit to this beer factory made we want to take it up with great zeal. The collective is owned by all its employees and is a true labor of love. As trailblazers in the Spanish industry, they offer a selection of artisanal beers and, little by little, distribute it as far away as the US. A fan of wine tastings, I found this to be an equally awesome beer equivalent, and very much worth the visit.

Serrat de Montseriu ~ Highly recommended
Josep is passionate about his small little bodega where he produces 10,000-15,000 bottles of wine by hand, per year. Focused on organic farming, he looked for a good place to produce wine, analyzed the soil, and then started growing. Since he doesn’t alter the wine (as many large wineries do), his creations turn out different every year, depending on the weather and other factors. Truly passionate about what he produces, a visit to Serrat de Montseriu will mean not just good wine, but also a unique look at organic wine making. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to return.

Hotels and accommodations

Hotel Masferrer*
This historic villa — with an archway dating back to the 13th century — reminded me a lot of those that I visited during my last trip to Catalonia; it offers the comforts of a home, with the amenities of a hotel (private rooms and bathrooms). The building itself is very well taken care of, the rooms and facilities relatively new, the land carefully manicured, and the hosts super warm and welcoming. If you’re looking for a hidden getaway that is less hotel and more house, this is the spot for you. Additionally, it’s not a far drive from Barcelona, Girona, or the beach.

Les Oliveres *
This accommodation isn’t unlike a bed-and-breakfast, complete with a few bedrooms and a kitchen. In fact, I can mostly accurately equate it to “grandma’s guesthouse,” in that it’s by no means anything luxurious with its unkempt land and old-school decor, but has a country coziness which might just be your thing (it wasn’t mine). To get a feel for it, check out the news report below in which I was interviewed. Never mind how horrendous I look (it was hot, we’d been trekking around the mountain. Forgive me).

La Morera
La Morera is another villa-meets-rural-hotel (apparently Catalonia is covered with them). Guests have their own private rooms and bathrooms, but share the common area. La Morera is especially rustic and, depending on your preferences, this may be both good and bad. The two-story rooms, complete with a very basic bathroom, and beds up stairs and downstairs, are most appropriate for families, or very friendly groups. If you don’t mind the not-so-glamorous room accommodations, then you’ll appreciate the highlight: the host. Preparing generous meals full of local favorites – like butifarra and toasted-on-the-fire bread — he makes guests feel like they’re in a secluded mountain home. It might be far from fancy, but there’s something to be said for the charm.

Can Vila ~ Highly recommended
This place was my ultimate sanctuary — I totally fell in love with every last well-thought detail, so much so that I’m eager to return. The main building has been entirely restored and renovated, so everything is brand spanking new, designed for the most discerning tastes, and comfier than my own house. Combined with the views, the subtle smell of farm, and the perfectly landscaped grounds (with a sweet looking pool!), I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t disappoint.

Rural Montseny
Located in the sweet little pueblo of Gualba, this apartment-like hotel is, well, nothing more than that. The rooms are fairly new and basic (and in some cases a little awkwardly laid out). That said, the beds are surprisingly comfortable. If all that matters to you is a cute pueblo and a good place to sleep, then this will do the trick. The bonus: it has WiFi (as did most places we stayed), a nice kitchen, and a tremendously friendly manager who gives spectacular tours of the city upon request.

Hotel San Marçal
When it comes to character, this is where you’ll find it. Occupying a 9th century monastery, you can easily imagine what the building must have been like in its past life. Not unlike the structure itself, though, the amenities are a little dated (think old sinks and out-of-date showers). If you’re like me and prefer a slightly more modern touch, then you might find it at their sister hotel, Hotel San Bernat, which has been more recently renovated.

L’om ~ Highly recommended
If you’re into eco and you like a good spa, gosh darn it, this is the place for you. It’s a proper, extra-cushy, cabin-style apartment in the middle of a pueblo – a surprisingly inventive concept given the remote location. Masterminded by Finnish designers, the building is constructed in natural wood and is maintained using renewable energy. Absolutely loved it.

La Coromina*

Owned by famous go-cart racer Antoní Zanini, this house reminds me of a home I might find in the American northeast, with it’s ivy-covered brick, and airy-bright interior detailed with crisp white crown molding. The restaurant occupies the downstairs salons, while guestrooms fill the floors above. Decorated like a comfy country home, it truly does feel like your own house in the Montseny countryside.

Restaurants

Hotel Can Barrina
With picnic-table views of the Montseny valley, dinner at this villa was the perfect start to our trip. It offers a rustic setting, imaginative dishes, and friendly service. I didn’t stay the night there, but would definitely recommend dinner if you’re in the area.

La Garrafa
We tried a variety of dishes here that were good. I wouldn’t say they were out of this world, but if I were in La Garriga, I wouldn’t mind stopping by again to try something a la carte.

Les Magnolies ~ Highly recommended
This restaurant delivers when it comes to innovative and modern Mediterranean cuisine – a foaming cappuccino that isn’t really coffee, but instead a sweet-potato soup; a frozen ice-cream-like tomato that bursts in your mouth; an award-winning gin-and-tonic dessert that tastes just as colorful as it looks. All in all, definitely a Michelin-star-worthy foodie spot.

Can Marc ~ Highly recommended
I fell in love with this restaurant, its food and its staff. Family owned, the restaurant is not only run by one of the family’s sons, but he’s one of the chefs too, along with his gorgeous wife who waits tables and serves. While the stone-wall setting recalls traditional fare, the cuisine swings extra modern and will blow both your mind and taste buds. They offer a tasting menu, which cannot wait to try again.

Romani
You wouldn’t know by the outside of the establishment that it would have such fantastically delicious dishes. While nothing fancy, they deliver classic Catalan and Iberian cuisine that tastes phenomenal. If you’re in the area and looking for a humble meal and traditional tastes, this spot is worth the visit. Plus the darling grandpa owner is so cute that I wanted to squeeze his cheeks.

La Vall del Montseny ~ Highly recommended
I’ve kind of fallen in love with this little valley, as all of my favorite spots seem to be clustered in the pueblo of Sant Esteve de Palautordera. This restaurant is no different. In terms of ambiance, it’s nothing particularly special, but the food was exceptional – a fresh pea salad, shrimp perfectly grilled with garlic, and one of the most amazing risotto dishes I’ve ever had. Definitely a restaurant you should try if you pass through the area.

Ripoll*
Located in what looks to be the darling pueblo of Sant Hilari Sacalm (sadly I only saw it by night), is Hotel Ripoll. While the hotel itself isn’t anything to write home about (note that I did not stay there), the cuisine was above average; they served a potato-y confection topped with egg and mushrooms that rocked my world. If you’re wandering around Ripoll and looking for a reliably tasty and inventive meal, this is a good option.

*Hotels marked with an asterisk are those at which I did not stay, but instead only visited.
**Disclosure: I traveled through Montseny as a guest of Turístics Montseny. Rest assured that I’m keeping it real – all opinions are entirely my own.