September 30, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Food and wine, Spain

I’ve got a soft spot in my pretend Spanish heart for American chicas who’ve randomly happened upon their
maridos while here in Spain. This latest guest post comes from one of those chicas: Melanie, a Michigan native, who met her Spanish husband, Alvaro, on a bus while traveling from Madrid to Cáceres in 2006. Now living in Dallas, Texas, she knows a thing or two about embracing her inner Spaniard and getting her tapas fix while a continent away.

Upon returning to the USA after having lived in Spain, my Spanish husband and I thought that our evening tapas routine (tapas for dinner – our favorite!) would have to come to an end. Suddenly we could not find our Spanish cured meats or cheeses anywhere. While jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) is still something we greatly miss, over time we have been able to find some pretty appetizing alternatives – or sometimes, even the real thing – in the gourmet grocery stores around Dallas, TX. For those of you with Spanish palates who have relocated to the USA, here are some of our favorite tapas:

Mild crackers or bread

A tasty tapa is best accompanied by a mild cracker, toasted piece of bread, or “picos” (small, crunchy Spanish breadsticks).


We have found and enjoy chorizo (Spanish sausage) from the Palacios brand. This chorizo is on the spicier side, but it is very flavorful. Cut into thin, round pieces, and enjoy with picos.

Manchego Cheese

Manchego cheese, depending on the cut and age, can be mild to strong. We prefer strong Manchego cheeses, cured about 6-12 months. Cut off the rind, slice thinly, and enjoy with picos.

Italian salami

This cured meat choice is not Spanish, but it tastes much like Salchichón (“spiced sausage”), and that is why we like it. We usually pick the Fratelli Beretta Gemelli salami. Cut into thin, round pieces, and enjoy with picos.

Serrano ham
We prefer the “Revilla” brand sliced thinly for taste and versatility. Because the Revilla brand is quite flavorful, thin slices are enough to provide a rich flavor. A thinly sliced piece of Serrano ham goes very well rolled around a pico or rolled up on top of a cracker. Or simply – eaten alone!

Sidra (“cider”)

And last but not least, to drink we recommend a cider, or a beer that tastes close to it. We have been able to find here the Spanish sidra made by Mayador. The seasonal variations of the cider from Woodchuck are also decent replacements for sweeter brew lovers.

While living in the USA is no Spain when it comes to tapas, we have been able to recreate and continue to enjoy our fabulous ham and cheese plates for dinners. It has taken two years or so of exploring various local supermarkets, but these selections are some of the best and closest-to-the-real-thing that we have tried. If you are looking for similar alternatives to Spanish tapas in the USA, give these a try and enjoy!

Has anyone else found legit Spanish tapas while in the States? Share the details, please!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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).


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.