Sevilla, my first stop in Spain back in September.
I was impressed by the light and shadow.
Here you go.
Sevilla, my first stop in Spain back in September.
I was impressed by the light and shadow.
Here you go.
Friends, we have struck sherry. I was so pleased to find this bottle at my local Trader Joes for a mere $5.00. Trader Joes always has affordable European wines, and I thought they might happen to have some sherry in stock.
In fact, I have been thinking about sherry since returning from Spain. You might say I have been obsessed with sherry. I missed the small ritual of a glass of fino before dinner.
My favorite small wine shop didn't have any on hand, and the only other time I was able to taste some sherry in the States was in the form of a cocktail at The Roosevelt in Hollywood.
This fino is, like other finos or manzanillos, the color of straw. In the simplest of words, it smells slightly boozy and tastes strong, for those accustomed to unfortified wine. The finish is nutty, maybe even a little sweet. But it's nothing like the cream or other types of sherries that may remind you of dessert wines. The fino is dry.
The name of the bodega that produces this fino is Barbadillo, and it's located in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a coastal city that forms one point of the sherry triangle in Spain.
The Alhambra was the initial reason for going to Andalucía. The Alcázar in Sevilla whetted my appetite for this mountain retreat, perhaps too well, for by the time I visited the Alhambra, I felt like I had seen enough Arabic script to last a lifetime.
That doesn't mean it wasn't stunning. The transition from Islamic to Christian rule is perhaps most visible in the architecture of places like the Mezquita in Córdoba (more on that soon), where a cathedral was erected during the Reconquista, right in the middle of the mosque's arches and pillars. The Alhambra shows these mixed influences as well, from the mudèjar-style architecture to Charles V's palace, which evoked the forms of the Italian renaissance.
But I'm not attempting a history lesson here, so I leave you with some photos, which of course don't do justice. I'll add these and more to a gallery under the Gallery tab soon!
Granada: A place where I could pass each day strolling the streets, reading books, and eating.
The base of one of a few walks up to the Alhambra
Walking alongside the Darro river in the early morning, up toward the Albaicín
Walls as canvases
Don't vote for anyone. No one will make things any better.
One of my favorites: Disappearing line of cars
These banners, among others, protesting measures to protect the Albaicín neighborhood, a World Heritage site. The banner on the upper left reads, and I paraphrase, "According to the city, this is a neighborhood for visiting, not for living."
But still I went, hurtling myself down the neighborhood's narrow cobblestone streets and steps, praying for a flat stretch or, better yet, a restroom.
Taking a break by the river, with views of the Alhambra to my left
My first meal in Granada: Revueltos con espárragos, i.e. scrambled eggs with asparagus. One of those dishes that tasted ten times better than what you could imagine based on the name alone.
Trying some falafel for a change
Or maybe this place, sitting in front of the legs of jamón.
With a glass of vermut (vermouth), a popular drink, it seemed. Seen here with cola.
But my personal favorite was this spot, where a handful of men tended to a long bar of hungry patrons demanding their tapas and drink. At this point in my trip, I had no problem squeezing in through the crowd and making a space for myself at the bar, even helping a few people order from the menu.
Like many or most tapas places in Granada, each drink order came with a free tapa. Like this mussel.
But I preferred ordering off the menu for tastier bites, like manchego cheese or jamón with peppers.
I loved Granada.
Ronda, Ronda, Ronda. Isn't there a famous line from The Brady Bunch along these lines? Don't ask me. I am hopeless when it comes to popular (tv/movie/music) culture.
Ronda was, bear with me, the 4th city I visited, after Jerez and Arcos and before Granada. In short, I went because I saw a video on YouTube of the famous Puente Nuevo, constructed in the mid to late 17th century. I heard about a famous bullfighting ring, too, and how supposedly a scene from Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls was drawn from actual throwing of people over the bridge. I knew the city, like many in Andalucia, was centuries old, with settlement preexisting the Islamic period.
In truth, Ronda was nice, impressive even, but there were factors working against the experience. A rainstorm. Tour buses. Hordes of people trying to capture the same picturesque shot. I wasn't any different from the other travelers, and I didn't have very high expectations of this city. But after my second $40+ meal and rain-soaked shoes, I felt a little tired.
I'm not going to dwell on those circumstances beyond my control. Instead, look at these photos!
Ronda had interesting sculptures. Like this one, of a Dama Goyesca. After reading this, I guessed this was Ronda's version of a Miss Ronda, or the queen of the county fair.
Whoops, I can't remember who this is.
The top of Puente Nuevo. I snapped this shot the second day, when the rain had momentarily stopped.
Rabo de toro (bull's tail), made in the style of Ronda
For no reason, I present to you a fowl house.
The interior of Pedro Romero, a restaurant directly across from the bull ring, is covered with bullfighting memorabilia.
A typical salad in Spain - iceberg lettuce, slivers of red onion, wedges of tomato, hardboiled egg, a protein usually consisting of tuna and/or cured meats, sometimes corn. It took me a while, but I came to love these simple salads.
My first time eating hake. At Pedro Romero, it was perfectly prepared. Moist, tender, delicious with a few slivers of what seemed like toasted garlic.
A look through the old walls of Ronda
The village from the old walls
Stairs upon stairs
Everywhere, another turn
One of many plazas in Ronda
A closer look: Hercules and two lions - this has something to do with Andalucia's political history. Unfortunately, by this point in my trip, I was feeling tired and lazy about absorbing more historical details.
I confess I was more interested in this bakery in the same plaza as the Hercules fountain.
Look at all those goods!
What I ordered. A custardy, sticky, chocolately, delicious mess.
A sweet dessert seems like an apt way to wrap up my two-day stay in Ronda. What began looking like a failure ended up being rather pleasant. The weather may not have been ideal, and food might have been expensive, but I found ways to make the experience positive. I forgot to bring my camera for my favorite meal of innovative tapas at Traga Tapas - the amazing white esparragus de navarra, the pork carrillada (cheek) on top of a slice of bread and topped with what looked like cheese but was actually the lightest of aiolis, perhaps broiled to give it a toasted color.
On that high note, I end here. Next up: Granada!
Full Disclosure: I write while seated in the backyard space of one of my favorite neighborhood coffee shops. People are speaking English and working on their laptops. That's right, I'm back in LA and have been back for nearly 2 weeks.
I've thought about how to sum up the remaining, oh, 2+ weeks of my trip to Spain and Portugal in words, but, to be frank, I am a little uninspired this week. Instead, I have been busy marveling at the pleasures of clothes dryers, medium sized drinks that would pass for XXXL in Europe, and American radio.
Fortunately, I have photos, lots of photos. So get ready for posts and posts of them! With a few lengthy captions thrown in. Despite my lack of inspiration, I can't help but throw a lot of facts at you.
First, let's rewind to Jerez, the third city of my trip to Spain, because I forgot to tell you about sherry.
I traveled to Jerez to learn all I could about sherry, a fortified wine, a wine that I had never tried. As you could tell in earlier posts, I ended up finding several more reasons (the fish and produce market, the churros stand, the small town feel) to love this city. But I did sign up for a bodega tour of Lustau, which offered pure sherry, zero miniature trains and overcrowded groups. In fact, I was the only person who had signed up for my 12:00 pm English tour-until a British couple arrived just minutes before the hour. The three of us followed our Italian guide Matteo around the various Lustau bodegas.
Now, I'm no wine expert. The most accurate description is probably that I enjoy drinking wine and learning just enough about it to enhance the drinking experience. So I apologize in advance for factual errors, misleading descriptions, and overall amateur status.
By the blurry shot, you can tell Matteo is emphatically waving his arm toward the stacks of barrels. Depending on the size of the room, sherry is stacked three or four barrels high. The room size and ceiling height are important for air circulation, and the floor, composed of the same stuff you find in bullrings, helps absorb excess moisture.
Sherry (called Jerez in Spain, "sherry" being the Anglicized pronunciation for the wine and city) is made via a method called solera (from "suelo," meaning floor or ground in Spanish). Technical details aside, sherry is drawn from the barrel closest to the ground, then bottled. Then, equal amounts of sherry are drawn from the next barrel up and transferred to the lower barrel, continuing until you reach the upper barrel. In other words, a sort of cascade of sherry.
We learned about three basic types of sherry - fino, amontillado, oloroso - and a few others - the manzanilla* (the same as fino but made in Puerto de Santa Maria, not Jerez) and the palo cortado, to name two. Technically, sherry must be made within the the so-called Sherry Triangle, formed by Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.
We also learned about two methods of making sherry - the first involves a layer of yeast that grows on top of the wine, preventing it from oxidization. The yeast, called "flor," is visible above in the barrel cross-section. Fino - the lightest and driest sherry, is made in this manner. The second method is to allow the wine to oxidize, resulting in a darker color and different flavor. The oloroso is an example of a sherry made with this method. The amontillado, Matteo told us, is sometimes called "twice wine" because it is allowed first to ferment with the flor, then to oxidize.
* Be careful: Manzanilla can also refer to chamomile tea, so be sure to specify you mean wine if you're ordering this wine in Spain.
The best part, of course, was sampling twelve sherries from the entire sherry triangle. We began with the finos and manzanillas then progressed through the amontillados to the olorosos. There were some other unique sherries thrown in-a palo cortado, a cream sherry, a sherry that tasted, just as Matteo described, like Coca Cola sin gas (not my favorite).
A bad shot, but you can see the light color of a manzanilla. This dry style of sherry is my favorite since it works well as an aperitif or paired with nuts and cheeses. I'm not sure how to describe the aroma and flavor. Any wine geeks out there who can chime in? It's not at all like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, i.e. fruity, mineraly, oaky (some advanced vocabulary there).
I think this was an amontillado. Caramel in color, but nearly as dry as a fino, with only a slightly more complex flavor.
The British couple on my tour told me that in England, sherry is usually associated with old grandmothers, and judging by the fact that none of my peers talk about drinking sherry, I guess this is not very popular in the States. But it should be! I don't understand why we don't drink it more. It's not offensive or strange in any way, and like I said above, it's versatile and easy to drink. I call for an official sherry revival.
The view in Arcos
The title of this blog post would be an appropriate name of an airport novel. A bildungsroman centered on an American woman abroad, slicked with the gloss of stilettos and silk scarves. Sex and the City meets Eat Pray Love. What, that has already been done?
Another view in Arcos. Somewhere out there, the clouds end.
The middle phase of my trip in Spain was supposed to take place in idyllic mountain villages with plenty of sunshine and long vistas. Instead, I got thunderstorms and tourist buses. I woke up on Thursday morning in Jerez, trying to decipher the source of the racket outside. My window was open, and water had been flecking through throughout the night. The thin gauze curtains were soaked.
The rain flooded the streets.
But I was determined to get to Arcos. I had no other choice-my lodging in Arcos was booked, and I had to check out of my hostel before the cleaning lady came knocking on my door. Traveling makes you tired.
I love the way Spaniards cram plants into every nook and cranny.
The view from the terrace of my guesthouse. My room was on this floor.
The terrace had beautiful plants.
The outside of my room
My room had an electric kettle and tea. I learned you don't need much more than tea and the internet to make a perfect afternoon.
When a cab failed to appear, I walked in the rain to the bus station and eventually made it to Arcos. I looked and felt like a wet animal. My guesthouse was a 500-year old structure owned by a British couple, and I only wish I had more time to enjoy it.
The rain fell steadily throughout the day, but I took a walking tour pamphlet and made my rounds. There were a few churches, the usual Andalucian mix of Islam and Christianity, and a few vista points. I purchased some cookies at a convent just to see the nun spin the door, which is supposed to block your view of the nun (but I somehow had a clear view of her face). I walked through an alley and heard clapping. A few older men were singing flamenco in a bar.
The best albondigas I have ever eaten.
Some sort of pork in tomato sauce. It tasted slightly fishy to me and was a bit tough.
Champiñones (with a tilde). I tasted garlic, salt, and olive oil-nothing more. I guess that makes these champiñones al ajillo. Bliss.
The rain confused me. I had in mind relaxation but instead was battling the elements. I dropped into a chair in a nondescript place where a few Spanish men were chatting with the female owner behind the bar. She walked me over to the bar and showed me some of the hot tapas available: Albondigas, mushrooms, pork in tomato sauce. I got it all, with some cheap white wine. It was a perfect meal-the closest I’ve felt to “homemade” since coming to Spain. One of the men handed me a newsletter announcing the town feria scheduled for that day. But with the rain, he said, the paseo de caballos was probably cancelled.
Chicken tagine with olives and vegetables.
A beautiful hummus plate with pimenton and Spanish olive oil.
Hot mint tea made with fresh mint and sugar.
For dinner, I turned to Cafe Babel for some Moroccan cuisine. I think I’ve had better tagines, but the chicken was tender and the vegetables fresh. So was the hummus. I watched carefully as Oscar, the owner and my waiter, held a kettle of mint tea high in the air, pouring the tea into a glass, pouring the tea back into the kettle, and repeating the process several times. Para mezclar, he said. I also met a couple from Canada, and between swapping travel stories with them and lingering over my food, I left more than two hours later.
It’s not my goal to convert each town into a parable, but this middle week has forced me to do something which is my weakness: going with the flow.
Now I'm in Ronda, where I've spent about two mildly pleasant days. Don't get me wrong-I feel very fortunate to be able to travel, and once I force myself out the door, I feel content and alive. I'm learning to find satisfaction in the present moment, whether I'm walking through a torrential downpour or spending hours eating alone.
But I'm glad to be going to Granada tomorrow, and I'll stay there for a few days before meeting Mike in Barcelona. Happy times now, and more ahead!
I stumbled upon the churros stand in Jerez. I had already heard much about churros and hot chocolate being consumed for breakfast in Spain, though during my time abroad in Barcelona, breakfast was something simpler that my host mom prepared. Certainly I am not the first to point out the appeal of fried dough around the world. However, I'm more of a salty and unfried tooth, so my desire to eat these stemmed mainly from an interest in getting a taste of a local tradition.
At around 10:00 am, the line in front of the churros man was long. I had already eaten a smaller breakfast of tostada con mantequilla (toast and butter) and cafe con leche, but who wouldn't be curious about a line like this?
I'll call him the churros man, for lack of a better word. The churros man rotated between stations in his small space. At one corner, not visible here, he stirred a large amount of masa, i.e. churros batter, in a large vat. Here, he is releasing the dough into hot oil, moving the machine in circles to create coils of batter.
After a short time in the oil, the churros coil gets flipped over using long, thin metal skewers.
The churros man then brings the coil over to the front, where he drops it on the counter and makes a few quick cuts using a pair of scissors.
Using tongs, he piles the churros on a piece of paper. What you see here is just under el minimo, which was the smallest amount you could buy, for one euro. You could also order by kilo.
The churros then get weighed on the scale...
...before they get bundled in paper for easy carrying.
With your bag of churros in hand, you can walk over to a nearby cafe, maybe Bar La Perla, with its bullfight posters on the wall.
Order a chocolate, dip your churros in the hot liquid, and enjoy!
My chocolate was more of the watery, hot chocolate drink packet type instead of the thick sludge you sometimes find in restaurants serving a fancier version of this dish. In the same vein, the churros were thin, light, and unadorned, the opposite of the thick, sugar-laden type you find in California. Still, I could only eat a few pieces before I said, "Enough!"
I published this post forgetting to add any explanatory text. What kind of blogger am I?
Here you see the exterior of El Mercado Central de Abastos in Jerez. It stands on at the commercial center of the city on Calla Doña Blanca. Inside this covered market you'll find more than 100 vendors, the majority of them selling fish and seafood in the center. Surrounding the fish market are fruit and vegetable vendors as well as a few miscellaneous stands.
The view along one side of the fish market. Although Jerez is a landlocked city, it is only about thirty minutes from the ocean. According to the city's website, the fish comes from either Sanlúcar de Barremeda or El Puerto de Santa María. These two cities, combined with Jerez, also happen to form what's known as the sherry triangle.
According to the reliable Internets, marrajo is a type of shark.
These fish look like they were just pulled from the water.
Let's see. Some more marrajo, some tuna, swordfish (pez espada), calamar (squid, as you probably guessed). As for the creepy looking galeras, I'm not sure.
Cazon, or dogfish.
Prawns and more!
The vegetable and fruit vendors are located just outside the fish market. I bought a medio kilo of grapes for less then two euros. Sorry for the blurry shot.
Dried peppers hanging
I couldn't ignore the olives guy in the corner. He let me try the brightly lit variety in the background-verdiales dulces, if I recall. They taste like your typical green olive-a little bitter, a little savory. The ones in the foreground are more bitter, almost medicinal. I bought a quarto of the dulces for a euro. A bargain!
I asked if I could take a photo, and he said, "Yeah, I'm so handsome, right?"
Pulpo a la gallega, i.e. galician style octopus. Chewy yet tender, and dressed to the max with olive oil, pimenton, and salt. This was my first meal in Spain, and I loved it.
I'm still figuring out whether I can add captions to the photos in my galleries, but in case not, here's a short overview of some of the dishes I've tried so far in Andalucia. For the most part, the food in Andalucia, at least in the late summer, involves a lot of jamon, potatoes, olive oil, and various fried things. It's delicious, in short. I haven't tired of it yet.
Above left: Not egg but bread topped with bacalao and salmorejo (see more on salmorejo, below).
Bottom right: Two different types of jamon, manchego cheese
Feeling out of place and a bit lost during my first night in Sevilla, I signed up for a tapas tour organized by a Canadian and a Brit. Our guide, Peter, was knowledgeable and laidback. It was an amazing time, much like spending an evening with a longtime foodie friend. We toured three tapas bars, trying a few at each location, along with a sampling of manzanilla, a type of sherry, and local Spanish red wines. I don't know if the name is intended, but the fragrance of manzanilla is indeed like an apple, though the flavor is deliciously dry.
One of our guide's, and now mine, favorite tapas bars in Sevilla. Down to heart, a homestyle place, serving up undeniably good food.
Potatoes marinated in vinegar. According to our guide, it is possible to mess up even potatoes.
At one of the more newfangled tapas bars, owned by an Argentinian. Squid ink spaghetti with seared scallop.
A risotto with provolone and arugula that made me swoon. At Al Ajibe in Sevilla.
Seared tuna, well prepared. Also from Al Ajibe.
Hearing that I was going to Cordoba, my guide mentioned a place called Umami. I forgot to ask for the address but stumbled upon it anyway. Don't mind the English-the food here is no hype, pure flavor. They are doing interesting things with salmorejo, and when I tried one of their recommended dishes, I realized they weren't kidding around. One of the best meals I've had so far in Spain, albeit not entirely traditional.
Menu cover at Umami
The basics of salmorejo, which can be served as a soup or sauce, are tomato, garlic, bread, and olive oil. Unlike gazpacho, salmorejo is rather thick and has no cucmber. I ordered two types of salmorejo at Umami-the Mazamorra off the traditional menu (almonds, olives, jamon) and the Squid Ink off the newer menu. The Squid Ink salmorejo was so good, especially with the bits of langostino on top. The Mazamorra was good, though I didn't care for the nearly sweet nuttiness. I prefer salt.
When I asked if the salmorejo would be enough food, my waitess recommended the foie. I was hesitant, but she was right. I assume this is fish liver. The dish was an experience. The melting texture of the foie, combined with the flavor of the sear, mixed with a little bit of the salt seasoning and some of the fish ink aioli (is that a thing? that's what my waitress said)...heaven. There was something in the seasoning besides salt, but I didn't catch what it was. Last but not least, there was the tomato, slow roasted with soy sauce and ginger. It tasted like candy.
The orangeish color of the foie
Fried boquerones, aka anchovies. Squeeze lemon juice over them and eat them whole.
Una tostada con aceite de olive y tomate. My favorite breakfast in Andalucia.
Solomillo de cerdo al whiskey - Pork loin in whiskey sauce. Bright, a little sweet, a little acidic. Yum.
My first glass of sherry in Jerez: an Oloroso. It may look sweet, but it's actually quite dry and great with food.
Speaking of food, this is what accompanied that first glass of sherry: A mixed salad of the house. Tinned asparagus and tuna and lackluster lettuce. It didn't hold a candle up to the microgreens we're used to in LA, but I was in dire need of something other than pork and potatoes.
In the morning, a line forms just outside El Mercado Central in Jerez, as people wait patiently for their churros. Once you grab your paper packet of churros, you can walk to a nearby cafe and order a hot chocolate to dip the churros.
From El Mercado Central (a separate post on this soon), I picked up some olives for a euro, and some grapes for 1.25 euros. The olives vendor told me these were Verdiales dulces. I think I spelled that correctly. Not bad for lunch and leftovers!
For my most recent dinner in Jerez, I stopped by Tabanco Plateros for some cold tapas and sherry. Not all of them come from these barrles, though I did see the bartender pour cream sherry from the one on the right.
An array of cold tapas in Jerez: Queso payoyo from a local mountain village, botifarra sausage with fennel, pimientos rellenos. The peppers were stuffed with some sort of soft cheese and dressed with sherry vinegar made from the Pedro Ximenez grape. I started my meal with an amontillado, another type of sherry that is similar to the Oloroso. It's nutty and fragrant yet light.
A closer look at the Amontillado
I ended my meal with a fino, the lightest and driest type of sherry. This was my favorite, since it was crisp and went well with food.
That's it for now. I'll be posting more about the churros and central market soon!
I left on Tuesday for Spain, by way of London. And now, here I am, in a room fitted like a Tetris puzzle and a bed straight out of a sci-fi novel.
I was worried the entire day leading up to my flight. And now, here I am, finding so much to look at.
I go to Sevilla tomorrow. But now, I am here, at a juncture between familiar and foreign.
Today was easy enough. Tomorrow, I test my Spanish!
But first, I need sleep. I've had about 7-8 hours since Sunday morning.
Weather: Cool, crisp. Reminds me of a fall day in New Haven.
Eats: Awful, almost inedible Japanese food at Victoria station. I knew better but was too tired to wander outside the station. The irony is that I could have purchased better quality, cheaper food from this little hovel I am occupying.
Spy: Men's suits - I cannot stop staring at them. I love menswear. I also spy women's trenchcoats, scarves, and boots.
Sense: Outwardly conservative like San Francisco, but with more style, like New York.
Things people have said to/called me: Darling, love, nee-how (that one was a given)