We really don’t need to leave our neighbourhood for great tapas. We have “La Noticia” which is always the perfect choice when we want to keep it local. I will write about them one day soon! But, when we are downtown we always go to “Los Diamantes”. I have been having tapas at Los Diamantes since I moved to Granada. Thirty years ago there was only one location on Calle Navas and the people would overflow into the back and side alleys with beers and small plates in hand. They would close when they ran out of fresh fish. Now, there are seven locations in Granada and in a small adjoining town. They are all equally delicious and will never fail to serve up the best fried fish and other delicacies.
One of my favourites is the half tomato and half “cogollos” salad. Perfectly seasoned with olive oil and salt (more salt, more beer ordered) and the baby lettuce hearts are also topped with crispy fried garlic. Fantastic! It reminds me of the escarole and pomegranate salad I prepare every fall.
The other day we decided to order the grilled tuna to cut down on our fried food intake. The simple grilled tuna is served along with some “pimientos de padrón” which helped kill some my longing for Galicia. We say, ¨pimientos de padrón, unos pican, otros no.¨ Some are spicy and some are not. The padrón peppers were supposedly brought from South America to Galicia by Franciscan monks. The monks began to harvest these peppers at their monastery in the Hebrón, a neighbourhood in the town of Padrón in Galicia. Since 1978 there is a yearly festival dedicated to the pepper and its farmers.
Remember that when you visit Los Diamantes you can survive on tapas alone. With each drink you will be served one of their specialties of fried shrimp, eggplant, anchovies, marinated dogfish or their special rice. But, it is fun to order something extra to share with your group of friends. Belly up to the bar and enjoy the nonstop entertainment and interaction between the servers and customers.
We took the train to Viana so we could begin our walk the next morning. We only had a certain amount of time to get to Santiago and wanted to reserve a few days at the end to enjoy the Galician coast before heading back home. The last time we were in Viana was a few years ago traveling in our van with Luna, and I was excited to walk the streets and relive those memories. One that we especially wanted to relive was the great restaurant that we had stumbled upon that day where we enjoyed a fantastic meal of swordfish with rice!
My door knocker obsession……
Viana do Castelo is not just one of the most aesthetically beautiful towns in the Minho region, but it also offers plenty of history to its visitors. You can take the funicular up to the Santa Luzia hill for amazing views. Once up top you can also visit the Basilica of The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Citania de Santa Luzia, part of the Castro Culture that dates back to the Iron-age.
Another obligatory visit while in Viana is the Gil Eanes ship, named after the 15th century Portuguese Navegator and Explorer. This is actually the second ship with the same name. The first ship was used captured and used by the Portuguese navy in WWl and then sent to Newfoundland to support the Portuguese fishing industry as a floating hospital. The ship you will now find in Viana was built in 1955 to replace the former. It served as a hospital, ice breaker, tug and supply ship for almost 2 years until it was abandoned at the port in Lisbon. Luckily, it was saved thanks to one Portuguese historian and today visitors can enjoy the fascinating hospital museum or stay at the youth hostel which occupies a great part of the ship!
It didn’t take us long to locate the restaurant, Casa Primavera. We were lucky to get a seat quickly as the line for tables got progressively longer throughout our dinner. We ordered the house red wine which is usually a “Vinho Verde Tinto” served in a ceramic jar with small porcelain cups, similar to how we drink the Ribeiro wine in Galicia. You can read about this in the posts below……..
The bread in Portugal is scrumptious to say the least. One of my absolute favourites is “Broa” which is made with corn and rye flour. The result is a slightly sweet bread that is dense and earthy. That night we enjoyed our bread with some local cheese and “Salpicão de Melgaço, a cured and smoke sausage made from the Bisaro pig. The first time I learned about the Bisaro Pig was in Lisbon a few years ago.
Our main course had to be fish with boiled potatoes and cabbage drowned in olive oil. We enjoyed both the swordfish which is called “espadarte” in Portuguese and the black scabberfish. In Portuguese, piexe espada preta.
Dessert was an easy choice. Pão de Ló. You may find Pão de Ló translated as a spongecake. However, depending on where you enjoy this dessert, that may or may not seem to coincide with what you are actually eating. The origin of this dessert crossed many cultures and centuries before it evolved to the version you will find in the northern region of Portugal today. You can enjoy variations in Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Romania and Turkey. The Portuguese explorers even introduced this type of cake to Japan and you will still find it under the name of Castella, “a cake from Castile”. The Pão de Ló from Ovar that you see below is made with mostly egg yolks, sugar and a small bit of flour. It is a common Easter sweet throughout the country and the amount of flour is what marks the difference.
Happy and full from our amazing dinner we were lucky to catch some of the “marchas populares” before heading off to sleep like good pilgrims. In the videos (not the best quality) you can see the illuminated Basilica at the top of the hill. Enjoy and buen camino!!
So many times during the pandemic and throughout the time recovering from surgery I would close my eyes and walk parts of the Camino. All I wanted to do was put on my backpack and lose myself in its paths, food and community. Last summer I was so lucky to find my journal from my first camino on the French route and it brought back so many memories for me. Almost 26 years ago. Wow! I will share bits and pieces of it here in the future. I am still very sad that my photo album disappeared somewhere. Very sad.
My journal from my first camino!!!!!!!!!!!!
We have been wanting to do the Portuguese Camino for quite a long time now but had a hard time deciding on whether we should do the Coastal Route or the Central Route. Finally, we made our decision and made the dream real this past July. It was mixed partly with work but mostly it was just us and our camino, the way it should be.
I always tell my groups about the miracles that happen along the Way, sharing with them my many stories to back this up. El Caminho Portuguesa Da Costa did not disappoint. We arrived in Porto on a wing and a prayer thanks to RyanAir and their constant strikes (miracle number 1). Our first stop was the Cathedral to pick up our pilgrim´’s passports. As we walked up to the main entrance I spotted two walking sticks propped against the facade of the Cathedral. Taking a closer look, I saw they each had a small note attached. Written in Portuguese and English each note said, “This pole made the Camino 2x. It belonged to …….. who left it first, in this same place, where it was found by …….. who leave it here now. For you. Enjoy”. There was no doubt in our minds and hearts that we had chosen the correct path.
Check out the bread and spicy oil!
Pilgrims need fuel and there is no better place than Porto to have some great food! I had walked by this restaurant a few times the week before and I knew that Filipe and I needed to eat here! When a restaurant is filled with workers and people from the neighbourhood, like the the older gentleman who is served his meal without even having an order taken, you know you are in the right place. I have grown to have a serious weakness for “frango asado” in Portugal. Nobody does grilled chicken better than Portugal and many African countries. Btw you must read, and if you can, eat here…. https://mooninspain.com/2019/06/12/spice-bcn-must-do/
Obviously I had the grilled chicken, served with rice, fries and black beans (my favourite part). Filipe couldn’t pass on one of the most traditional dishes from Porto, Dobrada. Dobrada or Tripas à Moda do Porto is a stew made with white beans and tripe. It is said that this dish originated in the 14th century. Supposedly the people of Porto gave all of the meat to Henry the Navigator´’s Armada when he left to conquer Ceuta and all that was left in the city was the offal. There is also a Portuguese saying, “Fazer das tripas Coração”, which basically means to bend over backwards for someone or something.
The lunch was perfect, showered with great Portuguese wine. A pitcher of wine here costs 3 euros and 60 cents. If you are in Porto and need a great meal, check out Churrasqueira Moura on Rue do Almada. You won’t ever regret the experience.
Porto on the right and Vila Nova de Gaia on the left.
With tummies full and after a nice walk through Porto, we set off to Viana do Castelo where we would actually begin our Camino the next day.
If I could turn back time I would love to see the look on my face when two amazing people invited me to lunch at the 3 Michelin Star Arzak in San Sebastián. Even better, the look on their faces when my original response was a no. I must have had some type of momentary mental lapses or something of the like. Good thing I quickly came to my senses and accepted their extremely generous invitation.
Juan Mari Arzak celebrated his 80th birthday on July 31st. I still can’t believe that just a few months ago I was actually standing in the kitchen of his restaurant. Arzak became the co-innovator of New Basque Cuisine after taking over his family’s business. In 1897 his grandparents opened a wine shop and tavern from the same building where Arzak stands now and his parents turned the tavern into a local restaurant. He earned his first Michelin star in 1972, when I was just barely a 1 year old. I don’t think you can talk about the Basque Country or Basque Cuisine without thinking of Juan Mari Arzak. He learned how to cook from his mother who would take him to the market to select the very best products. This is the prime principal of Basque cuisine. Juan Mari then spread his love of cooking to his daughter Elena who now co-runs the kitchen at Arzak. It’s also nice to mention that 80 percent of the team at the restaurant are women.
Eating at Arzak felt like being in someone’s home. The atmosphere is relaxed and humble. It also felt like a dream come true, because it was exactly that for me. When Juan Mari showed up in the dining room I was completely star struck. Luckily my extremely generous hosts shared the feeling with me or they were just kind enough to not make me feel like a total nerd.
We had the degustation menu with the wine pairing. It was like a finely tuned symphony of traditional Basque cuisine seasoned with the heart and soul of Elena and Juan Mari Arak. I really could not think of a better way to spend an afternoon in San Sebastián. We relished in every course while enjoying great conversation and laughter.
Just in case I wasn’t at my highest nerd level from meeting Arzak, one of the desserts was a medley of chocolate columns and ruins, a history dork’s dream!
After our first two desserts our server asked if we wanted to go down into the kitchen to have a photo with Juan Mari!! IN THE KITCHEN!! I had tears in my eyes, I have to admit, when I met him. He looked me straight in the eyes and said to me, “Contigo me iría al final del mundo”. I would go to the end of the earth with you. Our server was taken aback and said, I have never heard him say that to anyone. It was definitely love at first sight. A moment I will never forget and will always be truly grateful for, thanks to my wonderful hosts who quickly became friends.
I do regret not taking a photo with Elena because she is a true star. Maybe I will run into her in the market or walking through the streets of Donsoti one day. Here is a photo of the menu in English. Thank you from the bottom of my food nerd heart to my lovely hosts!
Last August we had a 50th birthday celebration for one of my dearest friends in Granada. It was very special on many levels. We celebrated her 50 years on earth and also celebrated being together for the first time in so long! Darn Covid . My close friends, Javier and Charo, made the trip from Reus in Catalunya to be here for the occasion! Javier greeted me with his huge smile and hug as always and he also held two bottles of golden Vermouth in his hands! He had brought the best of the best. Vermouth from the town of Reus, where this beverage was introduced by the Italians in the 19th century. Reus is only two hours south of Barcelona and at one point it held at least 30 Vermouth distilleries. With time, the beverage began to spread further into Spain and has become an important aperitif in many cities and towns.
When we feel like enjoying a vermouth here in Granada, we have a few places that we head to immediately. Our favourite is Bar Albergue. It is a classic in the center of Granada, just perfectly located outside of the main tourist area. I went to this bar for the first time over 26 years ago as an innocent and probably clueless student. At the time, in my mind, vermouth was an ingredient in the many martinis that I served working in restaurants and bars in the US. Who knew that I would learn to enjoy vermouth as an aperitif in so many different bars and cities?
Many people go the Bar Albergue for the vermouth and their fried salt cod. Bacalao frito. As I’ve written before, my Italian Nana would use the word bacalao when she joked about giving us a “spanking”. I’m going to give you a “bacalao” she would laughingly say as we imagined a huge dried fish in her hand. In Granada, neither of these words are a laughing matter. We take our vermouth and fried cod very seriously and in Bar Albergue you can enjoy the best. Luis is always behind the bar ready to serve you. Each tapa here is different. You might be served fried hake or fried cod, fresh fried anchovies, or “callos”, a traditional tripe stew. They also serve some of the best “fritura mixtas” in Granada just in case the tapas aren’t enough for you!
Fun fact. The word vermouth comes from the German word wermut which means wormwood, the important ingredient that gives vermouth its bitterness. Salud!
Before the pandemic I had started my own little tradition of taking early morning walks in all the cities where I sleep. I love the peace and the silence at this time of day. Each city has a unique feel when it is empty, and it takes on a different personality. A few weeks ago I went for a long walk through the empty streets of Bilbao. There was hardly a soul on the street and none of the bars or cafeterias were open yet. It was so pleasant that I walked for much longer than I had planned.
As I walked that morning I was bombarded with different memories from my countless visits to this city. My thoughts included nights out with friends in the Casco Antiguo, walking to the Guggenheim for dinner with my groups, getting a cast put on my leg in the local hospital, drinking Txakoli with colleagues and sharing my love for this part of Spain with so many people.
I have been blessed to travel with many people who have touched my heart in different ways. Many have repeated tours with me or have come back to visit. We communicate through email and I receive holiday cards from them by snail mail. Several have become close friends and I think of them often. Throughout the pandemic so many of these people went beyond what it means to be caring and generous and it brought me to tears on occasions. I have thought about my guests and prayed that they have were healthy and safe throughout the past two years and I get worried when I don’t hear from them.
In Spring 2016 I had a mini group within one of my groups. During the welcome dinner in Lisbon they came up and asked me to guess which of the six of them were blood related. From that moment on we had a permanent connection. On one of our free nights in Bilbao they invited me to dinner at one of the Michelin star restaurants, Extanobe. Unforgettable doesn’t even begin to describe that evening filled with laughter, friendship, storytelling and amazing food. There are some guests that seem to emotionally adopt you and you are connected for life.
After each tour is over I receive many emails from my guests. This email is from one of those amazing people who I shared dinner with in Bilbao.
Margaret, None of us will ever forget you. Nancy and I had been to Spain four times to Spain before that trip. Yet you took a wonderful trip and made it the trip against which we we measure not just trips to spain but all others. So to us, you are unforgettable. We all hope to see you, your husband, and beautiful daughter someday in San Antonio. Nancy says she gets hungry every time she reads one of your stories. Con abrazos,Al and Nancy Karam P.S. I still remember the first words I said to you, “I already don’t like you because you live in Granada and I don’t!”
On my birthday last week I received a message that Al had passed away. My heart broke in two as I took myself back to the memories of his kind smile, laughter and all of the stories that he shared with me. We had a special connection.
“Margaret, here’s a little thing you may find interesting. We first arrived in the evening in Granada on our first trip to Spain summer 1994, our 25 anniversary . Since it was our anniversary, we had a room in the Hotel Alhambra…uh…what was the working class Leb. boy doing in this hotel? Since we were just relaxing we went to the grounds and started walking around for about an hour or so. There was hardly a soul there. We later learned that the place was closed and how were we able to sneak in? No sneaking, just walk into, I think, the Fatima gate. Ah… to be young and unknowing.” Al Karam
Many years ago I saw a movie called Atún y Chocolate. It is the story of three fisherman from the town of Barbate in the province of Cádiz. It is a comedy about these three men who are trying to survive a fishing crisis. That was my cinematic introduction to one of my favourite areas in Southern Spain. I had visited Cádiz on my way to Portugal a few times but I didn’t have a good understanding of the people and culture until about 17 years ago. Thanks to a dear relationship with a person from the town of San Fernando in Cádiz, I was immersed into this beautiful area of Spain. The food is amazing, the beaches are incomparable to others, the history is deep and intriguing, and the people are the friendliest and funniest I have found. The jovial and passionate accent accompanies these affable traits.
Cádiz is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BCE and its strategic location on the Atlantic Coast has marked a spot in the history of Spain and the rest of Europe ever since. You could easily spend days visiting monuments and learning about the history of the city and province. The yellow/gold dome of the New Cathedral is a symbol of the the city’s Golden Age it experienced in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The contrast of the dome with the blue Mediterranean Sea and sky is absolutely beautiful. The Theater (only a portion of it is has been excavated) was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. I love to wander the narrow streets and visit the market where you can get a glimpse into the gastronomy of the area, heavy on fresh tuna and other seafood.
One of my favourite times to visit Cádiz is during Carnaval which is one of the biggest in Spain. This is a completely different experience. For two weeks you can enjoy the Chirigotas, satirical folksongs often using political figures as the focus. The streets come alive with floats, musical groups and gaditanos dressed up in their best costumes while drinking glasses of dry sherry from small cups and munching on fritters made from little shrimp. These are called Tortillitas de Camarones and are made with chickpea flour, baby shrimp, parsley, chopped spring onions and GOOD Spanish olive oil. VIVA EL CARNAVAL!!
Another important gastronomical treasure in this area is the Atún de Almadraba. The word almadraba meaning to fight or strike comes from Arabic and refers to the fishing technique used to catch this highly prized red tuna. After the full moon in May and again in September and October fishing nets are strategically placed in the Atlantic waters close to the Straight of Gibraltar by fisherman from towns like Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, Conil de la Frontera and Tarifa. The tuna are caught in the nets on their passage to or from the Mediterranean. The nets are lifted by the fishermen into a circle of boats surrounding the nets. In May the tuna have extra fat and are more succulent where as in the fall the tuna tends to be drier. The fall meat tends to be sent to the canneries. The tuna from the month of May is sold at high prices with about 80 percent being exported to Japan.
On my most recent trip to Cádiz we had an excellent lunch in a restaurant called La Marmita. The local wine was 80 percent Merlot with a small percentage of Petit Verdot and Syrah. I loved the name, Garum. Garum is the fermented fish condiment that was used in Phoenicia, Greece, Rome and beyond. With our wine we enjoyed the high quality red tuna prepared two ways, sashimi and tartar. Exquisite. We also had raviolis filled with pringá de Berza Gitana. This is a stew prepared with collard greens, onion, squash, tomato, peppers, chorizo, morcilla and beef shank. It is then chopped finely and used to fill the raviolis. I can’t wait to go back and repeat both dishes and more!
Two of my other reasons for being truly in love with Cádiz are…………..
Yes, you can start the Camino de Santiago here! This part of the camino is called the Via Augusta, which was the longest and busiest of the Roman roads that connected the Pyrenees and France to what is now C´ádiz.
And…………you can enjoy the most beautiful sunset in Spain! One that just keeps on giving.
Side note – The title of the film I mentioned at the beginning refers obviously to the famous Almadraba Tuna. Chocolate? Chocolate is the word used for hash that for many, many years has found its way to the coastlines of Southern Spain from Morocco.
A small miracle occurred in the month of July! I actually had the opportunity to organise and accompany a group throughout Andalucia. It is hard to explain how good it felt to plan visits and excursions to the places I love. Calling my local guides (friends) to let them know I would need them for a visit was absolutely the best! I am so grateful for this opportunity after all of this time “off” the road.
One of my favourite parts of traveling with others is sharing the local foods. Gastronomical history is my passion. Through this history we learn about the people and their lives and customs. I love receiving emails from guests who have travelled with me that contain photos of the dishes they learned about while we traveled together. They get to relive beautiful experiences by preparing these dishes at home!
My colleague and I went to lunch in Córdoba the other day. I took her to one of my favorite places, Casa Rubio. I always have a hard time deciding on a place to eat in Cordoba because there are so many amazing bats and restaurants.
Córdoba is known for salmorejo! You can read about it in the attached biog posts above. I love salmorejo and I prepare it a lot at home. But, when I’m in Córdoba I have to order MAZAMORRA, especially if I am with someone who has never tasted it before.
Long before the tomato arrived to Europe, people were preparing dishes that involved the mashing or creaming of many products, like almonds and bread. The word mazamorra either comes from Arabic or the Greek “mâza” just like in the word mazapán (marzipan). Amasar in Castilian Spanish means to mash or to knead. Different types of mazamorra are also prepared in different South and Central American countries. It can be a salty dish, dessert or a drink depending on the country. The mazamorra cordobesa is completely different from these. In Córdoba, it is a cold cream served with bread or sesame breadsticks. It is simply prepared with almonds, olive oil, salt, and garlic. There are also different variations. More than likely this dish dates back to the Roman times when a dish was made using bread. It is a cousin to “ajo blanco”, “porra” and “salmorejo”. Please read about these in the attached posts above.
The preparation at Casa Rubio is perfect. It is very light in garlic (although I prefer it with more), and it is garnished with almonds, apples, and raisins. The texture is smooth as silk.
Córdoba was very quiet but it was nice to see some people traveling again. I am so grateful that I was able to be on the road for a few days! We need to stay safe and take care of each other to keep moving forward.