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.
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!
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.
Some places just feel like home from the very first moment you arrive. I always say that I have many different homes across Spain and Portugal. They are places that I can walk into year after year and and always feel greeted with warmth and friendship. In the Basque Country, up in the hills and looking over the Cantabrian Sea there is a small boutique winery that captured my heart from the very first moment that I arrived over 8 years ago. A winding road takes you up to this magical place that is not visible until you are at its doorstep, not unlike the Guggenheim Museum upon your arrival in Bilbao.
In this paradise, smack in the middle of the Urdabai Biosphere, this boutique winery produces Txakoli. This is the wine unique to the Basque Country, along with its own language, culture, food and sports. It is a wine that has been produced for centuries in the Basque Country. The wine was originally made by and for the families, a yearly production to be enjoyed with the local food. It was produced in Baserris, or farmsteads. The grape, Hondarrabi Zuri, is indigenous to the Basque Country. Txakoli should be served cold, always a short pour and maintaining the correct temperature. It pairs perfectly with seafood and especially a nice cheese such as the Idiazabal cheese, made from the local sheep. It also pairs well with the heavy dishes in this area prepared with ingredients like the local pinto beans from Tolosa. Txakoli cleanses your palate and invites you to indulge more and more, while enjoying the next pintxo that calls your attention! If you really want to enjoy the perfect pairing with a cold glass of Txakoli, you should prepare Bacalao al Pil Pil to accompany. Salt cod with garlic and chili peppers. It is the ideal combination.
Bodega Berroja is a short drive from Bilbao, and here you will meet José Ángel, the owner of the winery. I find myself at a loss for words to describe José Ángel. Those of you who have been lucky enough to meet him already know what I mean, and those of you who will be fortunate enough to visit in the future will be endeared by his kindness and authenticity. There are few people in this world like him and he has always encouraged me to live my dreams, just as he has, since the moment that we met.
Originally, Txakoli is and should be enjoyed as a young and sparkling wine. It will accompany your fantastic pintxos as you wander through the streets of Bilbao, Vitoria or Gernika. It is unusual to be able to enjoy a glass of Txakoli outside of the Basque Country unless you are lucky to be in a Basque bar in a city like Barcelona or are lucky enough to know of a great wine importer in your local area! Nowadays, wineries like Berroja also produce Txakoli that can be enjoyed with a long, sit down meal as well. They even produce a rose if that is what you fancy!
Yesterday, March 19th was Father’s Day in Spain. It is also the day of San José. Happy Father´’s Day and Happy 80th Birthday to my Father who recently celebrated in February!! I hope you are enjoying that glass of Txakoli right now.
Read more about the Basque Country in these posts……………….
Lately I have been reading through a couple of my favourite books about culinary history focussed on medieval cuisine. One is about the Islamic World and the other is about Sephardic cuisine. I plan on making some of the recipes that I have been reading about in these amazing books. So, why the heck am I writing about fried pork belly you might ask??
Well, while recording my YouTube video last weekend we decided to include one of my favourite bars in Granada to end on a local gastronomic note. Nothing gourmet. Just a long and true old time taberna near Plaza Nueva called Bodegas La Mancha. I used to live on the street where La Mancha is located, Calle Joaquin Costa. On this street you will also find the historic Hotel Inglaterra designed by local arquitect Angel Casas in the 1920´´’s, the Hotel Anacapri (a Rick Steves hotel) and the Hostal Colonial, my home for many years which deserves its own blog post.
When I lived on this street over twenty years ago we used to frequent La Mancha. Carmen, (may she rest in peace) who ran the Hostal Colonial would send me down the street to grab our dinner on nights that we were feeling too lazy to cook. I would push through the crowds to order our usual. Carmen always wanted a bocadillo with jamón Serrano y roquefort. And I would annoy the men in white shirts and black ties by asking for something ¨”strange” in their eyes. Back then they wouldn’t ever vary off the menu. But, since I lived with Carmen they put up with me and would prepare my bocadillo con queso, tomato y lechuga. Both me and my sandwich were very odd to them back then. We would also get a liter of Jumilla wine to go. I remember paying 115 pesetas for the wine. That was less than a dollar during those years.
For many years now when I go into La Mancha I am always greeted with warmth and good memories. The older gentlemen still remember me and they still remember Carmen, of course. So do many of the fixed customers who spend time drinking Vermouth or a Palo Cortado (a variety of sherry) at the beautiful wooden bar. Everyone knew Carmen from el Hostal Colonial.
Nowadays we stop in here when we take a nice walk up into the Albaicín or Sacromonte to have a bocadillo and a wine or vermouth. The old tabernas like La Mancha near Plaza Nueva are the best places to really feel what Granada should feel like regardless of the times we live in now.
Usually we stick to our favourite bocadillo made with thinly sliced grilled beef, roquefort cheese and a couple of guindillas (pickled spicy peppers). But, last weekend since we were filming the video we went out on a limb and got a plate of Torreznos from Soria. Torreznos is not a food that I consume often. I can probably count the amount of times I have eaten them on one hand. The last two times I ate Torreznos before last weekend was with the same friend. Once in Pamplona and once in Madrid right before confinement. I can still hear Paco saying, “Vamos a ese bar dónde el dueño es Segoviano y tiene unos torreznos buenísimos!”
A torrezno is basically fried pork belly, or sometimes described as fried thick bacon. Torreznos can be cut and prepared differently depending on what part of the country you are visiting. Even the name can change. However, it has been eaten in Spain since the Middle Ages since it is mentioned in certain works of literature such as Lazarillo de Tormes. Author anonymous. It is eaten especially during the time of year of the Matanza when a pig is killed. Every bit of the pig is used for different preparations and delicacies. Matanzas are held all over Spain and Portugal and in other countries. A torrezno should be eaten at room temperature to enjoy its flavour best. You can have it with beer or wine but for me, wine is the only way to wash it down. Practice moderation when consuming torreznos. Remember your heart and your arteries but enjoy every delicious moment!!! And don’t forget to watch my video about the Realejo neighbourhood in Granada where we end at Bodegas La Mancha. Salud!!
I woke up the other morning after an unforgettable dream of arriving to the Parador in Santiago de Compostela with my family. It was fairly surreal as many dreams can be but the emotion and feelings of reunion stayed with me long after I woke up. I miss many places during this annoying pandemic but Santiago de Compostela comes to my mind more than most. The stone walls of the city, wandering through its streets, watching pilgrims limp about searching for the Pilgrim’s office and of course the Hostal dos Reis Católicos (the parador) and the amazing food everywhere! I could write a weekly blog post about Santiago de Compostela with all of the history, memories and gastronomy it beholds.
Today I was reminded of two of my best meals (not counting the two restaurants in the Parador which are where I’ve had hundreds of my best meals) that I had on my own in Santiago. Chef Marcelo Tejedor has been running Casa Marcelo since 1999. The concept is simple and delicious. One long and high table, a couple small one, the bar area overlooking the kitchen, a tasting menu of fusion Galician/Japanese delicacies and excellent service. And, no reservations. I thought I would just give it a try one day and see if I was lucky enough to get in. Sure enough, one place at the small bar overlooking the kitchen was available in between two couples. No problem, I was happy to be inside and seated! And, I love this type of seating. It is probably my favorite even when I am not alone. I like to be where the gastronomic action is happening. After I sat down I was asked if I had any food allergies or major dislikes. Minor seafood allergy? Nah, not today. I could deal with it to fully enjoy whatever they wanted to set in front of me. I forgot to take photos of a couple of the dishes that I ate because I was so wrapped up in the environment and that fact that I was so excited to be tasting his food, finally! I also got to enjoy my neighbor’s dishes visually. The concept is to share, so more people equals more dishes.
Everything was perfect. From the wine to the dessert. I was served five dishes, perfectly sized for one person to enjoy them all thoroughly. The first was an Asian style oyster which was followed by a smoked sardine, steamed hake, steak tartar prepared with Galician beef and, for dessert their version of an Indian Gulab Jamun. I would go back to Casa Marcelo time and time again without hesitation.
So exciting! About a year after that meal I was thinking about lunch and chatting with my friends at the reception desk of the Parador like usual and one of my friends said, “you should go and try the new restaurant by Marcelo!!” “What?” A new restaurant. She told me that it wasn’t officially open yet but that if I rang the bell from outside that they would let me in.
Welcome to Mr. Chu!! I wasn’t sure if I was at the right place because there was no sign outside. I asked a nice elderly man who was sitting up on his balcony and told me, “oh yes, just ring the bell right there!!” The door opened and I entered into a completely different world from the old Santiago de Compostela. Funky design and cool lighting. I knew I was going to love everything about Marcelo’s new place. And I was completely alone in the restaurant for the entire meal since they were not officially open. My own little oasis for two hours. Phenomenal!!
High class Chinese. 8 dishes and dessert. Each one better than the next. It was fun and different compared to the traditional food I enjoy so much of in Galicia. Seaweed and sesame salad, Cucumbers with Kimtchi, White miso soup with Dimsum, Shrimp Har Gao with garlic and chilis, Hoisin Stew Bao, Chinese Dumplings with a brochette, Grilled Gyozas, Sichuan Wok and Vanilla and Salted Caramel Ice-Cream!
And, the coolest bathroom. Why didn’t I take more photos? If you are ever in Santiago de Compostela and craving something different and amazing then go to Casa Marcelo or Mr.Chu. You won’t be let down. I can’t wait for my next visit. I really can’t wait!