More pieces of my Granada….tradition!

Bacalao Frito/Fried salt cod with local Vermouth

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?

Frituta `Mixta with shrimp, anchovies, calamar, hake, and marinated dogfish

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!

The predecessor to Salmorejo…….

Minaret or Bell tower of the Mosque in Córdoba

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.

View of the Mosque/Cathedral from the Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Guadalquivir River

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!

Gazpacho’s cousins……

Historically refreshing……

A Glimpse of Antequera, Spain

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.

Casa Rubio………it was full later on.

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.

Mazamorra at Casa Rubio

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.

My favorite places in Spain (Basque Country)….Bodega Berroja

Hondarrabi Zuri Ready for Harvest

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.

Vineyards Bodega Berroja

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.

José Ángel
Tasting during the Harvest

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!

Txakoli Tasting with Idiazabal Cheese

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……………….

From Cod to Albacore….

Art, architecture and food art in Bilbao….

El txikiteo………………

Tourist, Remember!

History, memories and fried pork…….

Torreznos de Soria at Bodegas La Mancha, Granada

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.

Beautiful wooden bar….

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.

Carmen and I in El Hostal Colonial 1997

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!”

Torreznos in a bar in Chueca, Madrid with delicious empanada behind them!

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!!

A walk through Granada, El Realejo

Memories of Santiago…….

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.

Spicy Asian style Oyster…….the best I have ever had!
Steamed Hake

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!

Bathroom at Mr.Chu

More pieces of my Granada….tapas with history and without.

Papas con Huevo from Bar Pedro with a nice view of a some local graffiti in the background

On Monday the province of Granada entered “phase 3” of Spain’s de-escalation plan, or so we call it around here. We are slowly moving into some type of normalcy and the weather invites us to sit down at a local bar for a tapa. Since supporting local business in our neighborhood is important these days, we did just that. Unemployed as I am, I thought to myself “what goes around will surely come around”, right? This thought turned out to be a great coincidence in retrospect. (keep reading) Either way, I’ve been cooking for almost 3 months straight: breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was finally time for a tapa.

We are lucky that our neighborhood bars serve great tapas. They are simple and traditional. I need to remind you that in Granada you get a free tapa with each drink ordered. At most local places you get to choose from a list of their special tapas. I don’t know what it is about the papas con huevo at Pedro’s bar on our street that makes me feel like everything is going to be alright. It is always the same, never fails. Perfectly sautéed potatoes and onions with a fried egg on top. Pedro also has Victoria Beer from Málaga which I happen to love. It is basically sacrilegious to not drink Alhambra Beer in Granada but we can make just this one exception.

Bacalao Ajoarriero in La Croqueta, Granada

There is a another tapas bar around the corner from Pedro called La Croqueta. I have a few ties with the woman who owns it. Our children went to the same nursery school and her father is one of my most beloved yoga students, sweet Manuel. Bea has a long menu with different types of croquetas (I explain these to my guests as fried bits of love) made with bechamel and different fillings. Read more here https://mooninspain.com/2011/10/30/introducing-the-croqueta. She also has a great variety of other tapas to choose from and serves an extremely cheap plato del día. The other day I felt the need to try her plate of the day, Bacalao Ajoarriero. I have to be extremely compelled to order bacalao anywhere unless I already know it is excellent. The last and quite possibly the only time I had Ajoarriero was in Cuenca, with my friend Miguel, where it is also called Atascaburras (to trap a donkey). The original recipe in that area of Cuenca is made of potatoes, garlic, egg and bacalao originating from a dish eaten by the Sephardic Jews. There are many variations of the recipe throughout the Northern and Central part of Spain.

Arriero on top of the Cathedral in Astorga, Margatería, Castilla y León

An arriero or mulero was somebody who traveled by mule transporting goods from one place to another. The Arrieros Maragatos are likely the most well-known in Spain. The Maragatería is located in a small pocket of Castilla y León where the town of Astorga is located. The Arrieros Maragatos would transport fish and other goods from Galicia in the Northwest to the areas of Castile. They were so well known in this area that on top of the Cathedral in Astorga you will find a statue of an arriero. The English writer Richard Ford commented on the Arrieros Maragatos in his book The Handbook for Travelers in Spain, “The Maragatos take precedence on the road: they are the lords of the highway, and channels of commerce in those parts where mules and asses represent railway luggage trains.” There were other arrieros who traveled from Bilbao to Zaragoza passing through most of the Basque Country on their way to Aragón carrying cod and other merchandise. It is is most likely on these roads where the recipe that I enjoyed in my neighborhood came about. This Basque recipe includes salt cod, tomato, garlic, two types of local red peppers (choriceros and piquillos), onion, egg and a bit of cayenne pepper. The Bacalao Ajoarriero prepared at La Croqueta was absolutely delicious. I plan on making it at home or for my mother in law very soon.

Though the arrieros that I have been writing about here worked in the 19th century, we still have arrieros today in Southern Spain and Portugal. One of my closest friends actually worked as an arriero in a small town in the province of Almería. He may be the only American arriero in Spanish history. There is a lovely Spanish proverb that says, Arrieros somos y en el camino nos encontrarémos. In English we can easily translate this to, “What goes around, comes around.”

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