We just call it “rice”….

I’ve spent a lot of time in Valencia on my own and with different groups on tour. When someone asks me where to eat a great paella only one word comes to my mind, “VALENCIA”. Years ago I found this little place in the historical center that served an excellent Valencian Paella. Prepared with bomba round grain rice, rabbit, garrofó (fat white beans), artichokes, green beans, saffron and a couple sprigs of rosemary on top this is true paella and always will be for me. You may also find it as traditionally prepared with snails. Since the paella (from the latin word for pan, patella) is just the pan it is prepared in, the ingredients can vary greatly. The most common one internationally is the seafood paella. However, you can find rice prepared with all different ingredients. And many times we just refer to this dish as rice with…….seafood, fish, squid and ink, lobster, chicken and sausage. Sometimes it can be prepared dry and sometimes creamy or with a broth. The varieties are endless and change greatly depending on where you are in the country. One of my favorites is “arros de muntanya” in Catalunya with chicken, rabbit, butifarra sausage, pork ribs, and wild mushrooms.

Traditionally, rice is prepared out in the country over an open fire. The best paella should have “socarrat” or a carmelized crust of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan that you scrape off and enjoy with your wooden spoon. Each person eats their own portion starting from the part closest to them and going towards the center of the pan. My photo above was from a great beach restaurant just on the coast of Barcelona. Xiringuito Escribá. Served with a cold sparkling wine sangria made with mint and berries, it made a perfect afternoon with friends.

Tis the sardine……….

The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.

Salad with local fruits. Mango, tomato and avocado.

History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.

Perfectly baked fish professionally cleaned and served with garlic, peppers and potatoes

Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!

Sardine bread with sardines fresh of the bbq!

SPICE BCN……must do!

Food Cravings. Every once in a while this happens to all of us. We just want to eat that one thing that will take us back to a certain time or place, or a flavor that we just need to enjoy again. For me it is almost always something spicy. Especially when I am off on tour with many included meals, even though they are absolutely delicious, I crave spicy food. Thai, Indian, Mexican, Persian…..anything with spice! My husband is usually missing something from Portugal, like grilled chicken. So a few years ago when we were both in Barcelona I searched for a place with Portuguese grilled chicken. The only place I came upon was Spice BCN, serving African style grilled chicken. (btw, there are some Portuguese places in BCN)

South African Chicken, Salad and Biltong!!

This friendly spot bring in spices from South Africa and the Caribbean to prepare their homemade sauces. You can choose whichever you prefer and also choose your level of spiciness. They also have tiger prawns and vegetarian/vegan choices. You can also add some great side dishes to go along with your mains. The salad is perfect and they make their own dressing which is so delish! I love to start out with the Biltong, which is the best spicy dried beef snack you have ever tasted. This all pairs perfectly with their South African Shiraz wine or a cold beer.

South African Chicken with Savory Rice and Salad!
Malva Pudding with Vanilla Custard

For dessert, go for the Malva pudding served with Vanilla Custard. Yum! I’ve already been here quite a few times and the food is always excellent. And now, they have opened another location but I haven’t been there yet. On our last visit they invited us to a few different liquors at the end of our meal as we chatted with our friendly server. For me, this a is a must go in Barcelona!

And, thanks to FEEDSPOT for naming me one of their best 15 Spanish Food Blog Sites!!!

https://blog.feedspot.com/spanish_food_blogs/

Reminders of Bourdain…..

Walking around Porto

Quite a few years ago my husband told me that we had to eat a “cachorro” at this place in Porto. A few weeks earlier we had enjoyed this amazing grilled meat platter with rice and potatoes (all carbs always) and black beans at this great place in the Batalha Plaza. I was sort of hoping for a repeat but since I am from Chicago and a good hot dog is rare to fine, I needed to go for it. In my entire life I never knew that one could have an addiction to hot dogs. But, it is now a truth for me.

The “New” Gazela

Two summers ago my Mom and I watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Porto. He had not been back there for many years so I was excited to see what his adventures would be this time. AND THERE HE WAS eating my “cachorro” at Gazela. That same grilled bun with just the right amount of hot sauce.

Now there are photos of him inside the original Gazela. I’ll never be able to eat here again without thinking of Anthony Bourdain and how many hours I spent traveling and enjoying food and people from all over the world right by his side. Yesterday I read that Eric Ripert and José Andrés decided to name June 25th “Bourdain Day”. I’ll have one for you to celebrate that day in just a couple of weeks. They opened a new spot now, I’m sure it was because of you. Saúde!

“There are no two finer words than “encased meat”, my friend.” Anthony Bourdain

More pieces of my Granada…..Alpujarra

For me there is nothing better than going back to the places where I have spent precious time. Sometimes it takes years to get back to certain places regardless of how close they are to us. The area of the Alpujarra in the Sierra Nevada mountain range south of Granada is one of those places for me. I recently read a novel based mostly in the town of Pampaneira which spoke of Gypsies and the difficult times of the Spanish Civil War. These beautiful towns are so filled with history that one can almost feel it in your bones and you hike through the valleys and drink from the fountains. Last week I was ready to come and spend a few days here enjoying the solitude and beauty.

As an important agricultural area the Alpujjara produces almonds, lemons, figs and the most delicious cheese. It also boasts an amazing variety of cured pork products. Cured pork loin with rosemary, white sausage, blood sausage, morcón (similar to chorizo yet a bit bigger) and of course, the ham from Trevélez. You can enjoy a generous tapa with one of the local wines from Europe’a “highest vineyards”.

It’s not all pork and cheese here in this region. We ordered a great dish made with fava beans, based on a recipe that goes back generations. It was prepared with local fava beans, pods and all. Usually we only find these beans naked, shucked from their home. But here in Pampaneira they use them in their entirety and bathed in a flavorful almond sauce to make any vegetarian smile! They went perfectly with a local wine served in a glass Porrón which actually originated in Catolonia.

The poet, Federico García Lorca, referred to the Alupjarra as “el país de ninguna parte”. A NOWHERE COUNTRY. The history lingers here in the streams and the valleys. Such as the legend of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, going into exile here. And more stories of the rebellion and expulsion of the Moriscos and the repopulation of the area by colonists from Extremadura and Galicia. All of this and more rests here in the trees.

Open air market, sardines, and the sea…

IMG_4867Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho.  We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there.  I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning.  The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag.  My biggest nightmare became reality.  Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.

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In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea.  We loved watching this whole process.  Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea.  Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach.  Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore.  The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families.  It is so much fun to watch.  Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years.  If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho.  It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.

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Bar in the Fishermen’s Neighborhood

There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced.  For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable.  The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous.  We met a wonderful woman named Carlota.  We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods.  Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.

At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros.  Sardines are the best in the summertime.  We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.

The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items.  You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters.  I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.

One of my favorite parts of the open air markets in Portugal is the food that you can eat while you are shopping about. My partner loves having the grilled chicken with salad and wine.  He could eat this everyday of his life.  But, in Espinho we found a great little stand that sold a variety of dishes.  The 50 cent jars of wine went great with a “bifana”, a traditional pork sandwich served with mustard and hot sauce.  We also noticed people showing up with their empty tupperware containers to fill them up with the soup of the day.  Of course we had to try the soup!  One Monday it was “Papas de Sarrabulho”.  At first this may not sound so enticing to you.  It is mashed blood with potatoes and meat from a variety of animals. It is a soup that is prepared in the Northern part of Portugal and wonderful in the winter months.  Like most dishes prepared with blood, it was surpsingly tasty!

We enjoyed the Monday market days thoroughly but they could also be exhausting due to the hot weather.  Usually we followed a morning at the market with an extremely refreshing swim in the Atlantic and a long walk along the beautiful coastline. On the other days of the week we would swim and eat and swim.  We would eat grilled sardines almost everyday.  In Portugal they serve them on top of great bread so the flavor of the sardine soaks into the bread.  You eat the sardine and then put olive oil on the bread and enjoy the wonderfully flavored bread!  We usually followed the sardines with a fish caldeirada. We even prepared it a couple of times on our own over an open fire.  Along with a lovely salad and local wine you really can’t go wrong.

RESTAURANTE OS MELINHOS – CREDIT FOR AWESOME FOOD!

 

One afternoon we ran into Carlota along the boardwalk selling fresh fish.  This a town of hardworking people.  On Mondays she would be at the regular market and then during the week she would go from restaurant to restaurant and house to house selling her daily catch.

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End of the morning work……….time for a beer.

 

 

 

Everything Swiss………….

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Alphitta. Zermatt.

If someone told me that they visited Switzerland and did not like it, I would be seriously worried about them.  Yes, it is expensive. Insanely expensive.  A glass of wine poured out of a thimble costs 15 dollars, fine. A pizza for one person, 20 dollars.  But, you can also have one of the best homemade sausages in Zermatt and beyond for about 5 dollars.  Add a beer or wine. 3 more.  And, everywhere you turn it is jaw-dropping gorgeous.  Every place is more beautiful than the next.  It’s clean, organized and people are genuinely nice.

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Best Rosti with Sausage at Alphitta!

I was so lucky to be introduced to this amazing restaurant, Alphitta, near Zermatt.  The owners are genuine and friendly, the food is outstanding, and the view is unbeatable.  Can’t get much better than this in one day.  My friend ordered a boar ragu that was absolutely delicious but I had to have the Rosti with Sausage and it did not disappoint.  It was prepared perfectly and absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t wait to go back to visit!!

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Cherry Panettone

I especially love the Italian part of Switzerland.  It’s where I feel most at home with the language and the people.  And of course, the food!! My daughter and I make panettone every Christmas so I loved seeing this display of Cherry Panettone that they prepare in the summertime.  I was also served the most beautiful and delicious raviolis I have ever seen (besides my Nana’s) recommended by our gracious bartender, Mario.  Smoked eggplant with mozzarella. They were so good that my colleagues actually ordered them for dessert! I couldn’t repeat so I had BABA, a small cake saturated with a rum syrup. Oh dear, time for a jog!!

Thank goodness Switzerland is best known for it’s hiking and swimming in beautiful crystal clear lakes and I was able to enjoy both of these.  I left Switzerland holding a special place for it in my heart. It’s beauty, cleanliness and culture.  Glaciers. Mountains. Cows, oh the beautiful cows.  It is a small bit of heaven in Europe.  I can’t wait to go back.

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freddy