“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
We all have places in this world that enter in our hearts and never leave. I have a few that come to mind. Simply closing my eyes I can take myself back to certain sounds, streets, mountains or sunsets. My sister Georgianna has always joked around saying that I can only live in two cities, Granada or Flagstaff, Az. Hopefully I will prove her wrong one day but she knows me well. They are the two places that cling tightest to my heart.
Granada is unique in this world, one of the most beautiful cities without a doubt. I have been lucky to live in almost every neighborhood in the city. The best was without a doubt , Sacromonte. A magical neighborhood of caves with the best view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The fountain next to my old cave home says, “How I would love to be the fountain in my neighborhood, so that when you pass by and drink I could feel your lips close.” The history of cave dwellings runs deep in this part of Spain, Sacromonte dating back to before the 16th century. In 1963 this Gypsy quarter was almost completely destroyed by severe flooding but today life is still thriving in its bars, flamenco and cave homes. It is our favorite “city” hike especially on a sunny day.
On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal. In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad. Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year. The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options. But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general. I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course. But actually, the options are endless.
One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos. A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil. Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover. In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere. Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey. My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada. It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!
Salads are plentiful and diverse. One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes. Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally. In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.
There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar. I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal. The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.
Every morning we leave our house and as we cross over the river I look up to the right and enjoy the view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love this view year round, with and without snow topped peaks. For me it is one of the reasons that makes Granada very special. In about 25 minutes you can be up at the ski resort Sol y Nieve to enjoy the snow that we usually don’t have here in the city. And in 40 minutes you can drive south and be on the beach. For me, this is an ideal place to live.
Last year on the Day of Andalucia (the day to celebrate Andalucia becoming an autonomous community) we woke up to snow in the city. It was like a gift for children and adults. No school and snow falling from the sky. We spent the morning throwing snowballs with our neighbors and building snowmen. We had to enjoy it fully because we don’t know the next time this will happen!
I have a serious problem. I am an obsessive menu reader and am yet to find a 12 step program to remedy this. It is impossible for me to just walk into any restaurant and sit down and eat, even if the establishment has been highly reccomended. I need to read the menu. Either the the actual menu itself or simply the food on display. It is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. However, my decision isn’t only based on what is offered on the menu but my simple instincts and how the bar or restaurant makes me feel upon entering. Trusting your food instinct is an art and one to believe in and to keep finely tuned.
On a recent trip to El Puerto de Santa Marìa in Càdiz I had one of these special moments. We had a great lunch at one of the most typical restaurants in El Puerto for fresh fish and seafood (recommended by my dear friends who are on a plane to Thailand at this very moment). After lunch, happily filled on wine, clams and baby squid we decided to take a long walk to the beach. As we were wandering through town I caught eye of a beautiful street sign, Calle Luna, and a great little bar right on the corner. I knew we would have to go back after the beach.
While my daughter dug into a garbanzo and shrimp stew the owner prepared a marinated salmon with avocado for us that was simply beautiful and delicious. Accompanied by a glass of local white wine for myself and a cold beer for my friend, it was the perfect end to our daytrip.
A high of 73 degrees during the first week of November is an open invitation to spend the weekend on the coast. I have become a complete beach whore since I moved to Southern Spain. And I can’t break myself of this addiction. Why would I want to? Our beaches in Granada are pebbly, hardly a grain of sand. Sometimes this can cause excruciating pain as you hobble from your towel to the sea. You simply adapt. And what small bit of foot ache can’t be cured by some great food and wine?
No meal on the coast of Granada is complete without an “espeto de sardinas” (sardines grilled on an open fire). You have not had a real sardine until you taste these with a slightly smoked flavor. And wash them down with a cold glass of San Miguel beer. This is true beach food.
A local winery named Calvente produces the perfect dry yet fruity white wine to accompany some clams in garlic sauce and the best octopus I have ever had in my life. Here it is smoked for hours over an open fire then tossed with garlic and parsley and served with a cabbage salad and alioli. This is what weekends are made for!
No reason to skip the cheesecake or crema catalana for dessert. A glass of my all time favorite liqueur over ice to help digestion? Yes please. Patxaran is made with sloe berries (endrinas) and produced mostly in Navarra and the Basque Country but Granada has it’s own small production as well. The best way to enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean.
I’ve expressed before my obsession with spicy food and the lack there of it in Spain. I am eternally searching for the exceptions. After 20 years of searching I get extra excited when I find a good spicy dish in a typical place. Because finding spicy food in an Indian or Mexican joint is pretty much a given. The other day we stopped into one of our favorite local bars in our old neighborhood. If you don’t get here by 1:30 in the afternoon you can find yourself with your face plastered against the window as you scream out to the bartender for another beer. Well, the other day we were pleasantly surprised by a new tapa on their list. PAPAS EN MOJO PICÓN!! I’ve talked about Patatas Bravas before. These are not the same. The flavor is completely different. Mojo Picón is a spicy sauce from the Canary Islands that is made with garlic, cayenne peppers, cumin, vinegar, olive oil and salt. Or any other variation on the theme. The name comes from the Portuguese word Molho (sauce). And these potatoes were particularly delicious with their homemade Mojo Picón!! Thank you Granada for the mojo!