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!
If there is one place I don’t like spending my time, it is at a hospital. I doubt many people do. Going to the hospital is not usually a joyful experience unless you are having a baby or receiving the “you are cancer free” news. Those are my only two truly joyful hospital experiences up to now. I have spent quite a bit of time in hospitals in the past 11 years and I am happy to say that the majority of that time was spent in Spanish hospitals, except a brief experience in Switzerland. Spain has an exceptional healthcare system. It ranks extremely high both in Europe and worldwide. I realize that there are many different opinions about universal healthcare and also people who may have had negative experiences when dealing with the system. However, this is about my experience and I only have positive comments to make about Spain and its healthcare system. I am happy to say that my daughter has had minimal reasons for care except for her birth, a pulmonary stenosis that cleared up in a few years and her random visits for a common illness or vaccinations. That pretty much sums up her experience until now and I hope it stays that way. With an exception to this past Covid filled year, we are always able to get an appointment either the same day or the next at our local health clinic. My daughter only had two different pediatricians in her 14 years here in Granada and we loved them both! This year she has now moved up to a general practitioner. How did that happen so soon?
I am a freelancer so I pay Social Security through my monthly “autonomous” payments. However, let me state that healthcare in Spain is socialized and FREE! During the times when I was either unemployed or too ill to work, my healthcare was completely and 100 percent covered. The only exception to this was when I chose to do necessary treatments with a private doctor so I would be able to keep my promise to one of the companies that I worked for and have available dates to be working. In retrospect, I would never do this again. Our health should always be number one and most of the best medicine practice exists at the public hospitals, many of which are connected to the university medical school which is the case here in Granada.
Healthcare is a touchy subject for many people so I am only going to share my personal experience. Thanks to our lovely pandemic my last necessary surgery was put on a waitlist a year ago. Basically, if you were not going to die without it, all procedures and operations were waitlisted and with good reason. I had been told that I would probably have my surgery in July or August of 2021. In my mind I imagined receiving the call that I would finally have my regular job again and receive a call from the hospital on the same day. Murphy’s Law. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. My last doctors visit set off an alarm of urgency and I was called in much sooner. With just two days to prepare I notified friends, filled the refrigerator for my daughter, received my negative Covid test and took my last long walk for awhile making my way to the hospital. You are not allowed to have a companion unless completely necessary and if you do, the companion must be “admitted” and “discharged” with the patient. I was not about to subject anyone to sleeping in one of those chairs for who knows how many nights even if they are fed three meals a day and able to choose the “diet” of their choice. And in the end the care I received was above and beyond what is expected.
I was asked to arrive at 11 am the day before my surgery in order to have some necessary tests done and to speak with my group of surgeons. Apart from that I was free to enjoy the view of the mountains, eat when served, and binge on Netflix. In the public hospitals the rooms are shared. The number of patients can vary. A few years ago I spent a week in Cardiology in the old hospital and shared a room with three other women. This room was for post op and had only two beds. During my stay at the hospital this month I was blessed to share my room with 4 different women with 4 different stories. (they came and went during my stay) We shared our fears and pain and life stories. There is something about being nervous and alone that really unites people.
As I read my book and played with my bed remote on that first day watching the various hospital staff come and go, I was reminded of an important word in Spanish. Convivencia. Convivencia means living together or coexistence. However, this word has a different significance here since it is often used when speaking of the time in history when the Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together on the Iberian Peninsula. I don’t add the word “peacefully” to this statement because that would be incorrect for many reasons. For me this word also represents a very important aspect of the culture here and the healthcare system is a big part of this. Sharing a hospital room when you are very ill or about to go into or come out of an operation can be a delicate situation. I am happy to say that my experiences have been nothing but positive and enlightening. A genuine interest in helping one another and taking care of others becomes the most important concept. Not only was the hospital staff extremely attentive and kind at all moments but my roommates were also a crutch of empathy and kindness in my weakest moments.
My surgical team was outstanding. My operation was extremely difficult and had complications, 7 hours instead of the usual 2 hours. Everybody in the room introduced themselves kindly calling me by my name and reassuring me before the anesthesiologists sent me off to la la land. In the public hospitals you don’t choose your doctors or surgeons. I had met three doctors the day before but the other two I met just before surgery. Being a university hospital and my case being quite unique, I had extra people in the operating room to learn and observe. Everyone in the post operation recovery room was equally compassionate as they kindly injected me with “ALEGRÍA” , otherwise known as morphine. That part is all a bit hazy.
Lucky me! I had some minor complications in the days after surgery so I got to spend some extra time in my 5 star hospital room. This also meant that I finally graduated from a liquid diet to a “semi-bland” diet. These are the moments that I always remember for some reason because they remind me of where I live and why. My liquid diet consisted of decaf coffee with whole milk, juice boxes and clear broth. But, my semi bland diet was a major improvement. Many dishes that are served seem like they came out of someones Grandma´’s kitchen, like the great soups and meatballs! Actually, the meatballs were served to me the day before surgery. But, my other “bland” meals consisted of different vegetable purees, a garbanzo, potato and spinach soup, fish soup, grilled fish with parsley and olive oil, grilled chicken breast, grilled tuna with peppers and onions and a cute little omelet shaped like a cupcake. Oh, and we cannot forget the late afternoon snacks of “Galletas Maria” served with decaf and whole milk of course and breakfast with decaf and magdalenas “mini muffins”. And, every night at about 11 pm you are always offered a cup of tea or a yogurt as a good night snack.
I am now home and recovering. I still have a bumpy road to travel but I am seeing a bright light that I have not seen in many, many years. I am grateful to the healthcare system in Spain and all of the amazing people who give all of their energy everyday to the care and wellbeing of the people they encounter. Especially after this past year. They should be exhausted and over it all! But, what I encountered was only true kindness and professional healthcare workers who are dedicated to what they do. The aids who took care of me when I was passing out and seriously sick were attentive to every detail. They even arranged my flowers carefully in water and placed them where I could enjoy the view! Of course I am even happier to be home with my gorgeous daughter. Soon, I will be making new Youtube videos for you all and eventually back to travel and life as usual. It is important to remember the idea of “convivencia” and to learn to live together and take care of each other. Hopefully what we have lived in the past year has helped many people to take a deep look at how we coexist with others.
Just when you think that nothing else could possibly happen, it does! At 12:30 pm on Saturday, January 23rd as I was taking a much needed and too short of a nap in between my online English classes, the bed began to rock back and forth. I sat up quickly and realized that it wasn’t just my bed, but the walls also seemed to be moving and then something crashed to the ground somewhere in my apartment. Big earthquake number one for this year, magnitude 4.4. I have lived through many earthquakes here in Granada and I remember each and every one of them. The biggest was in 2010, with a magnitude of 6.3, but I don’t remember feeling it as I have felt the quakes this year. I don’t know how to explain why, but this one felt different to me. I felt it in my core and it left my hands trembling. I taught my next four classes with my feet planted firmly on the ground.
Earthquakes are no surprise here since Granada is the most seismic area in Spain. This is where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and have formed many faults. According to experts, these two plates are constantly approximating to each other by 4 to 5 millimetres each year.
3 days pass after that first big quake and the aftershocks continued daily. Some we could feel, some not. Then, on the following Tuesday night I was happily brushing my teeth in our bathroom when I heard my family shriek! I had not felt a thing in our bathroom but when I walked into the hallway I could hear the cracking sounds and see the walls moving once again. We live in on the 7th floor of a 10 story building with 100 apartments in all. It has a big open courtyard in the center which allows for fresh air and easy communication with the neighbors. Since we still have a 10 pm curfew in Granada, all of the neighbors were home and the sound of conversation in the corridors grew and grew. In the next 12 minutes we had 5 more sizeable quakes, ranging from 3.6 to 4.6. Needless to say, these left an uneasy feeling in everyone who felt them! Well, we finally had a reason to forget about COVID for awhile. Two days later an even larger one shook the city and surrounding areas. These were felt as far as the city of Cordoba and even North Africa.
There was no major damage in our neighborhood but the towns that are built right on the faults did suffer damage. The Cathedral, the Saint Jerome Monastery and a part of the Alhambra are also being repaired from damage. Many people left their homes and went to second homes near the coast or to stay with family or friends. There have been 1,600 earthquake registered in Granada since January 23rd. We are still trembling a bit and this past week I was woken up on 3 separate mornings with my bed swaying forward and back. However, they are getting smaller. At least for now. And at least until this very second as I write!!! Literally, this very second another earthquake of magnitude 3.5 just shook our apartment once again. It has almost become normal to hear “earthquake” shouted in our home, just in case somebody didn’t feel it. We all felt this one and so did my other friends in Granada since the messages are rolling in.
I am forever thankful to these friends who make it just a bit more relaxing with their contagious sense of humour. We have laughed together through many earthquakes this month! Let us all keep the laughter going throughout whatever this new year holds for us. Peace and calmness from Granada.
On November 3rd the city of Granada was closed to any “outsiders” due to the high amount of Covid cases in the city. For one of the largest holiday weekends of the year, All Saints Day, Granada would be sacred only to those of us who live here. I received an email from the Parador of Granada saying that they had a special just for residents of Granada. With all other guests having to cancel, this historic hotel would be empty once again. But, I will save that surprise for another post.
How could I sleep in the Parador de San Francisco and not spend a day at the Alhambra? Not just spend a day in the Alhambra, but an almost empty Alhambra. As I’ve mentioned in other posts the Alhambra used to be free on Sundays when I first moved here. My memories of studying in the gardens of the Generalife for hours on end are ones that I will cherish for my lifetime. I don’t ever remember crowds of people visiting during those years. As time has passed things have changed drastically. It is almost impossible to visit the Alhambra without it being sold out, even in the winter months. However, the other day I had it almost to myself.
Located on top of the Cerro del Sol, or Hill of the Sun, the Generalife was the summer and rural palace of the Emirs during the Nasrid Dynasty in Granada. It is possible that the origin of the word Generalife comes from the Arabic Yannat al Arif, the arquitects garden. It was built during the 13th and 14th century. Just like the entire area of the Alhambra is our oasis from the noisy city, the Generalife was their oasis during the extremely dry and hot summer months. The ever flowing water and lush gardens are calming at anytime of the year. We will also find the most photographed Patio de la Acequia and the Sultans Garden with its famous cypress tree. The legend says that it is under this cypress tree where Boabdil’s wife used to meet up with her lover from the Abencerraje tribe eventually resulting in the death of this entire family.
Two of my favourite parts of the Generalife are those that many visitors may just pass through without much thought. To arrive at the high gardens of the Generalife we take the Escalera del Agua, the water staircase which is one of my favourite places. Broken into three sections, the water from the acequia real (royal channel) flows down on both sides of the staircase. Water is brought to the Alhambra by this water channel from 6 kilometers away. The staircase is also protected by a dome of laurel trees.
The Paseo de las Adelfas, The Walk of the Oleanders, is a 19th century walkway that was built in the 19th century as a romantic entrance to the Generalife. The name itself is passionate and picturesque. It connects to the Path of the Cypresses which will lead you back to the palaces. The visitor should not forget to enjoy these simple pleasures of the Alhambra.
When you exit the Alhambra near the Generalife and cross the street you will see a sign that says, Jardines de Alberto. Located in the home of the 19th century painter, Ramón Carazo, you will find a lovely restaurant that specialises in Nasrid cuisine. The home is a Carmen, a typical house in Granada. The word comes from the Arabic word for vine, karm. It has a garden with high walls. Traditionally the garden would have fruit trees and grape vines. In the garden of this Carmen is where the restaurant is located. Sit down and have a drink, a tapa and a great meal. You won’t be deceived. You may be served a homemade croqueta or some marinated and fried monkfish. I highly recommend the menu of the day. If you are lucky you can try the roast pork with a puree of sweet potatoes and squash. For desert you must have the Andalusian cream topped with croutons and sugar cane honey. Is there a better way to end a morning in the Alhambra?
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!!
“Food Tastes Better with Sand Between Your Toes”. Anthony Bourdain
I was raised between Chicago and Arizona so beach was not really a part of my life growing up unless you count shivering with blue lips in Lake Michigan or tubing down the Salt River. So, when I first moved to Granada (25 years ago) and was able to be on the Mediterranean in 45 minutes I found a whole new world. Not like I had not been to a beach before, I had been to many. But, the coast of Granada is a big swimming pool. Most beaches are pebbly or rocky for that matter but in three steps you can no longer stand and are free to swim for as long and as far as your body will take you. I’m pretty sure the only reason I ever got out of the water my first year in Granada was that I realized I could have a cold beer and a free tapa and jump back in. And then repeat. Thank you to whoever opened that first beach bar in Sitges, Catalonia. The Chringuito is a way of life in Spain. The word comes from Cuba, a place where people who worked on the sugar plantations would rest in the shade to have their café.
I remember thinking to myself how absolutely delicious every tapa tasted to me with my feet buried in the sand, my hair and skin salty from the sea. I couldn’t imagine enjoying food more than at a Chiringuito. Tired from swimming and looking out at the sea. As a student, I could easily survive on the tapas. Fresh shrimp or some fried fish. It was all perfect, and still is.
Every once in a while you might get a tapa of ham or cheese or russian potato salad. But, for the most part the tapas go with the atmosphere. Clams lightly sauteed in a parsley sauce or mussels fresh from the sea. Sometimes they serve the mussels with pipiranna which is a light salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and bell pepper. We also eat a lot of fried fish in Southern Spain. It was never common for people to have ovens in their homes so frying was an easy and quick way to prepare certain proteins and vegetables. Some might even say it is healthy! In Granada, fried fish is commonly served with a raw cabbage salad marinated with olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Anchovies are one of the best fried fish you can find!
The Phoenicians founded the city of Cádíz in 1104 BC and established small towns such as Almuñecar along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. They elaborated Mojama, a salt dried tuna. Although the name comes from Arabic, the process began under the Phoenicians. Mojama is still prepared and consumed all along the Atlantic Coast of Spain as well as along the Mediterranean Coast. This tecnique is also used in Portugal, Morocco and Italy. Mojama is served like a slice of ham; alone, on a piece of toast, in a salad or to flavor other dishes.
The coast of Granada is full of surprises and history. These are just the “tapas” which will open your palate for the rest of a wonderful meal on the coast. Buen Provecho!!