mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain

Archive for the tag “restaurants”

Passion, Port and the Douro Valley

img_4830The Douro Valley in Portugal is known for its prolific wine production which is eventually taken to Vila Nova de Gaia near the city of Porto and stored in the wine cellars.  Traditionally the wine was transported there by “rabelos”, a cargo boat native to the Douro region.  The microclimate in this area also allows for the production of olives and almonds.  The rolling hills along the river provide fantastic scenery to enjoy a cruise or a train ride.  This summer we enjoyed both of these and a great pass through lock of the Regua dam, one of fifteen dams that exist on the river.

We parked our van in the town of Pinhão from where we were able to explore much of the valley and enjoy the excellent wine.  Right in the small town of Pinhão is the Quinta do BonFin, one of the many winery’s owned by the Symington family.  Eventually the grapes will end up at the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Here we enjoyed one of our favorite afternoon drinks, “Porto Tonica”, white port with tonic water and a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick.  The views from Bomfin were absolutely beautiful!

I have a minor addiction with tiny towns in the middle of nowhere.  From Pinhão you can hike straight up hill to the well-preserved town of Provesende, home to 356 inhabitants. This town dates back to the time of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula.  They say that the  name comes from the last Moorish King of the area, Zaide. The town is pintoresque and loaded with history. You can see the Pillory from 1573 , the granite fountain and the Manor homes which remind us of the wealthy families that resided in this area.

 

One of my favorites parts of this town were the trash bins on the streets that are actually the baskets that were traditionally used to collect the grapes during the harvest. What an outstanding idea! We also hit the jackpot for lunch in Provesende.  The main restaurant in town was already closed but the owner offered us a “light snack”.  Before we knew it we had a spread in front of us of ham and cheese, local olives served with a sugar cane honey to dip, vegetable soup, bread and local olive oil, sliced apple sprinkled with bee pollen, and a local sausage called Alheira.  Don’t forget the wine, we are in the Douro Valley!

  • Dedicated to my Smithsonian group that I was forced to abandon due to minor injury.

 

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New Year´s Day in the Douro Valley

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I am a little behind on posting but, “mas vale tarde que nunca”. And now I am on a clean eating spree so it is good to go back and reminisce about the amazing food we enjoyed on our trip.
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After we left the small city of Chaves my wonderful partner decided to take us on a drive through the beautiful Douro Valley, famous for it’s gorgeous scenery and internationally renowned wine production. The whole region is filled with “Quintas” or wine producing farms. Many of which are built on slopes to protect the vineyards from the humid winds. Before stopping in the town of Peso de Règua we took a short detour so my love could show me the ¨lock¨ that raises and lowers the boats in order for them to pass through the different levels of water in the Douro River. I had never seen a lock before or my memory is blocked. I was so amazed by how it worked (and freezing cold) that I forgot to take a picture! But you can look it up on the internet or watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MDEG5p3IwA here! This one has an 89 foot drop. My next trip (besides going back to the USA) is a boat trip on the Douro.
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We were a bit tired from New Year’s Eve and very hungry so we stopped in the town of Règua for lunch. We found an excellent restaurant, Castas e Pratos, that was built right in the train station. Being New Years Day they had roasted baby goat as a specialty. It was served with the most delicious rice, roasted potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe. In Portugal everything has to be served with potatoes and rice. Atkins would not be happy. The other dish we ordered was filet mignon with a gorgonzola sauce and risotto with wild mushrooms. Surprisingly not a potato on the plate.
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The wine list was a book, being in the Douro region. The service was impeccable and we enjoyed every moment. We can´t wait to go back!!
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Food items that I thought I would never enjoy…………..

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I feel that I was raised in a fairly cultured world as far as food is concerned.  My Mother and Nana prepared excellent Italian food tracing our roots but they also made Chinese, Greek, French and many other ¨ethnic¨cuisines.  My parents would also take us out to different restaurants on a fairly regular basis so that we could taste foods from different countries. I have clear memories of tasting flaming saganaki, schnitzel, and cheese enchiladas as a very little girl. As a teenager my mother would rent films about food and far away countries; Babettes Feast, The Scent of Green Papaya, and Big Night come to mind. Many of my Friday nights were filled with popcorn and subtitles.

Regardless of my upbringing there were many foods that I still could not taste upon my arrival in Spain. Anchovies, sardines, octopus, and pig ears are a few on the list. Pig ears still remain on the list. The others, however I have learned to love along with many other different foods.

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I remember walking into a fish market many many years ago in Granada, and the kind gentleman offered me a goose barnacle to taste. Here and in Portugal they are called ¨percebes¨or ¨perceves. I could not get myself to put that in my mouth. They are truly horrific. I kindly refused and left the market.

Not long ago I watched a documentary about how goose barnacles are collected and found it incredibly interesting. It is a quite dangerous and tedious process. And so as life goes, I recently found myself in a market in Porto actually enjoying a plate of goose barnacles, cold albariño wine and great company. Call it circumstancial or a change in my palate. Nobody will ever know. But, I have the photos to prove it. Never say never.

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El txikiteo………………

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I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Basque Country. This area of about 20,000 square kilometers is rich in its own tradition, culture, politics and gastronomy. Something special about their gastronomy is that men tend to be the cooks, not just in restaurants but in private homes and families. This is a unique part of their culture and what is the history behind the “Txoko” or closed gastronomical societies that were orignially only open to male members. The Txoco originally began in San Sebastian in the late 1800’s. A restaurant or a basement with a kitchen is rented by the society to cook, eat and socialize. Nowadays many Txokos also allow women to drink, eat and socialize within the txokos but not to cook.
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Another great part of the Basque gastronomical tradition is the Txikiteo (chiquiteo). Friends gather in the early afternoon to go from bar to bar and enjoy small glasses of wine or beer accompanied by the ever elaborate pintxos (pinchos) which are usually small slices of bread topped by any artistical combination of ingredients. A pintxo could be pate with an anchovy, goat cheese with carmelized onion and cured ham, or wild mushrooms with garlic. Really there are no limits to the pintxo; sushi, grilled vegetables, a lebanese kebab. I have tried it all. For me they always go best with a glass of Txacoli, the typical white wine from the Basque country (more to follow).
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The top of a bar all throughout the Basque Country is a colorful procession of pintxos and some of the best “food art” I have ever seen. In most bars you are given a plate and take what you like from the assortment on the bar. The bar person will then charge you by the amount of toothpicks on your plate. All on the honor system. Just the way life should be!
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Trusting your food instinct………….

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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.

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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.

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Enjoying the Little Things in Life

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One of the most important things I have learned is to appreciate the smaller moments in life. To be present and relish the time we share with others and also alone. In Spain we have a saying that expresses this perfectly. “La vida son cuatro dias.” Life is only four days long.” Enjoy, and don’t let life pass you by without experiencing it to the fullest. In Spain much of this theory revolves around sharing food and drink. We can always find time to enjoy just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I have many favorite places where I do this in Granada and in the cities that I pass through frequently.

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There is a beverage and a small bit of something delicious to fit any moment or feeling. A chilled glass of dry sherry served with olives and cheese filled peppers served by a gentleman in a white jacket and bowtie is a nice way to share a conversation with a friend an early evening in Barcelona. Or a bit of hard cider before lunch while peacefully looking out at the Bay of Biscay. And in Sevilla, I love to have a glass of sweet sherry accompanied by a bit of fresh cheese with quince paste and rosemary as I kick back and listen to the lively atmosphere around me. These are just some of the moments that I have treasured along this beautiful road we call life.

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My favorite places in Spain………..Salamanca Part 2 – the food

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Taking a walk through the small yet lively market in Salamanca is the perfect way to warm up your taste buds for an afternoon of tapa indulgence. This University town has tapas to suit anybody’s taste. For a plate of the some of the best ham, chorizo and cheese you should look for Las Caballerizas. It is a student cafeteria in the old stables of Salamanca. Cheap, traditional and delicious.

We always like to make a stop in Casa Paca right of the Plaza Mayor. The pisto (vegetable stew) with quails egg is one of my favorites. My daughter loves the meatballs and the “broken eggs” with ham and potatoes. The bar is the place to be where you can easily choose from the display of tapas but a table can be nice as well to kick back and observe the local flavor.

Pisto at Casa Paca

Pisto at Casa Paca

Sometimes tapas with a modern edge can be fun as well. Last year we stumbled into a place off the Rua Mayor. It is called Tapas 2.0, Gastrotasca. We were needing something green in our lives and were pleasantly surprised by the caramelized goat cheese with veggies. After that there was no stopping us. The crispy chicken leg was delicious and the patatas bravas rank among my favorites. Slightly spicy with a hint of garlic. As my daughter dove happily into the Mac Montero burger we were offered two glasses of Cava and a piece of chocolate cake to celebrate their anniversary. Heaven for us!

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas

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Salamanca never disappoints. The beauty of the city mixed with the atmosphere and outstanding food welcomes me with every visit.

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dear friends and delicious bites………

At the beginning of the summer Luna and I were blessed and invited to the beach with some dear friends.  We had a wonderful time enjoying great food, laughter and plenty of “mini-people” conversations.  The big people conversation usually happened after midnight and only if we lasted that long after a day of eating, drinking and swimming.  If I were to describe all of the amazing food we ate I would have to write a book.  Between the homemade Italian-accented dishes of my friend Carmen and the beach restaurants, my palate, tummy and heart were in heaven.  The homemade recipes are a secret of course. But I have the flavors memorized in my mind.

Two of our favorite Spanish staples are seasoned fresh tomato salad and fried eggplant.  Usually they are pretty straight forward and simple.  But, at the chiringuito (beach restaurant) in Malaga we had the absolute best of both. The “Tomate Aliñado” was a pleasant surprise.  Usually this “salad” is simple sliced tomato with olive oil, salt and fresh garlic.  But this one was extra special.  Fresh tomato, capers, toasted garlic, parsley, balsamic dressing and the perfect bit of anchovies on top.  The surprises didn’t stop at the tomato.

The same afternoon we also had Luna’s all time favorite, fried eggplant.  Under the batter fried eggplant covered in sugar cane syrup was a surprise slice of goat cheese.  When cut up and mixed together the goat cheese and sugar cane syrup made the perfect combination.  Although I always enjoy the traditional recipes in Spain, an imaginative variation can definitely make a difference.  Especially when sharing it with friends and enjoying the sound of waves and sea water on your skin. A view of the Mediterranean also adds a nice touch, especially with a gorgeous woman passing by. She looks like she needs a cold beer! Lucky for her the beach bar has a special cooler to take one down to the beach!!

got the mojo…………………

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!

needing some warmth………..

Winters in Granada are not as horrible as they can be other places I realize, but nonetheless I get tired very easily of the cold.  I prefer heat, hot sun, sand on my body and a cool drink in my hand.  So, after all too many days of battling a nasty winter flu I have been dreaming of summer.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, sweet and enjoyable summer.  I have many food and cultural posts still for winter but today I need to feel the hot sun on my skin. If only through a blog.  So, my dreams take me back to Asturias where we enjoy spending a bit of each summer vacation.  Hard cider, great food, and a sunny day on a pristine beach are what brings us back year after year.  The sunny day can be a give or take since Asturias tends to be fairly rainy.  But, we usually luck out with sun for 90 percent of the time. 

  Each year we return to the same rural hotel (another post) where we always feel welcome and have a chance to decompress between campground and campground.  From this beautiful home there are hiking trails that will take you to different towns, beaches, restaurants, and the breathtaking look out at  Cabo Penas.  One of our favorite beaches to walk to is Verdicio.  First we stop at a nearby restaurant along the national highway and then we make our way down to the beach area which kindly offers a small hut serving hard cider whenever you feel the need. 

We had a fantastic meal at a cider house,  La Fustariega before heading down for a swim.  French fries ( or chips) smothered in a sauce made with the best cheese in Spain, Cabrales.  Cabrales in its pure form will make your eyes water, nose run and your stinky tennis shoes smell like roses.  It is delicous.  A raw milk cheese that is cured in an extremely humid cave in the high Picos de Europa Mountains until it is covered in mold and  striped with lucious blue veins.  Asturias is famous for its cheese and Cabrales is one that is honored in competitions each year. 

The other typical dish that we devoured before ordering desserts was Pastel de Cabracho.  According to gastronomical history this dish was first prepared by the famous Basque Chef, Juan Mari Arzak.   The fish (black scorpian fish) is boiled first in a stock, deboned and then mixed with a mixture of tomato, heavy cream and sometimes leek and carrot.  It is formed into a pudding and cooked in a double boiler.  It is normally served as an appetizer with homemade mayonnaise.  When it is prepared well, Pastel de Cabracho is not to be missed. 

We ended our meal with two mouth watering desserts.  Simple and delightful.  A creamy rice pudding topped with cinnamon and a typical Asturian cheesecake.  It was the perfect meal to fuel us for our short walk down to the beach where the sun and a cold bottle of hard cider awaited us. 

                         

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