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. 

                         

classic, friendly and packed with people………

Spotting a great tapas bar in Spain is not that difficult if you know what to look out for.  Number one  is the “Spanish Servilleta”.  This is basically a very small, see through, and non absorbent excuse for a napkin.  However, it is key to spotting a good bar.  While enjoying tapas one may go through 50 of these napkins to clean their fingers, and then proceed to toss them one by one onto the floor.  The floor in  any popular tapas bar in Spain is completely covered by napkins, toothpicks, shrimp heads and tails and olive pits.  The cigarette butt is now excluded from the list.  Number two is to look for places that are crammed packed with people to the point that many are spilling out of the front door and windows.  Within the bar you will find many groups of friends and family balancing their drinks along with a plate of communal tapas. When we go out as a group in Spain we almost always collect a “fondo” or collection of money that one person is in charge of throughout the afternoon or evening.

early afternoon

early afternoon

There are some old yet unchanging tapas bars in Granada that I love to visit every once in a while.  A place like “Diamantes” is one of them for me.  It started as one very narrow bar that is constantly filled to the brim with a mostly local crowd enjoying their perfect and light fried fish.  There is now a “Diamantes 2” as shown above with a bit more elbow room.  Both of the bars are incredibly efficient, friendly and filled with local flavor.  The most frequent tapas that are included with your drinks are fried eggplant, shrimp in garlic sauce, fried dogfish and fried shrimp.  There is nothing better than a midday “tapeo” starting at Los Diamantes.


The Friar’s Garden

It has been raining for the past four days and we have been enjoying the fireplace, playtime and a great variety of home cooked food.  Finally,  there was a break in the clouds and we decided to go for a stroll up the river.  Walking about 2 1/2 miles along the river from our house we have a couple of great restaurants.  Today we chose one called La Huerta del Fraile, The Friar’s Garden.  Across the street from the restaurant there is a huge pumpkin patch along with many vegetable gardens and orchards. The rain started up again as soon as we walked in, so we tucked in next to their fireplace.  We had planned on having one tapita and then moving on but we were so relaxed and the first tapa was delicious and unique.  So we stayed for a bit.

The first tapa was a surprisingly scrumptious  version of one dish in Spain that I have always disliked.  It is called San Jacobo (Saint Jacob).  Usually it is a slice of chicken wrapped around ham and cheese then breaded and fried.  Basically, the Spanish version of Cordon Bleu.   Most of the Saint Jacobs that I have met have been in low cost hotel buffets where basically everything is disgusting. Needless to say,  I had never once enjoyed a San Jacobo in all of my years in Spain until La Huerta del Fraile’s version.  It was made with cheddar cheese, eggplant, mushrooms and ham and then covered in a crunchy coating.  Tapa number two was also the best version I’ve ever had of a very typical dish, Migas.  Literally, migas de pan are the soft breadcrumbs from fresh bread.  The preparation of the dish known as Migas can vary depending on the region of Spain that you are in.  In Granada they are the breadcrumbs or leftover bread sauteed in olive oil with garlic, green peppers and a variety of pork products.  On the coast they are also served with sardines (see toes in the sand, shrimp in my hand).  These definitely ranked the best that I have had.  Usually Migas are prepared on an open fire out in the country.  A typical dish prepared for hard workers.

Off the regular menu we ordered a salad with tomato and goat cheese and a plate of fried berenjenas (aubergine or eggplant) with sugar cane honey.  Fried eggplant deserves a post all to itself.  My 5 year old daughter wants to dedicate an entire blog to this favorite dish of hers.  They are typical in Cordoba but here in Granada we have also found some amazing ones.  For me they are a mixture of dessert and pancakes.  A light fluffy batter, eggplants, and sweet dark honey.  Another fried delicacy here in Spain.