mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain

Archive for the tag “Tapas”

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.

My Favorite Places in Spain………. #1 Toledo part 2

I could probably write a book about Toledo and all of my lovely experiences I’ve had there but that will have to wait for another point in my life.  After all, it did rank number 1 for many reasons. Toledo is one place where I never tire of wandering through the streets and monuments.  Every time I walk through the city I see something new and learn more about the history and layers of this medieval treasure.  One night many years ago as I was strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets with some students I ran into my dear friend Mario leading his group on a nighttime tour.  From this moment on I decided to include this as  part of any tour of mine that sleeps in Toledo.  Each city takes on a different persona when the sun goes down.  The moon, darkness and city lights completely change the feeling and security that daytime holds.  A nighttime visit in Toledo is filled with legends, mysteries and intrigue.  One of my favorite expressions in Spanish is “pasar una noche Toledana” which describes when one has had a sleepless night for one reason or another.  Historically, the saying refers to a bloody massacre that occurred in the year 797 when a cruel Governor invited all of the nobleman of Toledo to his home for a banquet.  As they entered his home one by one, they were beheaded and tossed into a ditch.

On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed some great meals in Toledo with many wonderful friends.  I’ve also enjoyed some quiet afternoons and nights alone with a tapa and glass of wine.  This past June I went for a cold beer at a restaurant that I have frequented through the years because it is next door to the hotel where I often sleep.  It is a bit of a dive and I usually only go in for a quick drink.  Well, in June I was surprised with  a tapa of one of the best Croquetas I have ever eaten.  It was quite ugly as you can see, but the flavor was perfect.

I’ve had a few memorable meals at a restaurant named Casa Aurelio where they serve tender meat that you cook to your liking on a hot brick.   Another favorite place of mine is El Hostal del Cardenal which is a breathtaking hotel and restaurant connected to the walls of the city.  The restaurant offers beautiful gardens where you can enjoy a wonderful meal or cold drink and feel as if you are part of a medievil film.  However, there is a place that I always tend to go to when I am up near the main plaza of the city, Zocodover.  It is called El Cason de los Lopez.  This building from the XVI century is located on a street that was once famous for typical “mesones”  or  a XVI century bed and breakfast, where Miguel de Cervantes used to eat and rest.  The main floor of the building is part of an interior patio with a bar and rustic, informal dining area.  In the bar you can order a mixed plate of Manchego cheese and cured local sausages.  It is delicious.  My friend Alex and I discovered it while catching up on each others lives over some local wine from Castilla la Mancha.  And I ordered it again to share with two of my favorite dining partners this summer.  The picture is taken by my friend Melissa.  After we had already eaten more than half of the plate…………

introducing the croqueta…………

Sundays invite adventure and escaping from the city center.  Even though we all laugh and criticize the “domingueros” or “Sunday drivers”, we end up being one many times during the year.  So, today we went up just a bit into the mountains to breathe some fresh air and see what the day would bring.  Basically it is hard to go wrong around here on a weekend.  As long as you have good company and some open space for the kids to play, the day is pretty much set.  Lucky for me I have friends who also have a damn good sense of humor which makes the day just that much brighter.  Even with the clouds.  We ordered some food to share and then just as I was mourning the lack of homemade croquetas on the menu, this tapa appeared on the table.  It was as if they had read my mind.  My friend Annette and I both have a bit of an obsession with ordering homemade croquetas when available.  I think we are trying to find the best.  There is a lot to know about the “croqueta” in Spain.  Croquetas can be real crap sometimes.  Frozen and produced by a machine.  Or just plain bland, boring, and disgusting.  But,  when you find a good croqueta, it is like a delicious bit of fried love.

I was truly blessed to live with an amazing woman here in Granada.  Carmen taught me a great part of what I know about this city.  She hated to cook.  But her croquetas were seriously the best I have ever had.  I would hang over her as she made the bechamel, added the leftover meat from the stew cooked the day before and toss them in the egg and flour.  I watched the patience and love she put into those delicious rolls.  When they were ready we would all line up to taste as she fried them one by one.  I would always get back in line for seconds.  And with that bit of energy we would be off to go out for the night.

The croquetas today were homemade and fresh.  They weren’t as good as Carmen’s, nor where they as good as the one I will put in my next post, but they did hit the spot.  The company was even better…….a bit crazy……..but good.

sometimes “pijo” can be good……….

The word “pijo” is used in Spain with various connotations, both positive and negative.  Most commonly it describes a person or a place that is classy or fashionable.  However, quite frequently in Granada “pijo” can also be equivalent to tacky and tasteless. Sort of the wannabe of posh that never really gets to that level.  Therefore, most of the “normal” people try to avoid any place or situation that may involve anything “pijo”.  In fact, some may go to great extremes to not rub elbows with those who wear long sleeve pink oxfords with a sweater wrapped around their shoulders.  But, in my search for unique tapas in this city I have wandered into many a “pijo” establishment.  Most, I have to say are a disappointment.  Too many pink Polo shirts and not a decent tapa in sight.

I have found the exception, or at least one of them.  We found “Oryza” because we used to live around the corner.  Every once in a while we would pop in on a Saturday afternoon for a glass of wine and a tapa which were always delicious.  When they opened, the prices were quite high and I was worried that this little place might not make it.  But since then they have lowered their regular prices and also included a great bar and terrace menu along with a below 10 euro wine list.  The reason we kept going back is because they have always treated us like family.  The last time I was there I was treated to the best guacamole I’ve had in Spain, a delicious plate of meatballs, and a small plate of grilled vegetables with a hard boiled partridge egg.

mountains, rivers, and hot peppers


peppers, cherries and pumpkin

peppers, cherries and pumpkin

I was up late last night after taking a wonderful client up to the caves for Flamenco.  So when the alarm went off this morning I was happy to see that the rest of my family was still asleep and I rolled over hoping for a nice lie in.  It didn’t last long of course.  Before I realized it I was up making breakfast with the company of my neighbor’s two year old and then quickly we were all off to school.

Amazingly, a friend and I both found the energy to grab our bikes for a short ride and went to a beautiful town, Pinos de Genil, on the way to the mountains.  After drinking fresh cold water out of the town’s fountain we decided to have a quick beer at Bar Ricardo next to the river.  The moment improved when our server brought us a plate of delicious olives that had been seasoned with cumin and paprika and a bit of salchichón (salami).  I had one of my “I heart Granada” moments listening to the sound of the river and recalling my Gypsy bliss from the night before.  To prolong the feeling we decided to pick Luna up from school early and take her to another beautiful town up in the mountains for lunch and a hike.

Guejar Sierra is a cozy mountain town about 10 miles from Granada.  It has great restaurants both within the town and along the river that serve traditional food with an abundance of olive oil and local products.  It has also been a favorite place of mine to go and enjoy the many hiking trails that take you along the river and into the mountains.  There used to be a tram that went from the center of Granada to the start of one of the main trails, La Vereda de la Estrella.  In the early 70’s the tram ceased to function due to lack of profit.  The older people in the town are still quite disturbed about this, understandably so.

We stopped in one of the restaurants along the river to eat something before our hike.  We ordered the obligatory and delicious local potato dish, poor man’s potatoes.  Patatas a lo pobre.  They are thinly sliced potatoes, green peppers and sometimes onions sauteed in an generous amount of olive oil.  Simple and always gratifying.  Luna had a hankering for chicken so we ordered a small dish of chicken in garlic (and plenty of oil) which was delicious with just a bit of white wine and about 10 cloves of crispy garlic.  But the star dish today was the Padrón peppers.  These peppers are named after a town in Galicia and were originally brought to Spain in the 16th century from Mexico.  The ones we had today were grown locally.  There is a saying about these peppers, “Pimientos de Padrón, algunos pican algunos no”.  “Padrón peppers, some are hot, some are not”.  They are served after being fried in olive oil and lightly salted.  My friend took a bite out of the first pepper and handed it to me immediately.  Usually these peppers leave me craving spice.  If you are lucky, one in 15 is hot.  Not today.  They were all fire.  And I mean FUEGO!!! I’m a spicy food addict and these were mind blowing.  All of them.

pimientos de padrón

pimientos de padrón

poor man's potatoes

poor man’s potatoes

After our hike along the river we stopped in a local shop and bought some local treats.  Onions, tomatoes, apples, pumpkin, cherries in strong alcohol, and pickled spicy peppers.  The pickled peppers aren’t from Padrón but they are just about as picante!!

toes in the sand, shrimp in my hand……

peeling shrimp, big hands and little hands

Some of my favorite tapas are on the coast of Granada.  Since it is still around 90 degrees everyday here, I have the beach on my mind constantly.  In any of the beach restaurants or “chiringuitos”  you can sit down at a table with your feet in the sand, order a beer (or whatever it is you desire), and enjoy a wonderful tapa.  Fresh fish and seafood are the norm here.  I love when I am surprised with a small plate of  grilled shrimp or fried, marinated dogfish.

I remember my first couple years in Granada when we would take the bus down to the beach for the day.  There was something  liberating about enjoying a  cold drink with a free tapa of fried squid and then jumping into the Mediterranean sea merely 5 feet away.  My excitement about this has not faded a bit in the past 16 years. Swim, tapa, swim, sun, tapa, swim, tapa, sun, swim…………ahhhhhhhhh!!

Migas con Sardinas

During the summer months the “chiringuitos” set up an open fire to grill the fresh sardines.  We call them “sardinas al espeto”, sardines on a skewer.  For most of my life I thought I hated sardines (?).  Little did I know about the delicate flavor of these healthy fish.  I prefer the smaller sardines to the larger ones.  The larger ones tend to be oilier and have a stronger flavor.  A favorite tapa here is “migas”  or sauteed breadcrumbs and garlic, topped with grilled sardines.  Sometimes a bit of melon is thrown in. Delicious!

Tapa Time!!………

Tapas are a way of life in Spain.  Small, simple dishes of food that vary depending on the region and the restaurant.  The word tapa simply means “cover” or “lid” since originally a slice of cheese or ham was placed over a glass of wine.  Whether this was done either to keep the flies out or simply because someone decided it is preferable to have some sustenance along with your beverage of choice, the outcome shaped an important part of this culture.  This is  my first of many posts dedicated to the “tapa”.

Where I live in Granada tapas are free.  Not just in the city, but in the entire province (county).  There are many places throughout the country where you will be given a bite of something when you order a drink, be it olives or a small dish of paella.  But in Granada, the tapa  enters into a whole different dimension.  During “tapa time” which happens between 1 p.m and 3:30p.m. and then again from 8p.m. to 11 p.m. more or less, you are given a free tapa with each drink you order.  In many bars you are simply given a different tapa with each drink where in others you are given a list of tapas to choose from.  The assortment varies from bar to bar and can include anything from fried fish, meatballs, cured ham or a Spanish omelet to fried eggs with potatoes, snails in a spicy sauce or a  small baguette with pork tenderloin and tomato.  The list is endless.

Ham, eggs, potatoes and peppers! A light Tapa!!

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