“A sigh isn’t just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.” Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh.
Lágrimas de Boabdil
It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve told the story of Boabdil, the last Nasrid King of Granada or Garnata al Yahud; Granada of the Jews. There are many legends and stories connected to Abdullah Mohammed Xll, the man who handed over the keys of the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula to Isabel and Fernando in 1492. He referred to these keys as the “keys to paradise”. As he left the city of Granada to go into exile to the Alpujarras (southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range) he paused at a mountain pass which is now named, The Sigh of the Moor, and shed tears over ending of 800 years of of Muslim rule. His Mother, Aixa, who was with him on this journey into exile said, “Do not weep as a woman for what you could not defend as a man.” Hence, the legend of the tears of Boabdil.
We have a dessert in Granada named after this legend. It is called “Lágrimas de Boabdil”. This dessert, with an obvious Moorish/Jewish influence, is unfamiliar to most people but they serve my favorite version at the restaurant next to my house. It has a buttery almond base topped with carmelized crunchy almonds and a raspberry glaze. It pairs well with a local red wine from the Señorio de Nevada winery.
Boabdil’s tears are understandable to anyone who has been to Granada. Not only did handing over Granada to the Catholic Monarchs signify the end to one of the most important examples of religious tolerance, Boabdil was forced to leave his home and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Washington Irving speaks well of this in his last paragraph of Tales of the Alhambra, and I can also share this sentiment as I have been unable to live anywhere else for the past 25 years.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Valencia on my own and with different groups on tour. When someone asks me where to eat a great paella only one word comes to my mind, “VALENCIA”. Years ago I found this little place in the historical center that served an excellent Valencian Paella. Prepared with bomba round grain rice, rabbit, garrofó (fat white beans), artichokes, green beans, saffron and a couple sprigs of rosemary on top this is true paella and always will be for me. You may also find it as traditionally prepared with snails. Since the paella (from the latin word for pan, patella) is just the pan it is prepared in, the ingredients can vary greatly. The most common one internationally is the seafood paella. However, you can find rice prepared with all different ingredients. And many times we just refer to this dish as rice with…….seafood, fish, squid and ink, lobster, chicken and sausage. Sometimes it can be prepared dry and sometimes creamy or with a broth. The varieties are endless and change greatly depending on where you are in the country. One of my favorites is “arros de muntanya” in Catalunya with chicken, rabbit, butifarra sausage, pork ribs, and wild mushrooms.
Traditionally, rice is prepared out in the country over an open fire. The best paella should have “socarrat” or a carmelized crust of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan that you scrape off and enjoy with your wooden spoon. Each person eats their own portion starting from the part closest to them and going towards the center of the pan. My photo above was from a great beach restaurant just on the coast of Barcelona. Xiringuito Escribá. Served with a cold sparkling wine sangria made with mint and berries, it made a perfect afternoon with friends.
The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.
Salad with local fruits. Mango, tomato and avocado.
History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.
Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!
Food Cravings. Every once in a while this happens to all of us. We just want to eat that one thing that will take us back to a certain time or place, or a flavor that we just need to enjoy again. For me it is almost always something spicy. Especially when I am off on tour with many included meals, even though they are absolutely delicious, I crave spicy food. Thai, Indian, Mexican, Persian…..anything with spice! My husband is usually missing something from Portugal, like grilled chicken. So a few years ago when we were both in Barcelona I searched for a place with Portuguese grilled chicken. The only place I came upon was Spice BCN, serving African style grilled chicken. (btw, there are some Portuguese places in BCN)
South African Chicken, Salad and Biltong!!
This friendly spot bring in spices from South Africa and the Caribbean to prepare their homemade sauces. You can choose whichever you prefer and also choose your level of spiciness. They also have tiger prawns and vegetarian/vegan choices. You can also add some great side dishes to go along with your mains. The salad is perfect and they make their own dressing which is so delish! I love to start out with the Biltong, which is the best spicy dried beef snack you have ever tasted. This all pairs perfectly with their South African Shiraz wine or a cold beer.
South African Chicken with Savory Rice and Salad!
Malva Pudding with Vanilla Custard
For dessert, go for the Malva pudding served with Vanilla Custard. Yum! I’ve already been here quite a few times and the food is always excellent. And now, they have opened another location but I haven’t been there yet. On our last visit they invited us to a few different liquors at the end of our meal as we chatted with our friendly server. For me, this a is a must go in Barcelona!
And, thanks to FEEDSPOT for naming me one of their best 15 Spanish Food Blog Sites!!!
Quite a few years ago my husband told me that we had to eat a “cachorro” at this place in Porto. A few weeks earlier we had enjoyed this amazing grilled meat platter with rice and potatoes (all carbs always) and black beans at this great place in the Batalha Plaza. I was sort of hoping for a repeat but since I am from Chicago and a good hot dog is rare to fine, I needed to go for it. In my entire life I never knew that one could have an addiction to hot dogs. But, it is now a truth for me.
The “New” Gazela
Two summers ago my Mom and I watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Porto. He had not been back there for many years so I was excited to see what his adventures would be this time. AND THERE HE WAS eating my “cachorro” at Gazela. That same grilled bun with just the right amount of hot sauce.
Now there are photos of him inside the original Gazela. I’ll never be able to eat here again without thinking of Anthony Bourdain and how many hours I spent traveling and enjoying food and people from all over the world right by his side. Yesterday I read that Eric Ripert and José Andrés decided to name June 25th “Bourdain Day”. I’ll have one for you to celebrate that day in just a couple of weeks. They opened a new spot now, I’m sure it was because of you. Saúde!
“There are no two finer words than “encased meat”, my friend.” Anthony Bourdain
For me there is nothing better than going back to the places where I have spent precious time. Sometimes it takes years to get back to certain places regardless of how close they are to us. The area of the Alpujarra in the Sierra Nevada mountain range south of Granada is one of those places for me. I recently read a novel based mostly in the town of Pampaneira which spoke of Gypsies and the difficult times of the Spanish Civil War. These beautiful towns are so filled with history that one can almost feel it in your bones and you hike through the valleys and drink from the fountains. Last week I was ready to come and spend a few days here enjoying the solitude and beauty.
As an important agricultural area the Alpujjara produces almonds, lemons, figs and the most delicious cheese. It also boasts an amazing variety of cured pork products. Cured pork loin with rosemary, white sausage, blood sausage, morcón (similar to chorizo yet a bit bigger) and of course, the ham from Trevélez. You can enjoy a generous tapa with one of the local wines from Europe’a “highest vineyards”.
It’s not all pork and cheese here in this region. We ordered a great dish made with fava beans, based on a recipe that goes back generations. It was prepared with local fava beans, pods and all. Usually we only find these beans naked, shucked from their home. But here in Pampaneira they use them in their entirety and bathed in a flavorful almond sauce to make any vegetarian smile! They went perfectly with a local wine served in a glass Porrón which actually originated in Catolonia.
The poet, Federico García Lorca, referred to the Alupjarra as “el país de ninguna parte”. A NOWHERE COUNTRY. The history lingers here in the streams and the valleys. Such as the legend of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, going into exile here. And more stories of the rebellion and expulsion of the Moriscos and the repopulation of the area by colonists from Extremadura and Galicia. All of this and more rests here in the trees.
Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho. We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there. I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning. The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag. My biggest nightmare became reality. Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.
In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea. We loved watching this whole process. Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea. Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach. Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore. The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families. It is so much fun to watch. Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years. If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho. It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.
Bar in the Fishermen’s Neighborhood
There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced. For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable. The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous. We met a wonderful woman named Carlota. We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods. Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.
At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros. Sardines are the best in the summertime. We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.
The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items. You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters. I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.
If someone told me that they visited Switzerland and did not like it, I would be seriously worried about them. Yes, it is expensive. Insanely expensive. A glass of wine poured out of a thimble costs 15 dollars, fine. A pizza for one person, 20 dollars. But, you can also have one of the best homemade sausages in Zermatt and beyond for about 5 dollars. Add a beer or wine. 3 more. And, everywhere you turn it is jaw-dropping gorgeous. Every place is more beautiful than the next. It’s clean, organized and people are genuinely nice.
Best Rosti with Sausage at Alphitta!
I was so lucky to be introduced to this amazing restaurant, Alphitta, near Zermatt. The owners are genuine and friendly, the food is outstanding, and the view is unbeatable. Can’t get much better than this in one day. My friend ordered a boar ragu that was absolutely delicious but I had to have the Rosti with Sausage and it did not disappoint. It was prepared perfectly and absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to go back to visit!!
I especially love the Italian part of Switzerland. It’s where I feel most at home with the language and the people. And of course, the food!! My daughter and I make panettone every Christmas so I loved seeing this display of Cherry Panettone that they prepare in the summertime. I was also served the most beautiful and delicious raviolis I have ever seen (besides my Nana’s) recommended by our gracious bartender, Mario. Smoked eggplant with mozzarella. They were so good that my colleagues actually ordered them for dessert! I couldn’t repeat so I had BABA, a small cake saturated with a rum syrup. Oh dear, time for a jog!!
Thank goodness Switzerland is best known for it’s hiking and swimming in beautiful crystal clear lakes and I was able to enjoy both of these. I left Switzerland holding a special place for it in my heart. It’s beauty, cleanliness and culture. Glaciers. Mountains. Cows, oh the beautiful cows. It is a small bit of heaven in Europe. I can’t wait to go back.
Yesterday morning I sat down to meditate and it took me a moment to calm my inner monkey. In that moment I was taken back to the time when I was first learning how to meditate, about 20 something years ago. The memory and feeling came back as clear as the morning’s light.
I used to go to yoga, thai chi, kung fu up in a very cold Cultural Center in the Albaicín neighborhood. We finished each class with, what was for me at the time, a very lengthy mediation. Besides the lack of warmth in the room I also remember every bit of my body from my chest down falling asleep, the kind of asleep where you cannot move and have to massage every muscle to be able to stand up and avoid looking like a new born goat or simply falling down. It took me quite a long time to get used to sitting for long periods of time and to allow my mind to relax into a meditative state. We would finish class quite late, around 10 or 10:30 p.m. and inevitably at some point I would lose the concentration of my breathe, succumbing to the pain in my legs and become distracted by the growling in my tummy. This is the moment where I would practice my own meditation focussed on what to have for dinner. To make it through the end of the meditation and the incredibly long winded post meditation chat from my professor I would take part in my own mental movie.
In my mind I would leave the building and begin the beautiful walk through the narrow streets of the Albaicín enjoying the crisp winter air. I would pass by my favorite spot, Plaza Carbajales and enjoy the beautiful view of the illuminated Alhambra before making it down to a local food shop located the street that we called the Tea house street, filled with Moroccan shops and tea houses. My roommates called the shop, la mala follá , refering to what they thought of as the general grouchiness of the owners. I, however always found them quite friendly. I would purchase one avocado, one tomato, one cucumber and a small loaf of bread. Eventually I would make it past Plaza Nueva and to my home, the Hostal Colonial, a place that was like living a movie everyday. I would run up into the lively kitchen to prepare my favorite salad. In my mind this salad would taste so glorious and my little meal meditation would take me just up to the point to when I would hear my professor’s long awaited hand clap that would signal the end of the “post meditation monologue”. Happily I would join in clapping my hands together and rub warmth into my hands, face and legs and bundle myself up to continue my beautiful journey home to my ritual salad.
Carbajales is still one of my favorite plazas that I pass by whenever I wander through the Albaicín for an afternoon walk. And the days have long passed since that cold building filled with many memories but the meditation continues, no pain and less thoughts about food in the moment.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover (tapa) but a bar you can.
Sometimes in the winter off season from tours I find myself “holing up” and reading books, doing yoga, and being a bit of a recluse in general. Yesterday was quite different being that I met with a friend for coffee, then went to my class and in the evening met up with another friend for tapas. Both of my friends that I met with yesterday are the type of people who spread positive energy, and time with them leaves me feeling much better about myself and life in general. With my morning friend we talked about how negative comments from others are so unnecessary and can really get one down. We definitely need to choose to surround ourselves with positive influences on our lives. This made me think about how much I have been through since I moved to Spain and how difficult it has been at times to filter through the falseness to find true friendships.
Not long ago we were served this tapa of potato chips and pickled anchovies which also took me on a time travel back through my experiences since I’ve lived here. I had been a vegetarian and then vegan for many years before moving here but when I arrived I decided to expand my food horizons for cultural reasons. This was the very first tapa I was ever served in Granada. Having been tortured as a young child by canned anchovies (the extra salty ones) hiding under the cheese on homemade pizzas, I basically loathed the smell and taste of them. One can imagine how I felt when this was set in front of me. However, like many other things I learned to love them. I remember everything about this moment and the bar where I was having tapas with friends. At Seis Peniques they would serve 3 free tapas instead of 1 with every drink, and it was where we took Sevillana dance lessons in the basement. It was also where a close friend of mine ended up working as a cook in the kitchen and he was taught the “secret” to the amazing Salsa Rosa. Ketchup and Mayonnaise. We laughed for hours about that one. Since that first tapa I’ve had many positive and negative experiences, both with people and with tapas. These two subjects can give you the same general feelings. They can be dissapointing and make you feel really awful or they can lift you up and make you want for more and more.
One of my favorite discoveries in Granada was taking the bus down to the beach and being able to enjoy a tapa at one of the chiringuitos in the sand. I felt like I was in heaven the first time I was served a cold beer with a tapa of fried fish and was able to jump into the sea between drinks. This is still one of my favorite ways to enjoy a day off. The best part is that if you are served a tapa that you don’t like you just might have a friend stop by to enjoy it for you as was the case for me one day. A small friend but very helpful.
Cheers to my uplifting encounters with dear friends yesterday and to my friend Melissa who lifts me up and encourages me from far away!!