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Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

It’s January 2 – a new year and the end to what friends of mine call the “Eating Season”. The past month has been filled with parties and gatherings, chock full of diet-busting treats. It’s a time when food is all around me and my thoughts naturally turn towards the many wonderful things out there to eat.

January is also the start of a long three months of the year: it’s cold and grey and my mood invariably turns sour. Spring seems like an endless time away. The last few years, one of my coping tools has been to plan where I’m going to travel in the upcoming year, to give myself something to look forward to. I’ll also spend time reading over my travel journals and looking at my photos to remind myself of good times with the hope of more to come.

So, of course, what better time of year to try and narrow down my favourites out of everything I’ve eaten on my trips – things I’d seek out to have again if ever and whenever I go back. Many may be disappointed in my choices (you won’t find fermented shark or anything as adventurous on here). In fact, many of these I can find easily here in Toronto – I can find them and but they’re not going to be nearly as good. So, in order of discovery, here we go:

1. Albondigas (Spanish meatballs)

Such a simple thing, the meatball, but oh boy did these rock my socks. After a few days of mostly grilled pork and ham, I ordered these in a tapas place in Olot, Spain, and it was love at first bite. The meat itself was moist and flavourful and swimming in a really tasty sauce. Not being a seafood eater, I wasn’t sold on Spanish food until I tried these.

2. Fresh buffalo mozzarella

I’d never eaten fresh mozzarella before it came as part of a caprese salad I ordered in Trieste, Italy, and my immediate thought was, where have you been all my life? I love cheese like I love my own mother, and this was so indescribably good. In fact, I may have moaned when I first tasted it. The tomatoes weren’t shabby either. This was something I tried finding when I got back to Toronto, but I’ve not found any that tasted as good yet.

3. Pizza margherita

I had a lot of pizza during my time in Italy, but one I had in Florence stands out in particular. I like my pizza simple, and when the ingredients are as good as they are there, you don’t need a ton of toppings. The local ingredients are what make the difference between the pizza I had in Florence and any of the numerous ones I’ve had elsewhere: the tomatoes for the sauce, the cheese, and the fresh basil. I normally view the crust as a cheese-and-sauce delivery platform, but even the crust was a delight. Yum, yum in my tum.

4. Pain au chocolat

My breakfast every morning I was in France consisted of some form of croissant; in fact, I made quite a study of them wherever I went. I find dairy products in general to be superior in Europe compared to home, so naturally any pastry that uses butter so generously in its creation is going to be better there than anything I’ve tasted before. The best I found (so far) was a pain au chocolat from a pastry shop in Reims – so buttery and warm, with a gooey chocolate center. I definitely moaned when I took my first bite (I want to moan thinking about it now).

5. Skyr

Commonly known as Icelandic yogurt, its consistency is more like a cross between yogurt and cream cheese. I only ever ate it sweetened and flavoured with fruit, but it does have that underlying sourness that yogurt has. It is much, much thicker than any yogurt I’ve ever had at home – the kind you can find in tubs in stores is almost spreadable. As rich as this tastes, it’s truly amazing that skyr is low-fat and full of protein, so it’s a pretty guiltless treat compared to everything else on this list.

And on that note, I’m hungry – I wonder if I have any Christmas cookies left?

Happy New Year, happy eats, and especially happy travels!

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So much of my time travelling is spent as an observer, whether with my own eyes or through the view screen on my camera: I pause and I look, but then I move on. So it is a visceral thrill for me whenever I get a chance to touch as well.

Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), Split, Croatia

By that I mean the kind of things that look like they should be behind glass or a velvet rope, but the point is to reach out and touch them. Or specifically, rub them for good luck.

Picture it: Salt Lake City, 2002: a loonie was buried under centre ice at the Olympic hockey venue (for totally legit reasons), and both the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams went on to win gold medals. A nation goes nuts. The great Wayne Gretzky himself had this lucky loonie dug up from the ice and donated it to the Hockey Hall of Fame where it went on display. I, who had never had any desire to step foot in the Hall of Fame before, found myself making a pilgrimage to see this fabled coin and, even better, touch it. Together, thousands of Canadian hockey fans had rubbed this coin for good luck to the point where you could barely make out the loon usually in relief on the face; it had been worn practically smooth.

For me it was one touch, but it was one among countless and we live in a world where everyone is looking for a little piece of luck, because good luck charms are everywhere – and I rub them all any chance I get, just like everyone else.

La Chouette, l'Eglise Notre-Dame de Dijon

Have you laid your paws on “La Chouette”, the owl carved in stone on the corner of a church wall in Dijon, France? If you haven’t, you might want to go soon before it’s completely unrecognizable.

How about the vaguely Dumbledore-ish statue outside the gates of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia? If you rub his big toe, it’s good luck – his toe is currently about 5000 times brighter than the rest of him thanks to the regular polishing it gets.

On a more spiritual note, Catholics can pay their respect to the Virgin Mary and Jesus while at Montserrat in Spain. The basilica on the mountain holds the famous La Moreneta, the Black Virgin statue. She is mostly contained behind glass, but one of her hands (holding a sphere) is exposed for pilgrims to touch and people have been making the trek to Montserrat for centuries to do just that.

In fact, I often can’t help myself from reaching out and touching things I’m probably not supposed to. At Parc Güell, I couldn’t resist giving the mosaic lizard a light pat on the head as I passed him on the stairs. Just be careful if you follow my lead – that poor lizard has been through enough.

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Every Barcelona guide book will discuss and rate Parc Güell, and will tell you it’s a must-visit site – and they would be right. In a city with so many wonderful things to see and do, it’s no exaggeration to say this was the highlight of my time there. This park is like nothing I’ve seen before or since.

It’s like someone on an acid trip was flipping through a children’s story book and got inspired to design this park (to be clear, it was architect Antoni Gaudi who designed it, and I have no idea where he got his ideas from). There is so much to look at, so many details to discover, and the whole place is dripping with whimsy. Gaudi had a unique vision, and many examples of his aesthetic can be seen around the city. Actually, one of the best views of Barcelona is from the terrace at the top of the hill within the park.

There isn’t much I can say about it, when pictures tell the story so much better than I ever could. If you are ever in Barcelona, you must take the time to visit – it’s a bit of a trip away from the usual tourist haunts, but it simply must be seen with your own eyes.

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If there is one thing I’ve learned about Europe, it’s that it is cheaper to drink wine in a lot of countries than almost anything else except water. But I’m not much of a wine connoisseur so when I went to Spain, I knew some sangria would be in my future. Made with red wine, brandy, fruit juice, sweetener and pieces of fruit, it’s the way I prefer to drink my wine particularly in hot weather.

Imagine my surprise when I got home and I googled some recipes for sangria to find a few fairly snotty articles about how only tourists order sangria in bars or restaurants; instead, locals will order something called tinto de verano. Attitude aside, this is true as far as I’ve found in my research. Sangria is the equivalent to a fruit punch here in North America, served usually at gatherings with family and friends like barbeques as it’s made in larger batches and is easy to serve to a crowd. When you order it in a bar or restaurant, it’s usually in a 1-litre pitcher. Tinto de verano is red wine with sparkling lemonade (or 7-Up or Sprite); like a wine spritzer, it can be made by the glassful.

I do believe to really see a country, you should move beyond what a country is stereotypically known for and sangria is one of those things with Spain. But here is why I will not give up sangria:

  1. It is delicious
  2. It is cheap (I’m not sure about the big cities and I’ve never ordered a tinto verano so I don’t know what it costs, but I bought that pitcher up above there for about 6 euros (C$9 at the time) in a pub in Olot and it contained about 4 to 6 glasses’ worth. In Toronto, that pitcher would easily cost C$20 so to find actual bargains while on vacation is a rare treat to be savoured.)
  3. It has more booze (as many recipes call for wine and brandy, sangria has more kick than you’d think)

In all honesty, I will be trying tinto verano the next time I go to Spain, not because I have some delusional idea that I’ll blend in with the locals better by ordering one, but because it actually sounds delicious as well. In fact, I wish I had known about it before I ordered that pitcher of sangria for myself at dinner one evening. Let’s just say that sometimes buying in volume is not the way to go.

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