The Tastes of Spain

Sitting here in Granada we realize that we have been traveling around visiting festivals, churches and museums and the one thing we haven’t talked about (yet) is the food that we have been experiencing on our travels. So let’s rewind back to the beginning and start eating.


When we arrived in Valencia it was late February and we certainly were not prepared for the chill in the air. Thankfully we found a snack that is not only tasty but warms you up at the same time.

Churros and Chocolate

We had been introduced to churros in California and definitely on our trips to Mexico but never as something that you would dip in a nice hot cup of delicious thick chocolate! Back in March we talked briefly about this wonderful snack as we froze to the core while waiting for our Falla to go up in flames. The one thing we didn’t understand until much later is that the chocolate is just for dipping; it is not intended to be a drink you would consume after the churros run out! Oh well.

Two of our favorite snacks

However, while in Valencia, discussing Churros and Chocolate without first discussing Paella is totally out of order. Any discussion about food in Valencia must start with a discussion about your favorite Paella. And if you haven’t tried Paella yet – well just smile and nod.

Paella

Paella is a Valencian rice dish invented in the mid-19th century in the area around Albufera which is just south of Valencia. Paella is the specialty of nearly every restaurant in Valencia. It can be found everywhere and that is not an exaggeration! The traditional “Paella Valenciana” is made with chicken and rabbit, but seafood, vegetarian and black (squid ink) paella versions are plentiful as well. We have tried three of the four. If you love paella then you are a true Valencian but if you have a different opinion well … you had better save that for confession.

I can't remember which is which but the squid ink one is obvious.
A Sampling of Paella

Mermelada de tomate (sweet tomato jam)

Who knew that tomato jam would taste so good!?!? Tomatoes are a fruit but not one that we have seen anywhere in America made into a jam. And it is so good! We stumbled across this one while ordering tapas. One evening, in a local tapas bar, we ordered goat cheese on bread with a topping we thought might be caviar. It turned out to be Queso de cabra y mermelada de tomate (Goat cheese and sweet tomato jam) and WOW was it good. Since then we have kept a jar of mermelada de tomate in the kitchen everywhere we go.

Goat cheese and sweet tomato jam

Napolitana de Chocolate

Another food worth talking about is the Napolitana de Chocolate. Nothing but yummy goodness popular in Spain and France. In France, however, we learned you need to be careful about what you order. Ordering a “Pain au chocolat” in Paris is the right thing to do but don’t do that in Bordeaux; it will cost you an extra Euro. In Bordeaux you order a “Chocolatine” signalling that you are a local and not from the North. You can Google “pastry wars” if you are interested. No such issue in Spain; they simply want everyone to enjoy this wonderful treat.

Napolitana de Chocolate

But how do you get to enjoy a Napolitana de Chocolate if you need to have a Gluten Free diet? No problem in Valencia (at least).

Gluten Free in Spain

Pastry shops are visually and aromatically tempting and the multiple gluten free pastry shops we found in Valencia were not only far better than anything we had experienced in America, but just as flavorful as their flour-based cousins. Our two favorites were El Obrador del Celiaco located in Campanar, a suburb of Valencia and Pastelería Santa Amalia located on Carrer de Santa Amalia. Each of these shops were about a mile walk from where we were living but the treat was totally worth the walk. The ‘Napolitana de Chocolate’ and the ‘Ham and Cheese’ croissants were amazing and the choices of empanadas including chicken, tuna and onion and tomato pesto were among our favorites. Delicious gluten free bread was baked fresh daily. These bakers are committed to great quality and we became regular customers. Outside of Valencia the choices are minimal with Gerbel branded packaged GF bread our best option to date.

Gluten Free Pastelería

The great thing about Spain is that the Spanish are very aware of food allergies and intolerances. Almost every menu in Valencia and Granada have a guide showing which allergens a particular dish may contain. Very refreshing and civilized.

And, amazingly (or not), we keep discovering more great Spanish food.

Morning Coffee

When we first arrived in Spain our very first Spanish lesson was given to us by the barista at our local coffee shop. We ordered a cup of coffee and got what we ordered but we also received a whole lesson in how to start your day.

Morning coffee for us is a “café solo” (a single shot of Espresso) or more commonly a “café con leche” (Espresso with steamed milk) but this is Spain and here you can also get a “café bombon” (Espresso with sweetened condensed milk)! Now we are talking!

A “café bombon”

And here are a few more of our favorite café versions:
      -Cortado (an espresso shot with just a little bit of milk)
      -Café con hielo (an espresso shot served with a glass of ice)
      -Carajillo (an espresso shot with brandy, rum or whisky)

Oddly, iced coffee is still one we struggle with and usually, incorrectly, order a “café frío” to strange looks. Our language skills are a work in progress.

Piquillo Peppers

This dish was definitely an amazing find. Piquillo Peppers stuffed with veal, plums, apricots, pinions (pine nuts), walnuts and cheese followed by raviolis of pumpkin and duck confit with cream of dried tomato and red onion served at La Moma in Valencia! Oh Yeah! This one deserved an encoré so when our new friend Ryan suggested we all go out for dinner this is where we went.

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Tortilla

We have to mention the “tortilla española” if for no other reason than it really caught us off-guard. All of our lives a tortilla has been a thin, flatbread, made from corn or wheat, often handmade by our Mexican friends. Great for rolling up a big Burrito.

Not here in Spain. In Spanish, “tortilla” means “small cake” and when you order a “tortilla” here what you will get is a dense potato omelet; heavy on the potato. It is eaten anytime throughout the day. If you are really hungry try the popular “tortilla bocadillo” or baguette.

Spanish Tortilla in a baguette

Piononos

In Granada we learned of a local favorite dessert called a “pionono”. They are a small, 2-bite sized, soft and sweet, cake-like pastry. A thin layer of cake is rolled into a cylinder, drizzled with syrup and crowned with toasted cream. The toasted cream reminds us of the flavor of the toasted topping of a good crème brûlée. Delicious! Eat them right away; they don’t store well.

A Pionono

Of course no meal is complete without a good glass of wine and the Spanish are making a number of excellent wines at an amazing price point. Here are our finds either as an accompaniment to a meal or simply an afternoon drink enjoyed on a warm summer day in the shade at a local sidewalk café.

Spanish Wine

With all the different food flavors, we are finding our tastes seem to have changed with regard to our wine choices. The Spanish “Rosado” wine (a direct competitor to the French rosé wine) is so delicious we just can’t seem to get enough of it. It especially compliments tapas and the varied flavors of Spain and is a perfect sipping wine for these hot afternoons.

The same can be said for the fantastic rosé wines coming out of Provence, France but you will have to go to France to get those. So far we have found that it is nearly impossible to find a bottle of French wine here in Spain.

Wines We Tasted

Spanish white wines have surprised us as well. After so many disappointing California whites it has been a joy to try the odd Spanish white which have proven to be quite good. Perhaps we will expand our tastings in that direction in the coming months.

And since we are talking about wine we need to mention the red wines as well. The Spanish reds we have experienced so far are largely based on the tempranillo grape and we are finding them to be very enjoyable. Slightly acidic on the finish with high tannins they go wonderfully with a meal but not so much a sipping wine.

In Bordeaux we tried some excellent reds but almost everything we tried had a strong Merlot presence. You had to go up a fair amount in price to get a good Cabernet Sauvignon blend and frankly, while good, they were not worth the asking price.

We did find an excellent Bordeaux rosé that, unlike most rosé wines, had a slightly acidic finish with a little bit of tannin. A wonderful wine that would hold its own with any meal. Wish we had at least taken a picture of the label. For just 13€ that would have been a great wine to have in our (virtual) wine cellar.

So, as you might have noticed, we have been having a lot of fun exploring new foods and wines but every good meal must come to an end so let’s talk about Spanish Apéritifs.

Spanish Apéritifs

It is common in Spain for restaurants to offer a complementary digestif or apéritif at the end of the meal. This was a nice surprise for us the first time it happened and it comes at no extra cost. Once again a new direction and some new flavors for us.

1) Hierbas Licor (Herbs) – a few years ago our daughter brought this one home from her trip to Barcelona. She loved it and so do we. A liqueur based on no less than 14 different herbs and plants. It is wonderful.

Hierbas Licor (Herbs) liquer apéritif

2) Pacharán (Sloe Berry) – Pacharán is a liqueur, made from the crushed and fermented black-purple sloe (berry) of the blackthorn tree. We were served this in Granada and it was a first for us. At the restaurant we were asked which apéritif we would like but when the waiter learned that we had never tried Pacharán he made the decision for us. Of course it was lovely!

3) Creme de Arroz Licor (Cream of Rice) – with Valencia being a major rice growing region this one we should have expected but the flavor caught us totally off-guard. It was delightful.

4) Licor de Nispero (Loquat) – We tried fresh from the tree loquats and they are sweet and taste like a blend of apricots, plums and cherries. The licor had these flavors concentrated with an enjoyable floral overtone. A very pleasant apéritif.

5) Crema de Anís (Anise) – a licorice-flavored liqueur, this one had a mixed vote because one of us loves the black licorice flavor and one of us not so much.

Food and drink  also reflects the unique culture of a city or country and may well be one of the most memorable reminders of a visit. We are looking forward to many more new flavor adventures.

— Ted & Julia

(click on any picture to go to slideshow view)

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