Spain

What to Eat in Getaria {Basque}

Elkano TurbotWhat should you eat in a small fishing village where the specialty is Turbot?  You guessed it… Steak!  Its actually quite delicious in this part of Spain.  Same goes for the green Shishito-like peppers they call here Gernika, which can be seen on just about every menu.  But the story is similar to the one in Segovia.  People Pilgrimage (yes its a verb too) from all over for the world renowned holiness, the Turbot.  Heard of the Camino de Elkano?  Me neither.

But the town of Getaria happens to be a major stop in the UNESCO’d Camino de Santiago where 250,000 pass by annually.  I took a walk with Mrs Ziggy one morning where we briefly walked on the Camino path, and made an ill advised left turn, only to see some of the walkers following us making the same turn.  Oh no buddy, you need to go THAT way.  We are just chilling, picking on grapes.  Curious how many hikers give in to temptation, and stick around for a few days to eat and drink in this culinary wonderland.  Getaria is particularly unique.  I cant compare it to any other town we visited in Europe.  Here’s a little food guide to help you out.

Mayflower – This became the family fave after spending a week here.  The tables outside lining up under the umbrellas are some of the most sought after in town.  Reserve them in advance (for 8:30 or 10 seating).  Fresher than fresh fish cooked on a charcoal grill dominate here as in just about every other restaurant in town.  We indulged in Monkfish (Rape), Sea Bass, Hake (Merluzza), and even the Bonito which is like the best canned tuna you will ever eat.  Start with the green Gernika peppers, tomato salad and their terrific Pulpo Gallega (smokier and spicier than the usual Galician Octopus).  Wash it down with a local Txakoli of course.

 

Elkano – This is the reason why people take expensive taxi rides to Getaria.  Its considered one of the best restaurants in north Spain, and a whole fish (Turbot of course) eating experience like no other.  I asked the friendly owner what happens when they don’t have Turbot or run out of it.  He explained that they try to convey and market themselves as more of a complete seafood establishment that is not just about the Turbot.  A few minutes later you are presented with the Turbot, treated like the holy grail.  Later on, chocolates come on a plate shaped like Turbot, followed by the bill with a Turbot shaped magnet!  Ok?!?  The owner will explain the various parts of the fish, and the different textures and flavors resulting from them.  This is also a good place to try Kokotxas (fish cheeks).

IMG_9149

Kaia Kaipe – If the Elkano experience is a bit too rich for your blood, its baby sister may do just fine.  Like a nice cross between an Asador and fine(r) dining.  Popular with locals partly due to its inviting terrace.  A similar menu to Elkano where you can indulge in the Turbot among other local species.  And if you are finally ready for some meat in Turbotville, the Sirloin here is top notch.

IMG_9298

Giroa Taberna/Politena – Perhaps the two most frequented bars serving Pintxos and an assortment of simple large plates.  Politena seems the busier and more “Pintxos friendly” of the two

Araneta – A very lovely, simple looking Asador up on the mountains, very popular with locals.  About 20 minute drive from Getaria.  Here you can get a fantastic Ribeye, and an even better wild mushrooms with Foie and egg yolk.  When you have a group of mushroom haters (the rest of my family) wipe a mushroom plate clean you know you got something very special. On the drive back stop by at…

 

Txakoli Ameztoi – One of many Txakoli producers in the area.  Stop by at the very least for the amazing views off its parking lot (bottom)

El Astillero – The one that got away.  Tried to eat here on multiple occasions but it was either booked one night, closed on another, and “no terrace? Neh. Lets try again tomorrow” night.  Well, tomorrow never arrived.  Its a similar Asador to Mayflower, but the lack of a terrace did make a difference in this case.  I’m not one to usually choose restaurants based on their outdoor space but there was a clear difference between eating in and out here.  The terraces of Getaria should have their own Twitter account.

Mayflower

Mayflower Terrace

Gaintza – Another Txakoli producer and a 6 room hotel which served as our base for the week.  Sometimes accommodations dont quite work out as you fantasize, and sometimes you fantasize about your accommodations for days to come.  This was the latter.  We also took a tour and tasting of the winery.  Very interesting, informative and quite delicious (more Bonito please, and anchovies).  Loved waking up here every morning.

IMG_9239IMG_9128IMG_9299

Advertisements
Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

El Molín de Mingo {Asturias} – Pitu Nation

El Molín de Mingo PituWhen Mrs Ziggy asked me what we are going to eat in Asturias three months before the trip, I just took a deep breath and smiled.  Where do I start?  We initially picked Asturias for its sheer beauty and the mesmerizing Picos de Europa.  The plan was to hike and explore and hope for some good Asturian food.  Food I didnt know much about a year ago.  I didnt realize we picked one of the most desirable, and respected cuisines in Spain.  José Andrés and many of the most famous Spanish chefs agree.  Andrés after all took Anthony Bourdain there on the final episodes of Parts Unknown.  And an entire chapter is devoted on Asturias in the excellent Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture.  The pressure was on, to produce some memorable meals.

El Molín de Mingo at the foot of the Picos, became the first booking priority.  The seemingly middle of nowhere location, and the drive to it, meant you are not exactly going to a tourist trap.  The slightly terrified family, especially the kids in the back know the drill.  They’ve been there before.  Stay quiet, something good is coming.  On the drive back, we wondered if we ever took leftovers back on vacation.

El Molín de Mingo outside

If you think the portions are large in NYC, you should come to Asturias.  The notion that the bigger the plate the worst the quality is challenged here big time.  As usual our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered too much.  Leaving those plates there was criminal.  After the meal I spent many moments thinking about that Pitu in the hotel fridge, while driving the Asturias countryside.  Calculating and managing.  Thats how my mind works

We started with a local specialty I didnt know much about, Tortos de maiz.  A variety of fried tortilla-like flatbreads topped with either bacalao, chorizo, blood sausage, egg and ham, and cheese and caramelized onions.  All very good.  The mixed salad, we couldnt finish even though we ordered half, was especially fresh, and with roughly 17 different ingredients.  Since we already indulged in the Fabada a few times, we tried the Pote Asturiano this time.  Yet another delectable bean stew with collard greens and a variety of sausages on the side.

El Molín de Mingo Tortos

We didnt witness it but apparently there are these giant 7 feet chickens roaming around the area answering to the name Pitu.  Pitu Caleya Con Arroz, a rice dish made with those chickens is a local specialty and locals swear by El Molin de Mingo’s version.  Even local Michelin heavyweights try to replicate it.  Its unlike any stew you will ever eat. Nice depth, and simply addictive. You can almost taste the history and love that goes into the dish.   With that said, the Jabali Estofado, a slow roasted, super juicy wild boar with fried potato, was just as exceptional.  We took both home.

Reservations are a must.  English is limited so let your host make the reservations if you dont speak the language.  They are only open for 4 days a week.  Try to go for lunch since its tricky to get to.  This is a major Go!

El Molín de Mingo BeansEl Molín de Mingo Dessert

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bilbao, Gaztelugatxe, and Guernica

IMG_9241What you need to know about Bilbao… Tours By Basques.  Thats it.  Let Mikel take your hand and show you around his city.  No amount of research can replace meeting a local guide and spending half a day with him.  Without a tour, we could be passing by a Pintxos bar, seeing napkins all over the floor, going “Feh! this is disgusting. Lets find another one”.  When in fact it is not only perfectly alright but advisable to throw your napkins on the floor.  So a mountain of dirty napkins on the floor is actually a sign of a good local bar.

What you need to know about Gaztelugatxe…  Just go!  Its one of the more exciting reasons to visit North Spain.  Give it about 3 hours, and try to arrive as early as possible on a weekday preferred.  It got a lot more popular lately after Game of Thrones (Gaztelugatxe is Dragonstone).

What you need to know about Guernica…  A couple of hours in this sleepy town will not be enough to fully understand its importance.  But its a good place to pair with Gaztelugatxe.  Have lunch at Boliña (There are two different Bolinas close to each other and both are good), see the “Guernica” mural, and of course Casa de Juntas

IMG_9050IMG_9065IMG_9059IMG_9053IMG_6094IMG_9029IMG_9039IMG_9041IMG_9046IMG_9262IMG_9255IMG_9265IMG_9271IMG_9280IMG_9281IMG_9284

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Guernica in Luanco – Unexpected Theme

Guernica - Scallops

A series of unanticipated themes can emerge during ones travels.  Sometimes you discover them during the research process, and sometimes they come totally unexpected.  A particular food, wine, or even a song that will remind you of a place every time you listen to it in the future.  LP – Lost on You for example takes me to Sicily.  Its my yoga.  And I can sort of see pesto becoming one of the subjects of the next trip.  But this was a different type of theme.  An educational and sober one.  Guernica, a subject I didnt know much about prior to the trip, became the theme throughout the last trip.

On April 26th, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was bombed by the Nazis as a favor to General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  It was a market day, and the first bombardment of this kind on civilians.  It was essentially target practice for the Nazis.  Guernica is the subject of a mural size painting by Pablo Picasso housed in Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid which we saw on our first night in Spain.  Its arguably his most famous and important work.  A week later we went to the actual town of Guernica and learned more about the event, and why they chose this town.

Guernica Rice Dish

Guernica, the ultra popular seafood mecca in Luanco, Asturias was an accidental continuation of the theme.  I dont recall how I stumbled upon it, but do recall the saliva inducing images that sold me, and my anticipation for seafood cravings at this point of the trip.  We took a 50 km detour from Oviedo and pretty much planned the entire day around this lunch.  But calling it after the painting and catastrophe always felt a bit odd to me.  I figured maybe I would understand it better once we get there, but that never happened.

Guernica - Octopus

But as soon as you come in, you get hit with this in your face confirmation that you are in the right place and nothing can go wrong.  Absolutely packed with locals, families enjoying lunch on a Sunday afternoon.  3:30 is lunch in this part of the world.  Pixin (monkfish) and clam infused rice dishes that can feed a small village flying everywhere.  Do they have more for us?  You betcha!  We couldnt get enough of the rice dishes (meat or seafood) in Asturias, but this was a particular umami highlight.

There was also simply grilled fresh sea bass with garlic.  This is not the Turkey farmed Branzini served all over New York City.  And when you look up Spanish Pulpo in the food bible there ought to be a picture of this Octopus.  This one had the texture and flavor to match the look.  And then you start to remember why you are here in the first place.  The images!  These Zamburinas were simply phenomenal.  Still kicking myself for having them only once but we didnt see them much on menus in the north.  Go!

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

This is Segovia

IMG_8534Simply put, Segovia is the perfect tourist town.  It took me a while to understand what it means when others said it, but I think I get it now.  Its traits may vary between individuals, but not by much.  To me it needs to be very different than where I come from.  It should be pleasing to the eyes and offer enough interesting, spectacular, or important attractions.  She needs to have a personality or known for something.   Hmm, notice how I went from “It” to “She” after finishing my beverage.  Fascinating!  And most importantly, she needs to know how to cook

I dont know if Lola from Castellum knows how to cook, but what I do know is that this guide knows her stuff.  And she will set up your blind date with the suckling pig of your choice if needed.  Its important to see places like this with a guide if you want to get the full experience.

IMG_8584IMG_8589IMG_8593

IMG_8599

Royal Palace of La Granja of San Ildefonso

IMG_8570IMG_8563

IMG_8562

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

IMG_8557IMG_8554IMG_8552IMG_8536IMG_8539IMG_8540IMG_8544IMG_8546IMG_8531

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Pinching San Sebastian’s Old Town

Néstor Bar SteakDid you know that the act of moving one’s finger and thumb apart to zoom on a map on a screen is called Pinching?  Figured I should probably explain the title right of the bat.  But after so many years dreaming, sometimes inappropriately, about the food mecca of San Sebastian, I’ve finally, finally made it to…… Getaria.  After all that, that’s where we ended up staying for a week, and San Sebastian became a day trip.  Regrets?  None whatsoever.  But did I wish to spend more time in San Sebastian.  Well, kinda.  I wanted more, but turns out so do a lot of other people.

Turns out the San Sebastian Pintxos (“peen-chos”) crawl is the worlds worst secret.  Yes, I suppose if you are planning your first trip to Spain, a Tapas crawl in Madrid, or a Pintxos crawl in San Sebastian or Bilbao is a good way to connect with local cultures.  But its not so easy to do for tourists.  Pintxos and Tapas crawls are not just about the food, but more of a way of life.  Its a way to relax and socialize with your friends before lunch or dinner.  Its not something you force and its never meant to be done after a full day of sightseeing.  Maybe by just reading this and planning your Pintxos crawl three months in advance you are breaking the cardinal rule of Pintxo crawling.  But researching is part of the fun, right?

Néstor Bar

So research away, but keep things flexible, dont stress, and do enough explorations on your own.  Look at these as ideas and suggestions to pick from.  There’s another list of places I didnt get a chance to visit, just as long as this one.  On one of them, Borda Berri, I spent a good 7 minutes by the counter, waiting for some acknowledgement that I’m there and “what would you like sir”, but it never happened and we just left shamefully.  This place gave “packed” a new meaning.  Imagine around 40 people including food tours bigger than mine spilling into the sidewalk in a small bar that fits perhaps 15.  A NY fire Marshal wet dream

Out of 7 or so places I tried, I picked 5 that I can comfortably recommend.  Some of these are well known, some not so much.  And some suggested by our trusted guide Mikel from Tours by Basque

Ordizia – No lines, no crowds, no hoopla in this tiny hole in the wall.  You can even have a conversation with the server/bartender.  All the goodies displayed on the board.  Try the grilled squid with shrimp and ham and “Brotxeta Chuleta”, steak with peppers and potato.

Ordizia Pintxos

La Cuchara de San Telmo – Seems popular with tourists but very manageable for lunch.  Get a table outside which you may share with some new friends.  Try the signature extra large Octopus that comes butterflied and grilled to perfection.  Some of the meatiest, most delicious razor clams you’ll encounter.  And if you never had proper stewed Veal Cheeks, this one will do.

Casa Urola – An old-timer serving traditional and seasonal fare in the dining room, and haute leaning pintxos in the bar.  Try the “Urola” with lobster, the delicious squid, scallop.  And this is a good spot to try the Gilda, a skewer of anchovies (keep reading…), olives and pickled peppers, named after Rita Hayworth, who was similarly “spicy and salty”.  Gilda the movie was extremely popular in Spain.  And if you are not a big fan of anchovies, try this anyway.
Casa Urola - Squid
Néstor Bar – How to describe Néstor Bar?  Imagine a quiet, comfortable table in the corner, soothing easy listening in the background, with the occasional laughter of a young loving couple celebrating their 5th anniversary, and a waiter that makes you feel comfortable and welcomed.  Now imagine the opposite of that and you have Néstor Bar.  Wait for your “table” in chaos, until you get standing room counter for the 4 of you, but can only fit two and half.  But once you taste the steak (top), with tomato salad, and green peppers, you go “F$&ck comfort”
La Vina – Its almost unfair to make it the cheesecake stop because everything else looked so good, but the Tarta de Queso here is quite exceptional.  La Vina is world renowned for this light, addictive goodness so many come to experience.  I didnt know that we will be eating so many cheesecakes in north Spain, but this one easily topped them all.
Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This is Salamanca

IMG_8691Salamanca, 200km west of Madrid, is much more than a University and church town.  But these two reasons alone are good enough to visit even for an old Jew like me.  I just feel old and cranky this morning, and need to think about happier places.  Salamanca was a happy place.  Watching World Cup Soccer in one of the most striking Plaza Mayors in Europe.  Having a local show us around town.  Looking for the mysterious astronaut embedded in the facade of the “new” church.  Surrounded by the red Sandstone plastered all over the old town.  And meeting the only English speaking nun we’ve ever met, selling delicious cookies from a convent (Convento de las Dueñas).

But you want to spend at least a few nights here to experience Salamanca’s magic.  Its conveniently located if you are heading north to Asturias, or west to Portugal.  In fact you are only 3 hours away from another University powerhouse, Coimbra in Portugal.   You can also reach Avila, a walled stunner, within an hour or so.

IMG_8715Read about Salamanca and the frog that became its symbol.  Look for it on the University’s famous facade, on a skull.  Its not that hard once you know what it looks like (see pic below).  If you fail to find it, you will struggle on your next exam.  If you are not a student and you fail to find it, you will get Shingles within a week!  The frog, or more likely a toad was a symbol of sexual temptations throughout Spain’s history.  There were once prostitutes roaming the area, luring the male students, and the frog reminded the students of the consequences.  The skull represents death, a possible outcome due to the many diseases the prostitutes carried.  Thanks Obama!

Salamanca doesnt strike me as a foodie paradise but there’s plenty of good eats for a short trip.  Plaza Mayor challenges the notion that main squares in Europe offer nothing but tourist traps.  A local took us to Mesón Cervantes in the plaza where we enjoyed the local specialty Farinato – fried potato, eggs, and a sweet leaning sausage hash, among other things.  Also on Plaza Mayor you got Las Tapas de Gonzalo (Best Patatas Bravas of the trip), and their finer sister El Mesón de Gonzalo not too far.

The same local took us on a mini tapas crawl starting with the ultra local Taberna Dionisos known for their Tostas (small open face sandwiches).  And we quickly got hooked on Croissantería París and their ham and cheese croissants.  Hornazo, the local savory pastry stuffed with pork, chorizo and egg I was so looking forward to try, surprisingly did not look too appealing and I never got to try it.  The fact that I was stuffed every time I saw it didnt help.  And dont forget about the nuns (most likely closed between 3-6) and their cookies.  And  make sure to visit the Convent of St. Stephen nearby.

IMG_8678IMG_8721IMG_8633IMG_8736IMG_8713IMG_8681IMG_8654IMG_8656IMG_8663IMG_8649IMG_8653IMG_8638IMG_8647IMG_8639IMG_8668IMG_8704IMG_8703IMG_8694IMG_8624

 

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

3 Days in Madrid

A word of advice:  Lakasa!  That’s it.  Just one word as promised.  Thats the most important takeaway from this post, and if its the only takeaway, my job is kinda done here.  In other words, if you only giving this post your valuable morning bathroom break, just go straight to the Lakasa section and read the rest if you have more time.  There are other important tips here, including where not to eat, and where we planned to eat but didnt eat.  So maybe make it a longer bathroom or a work vaping break, to read the rest.

Talking about “takeaway”, my biggest struggle in Spain was requesting Coffee To Go in Spanish.  I know this is not exactly a coffee to go culture, but I needed it on occasion especially while driving.  I had to do it especially in the North where English was almost non existent.  “Para Llevar, Para Llevar, Para Llevar”.  I practiced, and listened and practiced some more.  I went from “Pull the Lever Please!” to “Para Levar” to “Para Yevar” and they would continue to nod and smile and serve it in a small coffee mug on a plate to stay.  Wife sometimes would come back from shopping to see me sipping on the coffee cup going, “couldnt pull the lever again, couldn’t you?”.  Nope!

IMG_8412

The most surprising thing about Madrid’s food scene was the large amount of American chains scattered all over the center.  There were moments when I was looking for something interesting to eat, and it was easier to find a Burger King then a local shop of some sorts.  But the site that surprised me the most was my first International “Five Guys”.  Turns out, there are 4 more outside the center.  Well done Guys!  All 5 of you.

Here’s a rundown of the places we ate.  You can read between the lines

El Paraguas – This was strongly recommended by our host and I can see why.  A room, make it rooms, including an outdoor patio, packed with locals, including families and grandpas who lunch.  All on a Friday afternoon.  And you need to dress up a notch for this one.  The cuisine is Asturian but the menu reads like a bible.  Madrid doesnt really have its own regional cuisine.  It draws its inspirations from all over Spain, especially the north (I can be corrected here).  The standout here was a mystery dish.  “Cocochas de Merluza con Yema de Huevo” on the Spanish menu translated to “Hake’s Barbel in green sauce and egg yolk” on the English menu.  Confusing because Barbel is a another fish, and Cocochas is the second chin or jaw of a fish which we had in Getaria some time later and it looked nothing like this.  Whatever it was, it was excellent. and I would go back just for this.IMG_8467

Cervecería Cervantes – This is where you will have that “We are finally in Spain” moment.  Surrounded by locals, and eating things we couldn’t get enough of the rest of the trip.  We came for the Galician Octopus which was good indeed, but we totally devoured the shrimp in garlic and Padron peppers.  And we started hearing angels singing when we tried the fried calamari.  Even though the singing was mostly in latin, I understood most of it… “Remember all that fried Calamari you’ve been eating in New York all your life? Lalalalalalala!  Its crap!  This is what it supposed to taste like”

IMG_8404

Lakasa (bottom)- Madrid is loaded with some incredible talent doing elevated traditional dishes and Avant-garde.  But its hard for me to imagine many better experiences in this price range.  This was flawless from start to finish.  From the house white to the waiter eerily popping a little device on the table where little wet wipes peep out one by one, much to our delight.  It doesnt take much to amuse us.  silky smooth Cecina (cured cow meat) from Astorga.  A mind blowing grilled Hake (better than the Alfonsino special).  Dried rice with pigeon, a house specialty, was a standout.  One of the better cooked steaks of a Spain trip loaded with great meats.  Clams in garlic, and fried eggs with truffles we couldnt get enough of.  One of the best meals we ever had in Spain

La Casa del Abuelo – Shrimp and Garlic!  We’ve been obsessing and dreaming about the shrimp in Garlic months prior to the trip.  Portugal did this to us!  Ramiro in Lisbon if I can point fingers.  In Madrid all indications pointed to the undisputed Shrimp and Garlic champ, La Casa del Abuelo.  Not to be confused with Abuela (grandma) on the same street.  You want Grandpa’s cooking, not Grandma in this case.  Really enjoyed the crustaceans here. They were plump and flavorful albeit on the softer side.  We also enjoyed the large Fideo with squid and its ink.

IMG_8501

Ochenta Grados – This was the only place open on Sunday night that was walking distance from our apartment.  We were surprised at how many close on Sundays here (some open for lunch).  Ochenta Grados felt like a place more for teen girls so it was sort of perfect because I came with two of those.  But at the same time it was cheap, inventive fun, and shockingly good value.  Clever “Tapas” like plates around 4 euros each.  We pretty much tried the entire menu for 70 euros.  A marginal endorsement for the foodies out there

IMG_8520

San Miguel Market – This is the one I dont quite get.  What exactly is the attraction here?  Is it the concept or the food?  Coming from the land of food markets (NYC) this was shockingly disappointing.  We settled initially on some overpriced, mediocre toasts with cheese.  Then we circled a few more times and nothing stood out.  Extremely crowded and expensive for Spain (11 euros for a small portion of fried calamari).  The whole thing felt like a giant tourist trap.  I cant imagine many locals go here.

A word on Tapas – One thing I learned in Madrid is that Tapas is more of a way of life, rather than a concept or simply small plates.  Its a social gathering where you move from place to place eating and drinking what the establishments specialize in, while standing.   Tapas is a lifestyle, that is not meant to be forced, and therefore difficult for visitors to mimic.  When you are spending a full day sightseeing, your planned Tapas crawl may not fit as you’ll be craving a seat and a drink somewhere relaxing instead.  But if you must, Calle del Dr. Castelo near Retiro park is loaded with some popular eateries like Laredo, La Castela, Castelados, and La Raquetista

Other places I wanted to visit but didnt have a chance:  La Manduca de Azagra, AskuaBarra, Glass Mar

 

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Tips for Asturias

IMG_8939Heard of Asturias?  The forgotten Spanish region of Asturias is an absolute stunner and a culinary paradise.  We came primarily to get a glimpse of the magnificent Picos de Europa, but turns out it’s so much more than that.

10.  Check the Covadonga Webcam.   Before going up to the lakes of Covadonga, check the webcam.  It may be clear down below, but heavy fog on top.  Ideally stay in or near Cangas de Onis for at least 3 days and go up on a sunny day.  Webcam:  http://webcamsdeasturias.com/webcam.php?id=159

IMG_8963

9.  Sunday is Fungus Day at Cangas de Onís.  Its not a big market, but a very important one, in front of the main church in Cangas de Onís.  This is where you can taste the funky local Cabrales cheese among many other products.  And if you speak Spanish, maybe make a friend and get invited to see a cave where Cabrales is aged.

IMG_8883

8.  Read up and look for “Indianos”.  Back in the day Spaniards who lived close to the sea in the north, sailed to South America to seek better fortune.  At the turn of the 20th century, feeling homesick, many of those who accumulated wealth came back.  And to show their legacy, they built these lavish colorful homes (“Indianos”).  They would even typically have palm trees as a symbol of their previous tropical homes.  You can visit the chief Indiano at Colombres (Indiano Archive Foundation) and see them in Ribadesella and pretty much all over.

IMG_8987

7.  Visit a Sidreria or 5.  This is perhaps obvious to some, but its importance needs to be stressed.  We travel for “Different”.  And your visit will be incomplete if you dont spend the proper time practically bathing in cider in a cider house.  Read about the proper way to drink it, its not just about the pouring.  Visit Plaza De Requejo in Mieres.  Check out Sidrería Carroceu in Ribadesella (try shrimp in garlic, and mussels topped with tomato sauce, a local specialty)

IMG_8741

6.  Try a Cachopo.  This item can be criminally overlooked when researching this region.  The Asturias answer to, ok, there’s nothing quite like this out there.  Two mammoth fried veal fillets sandwiching ham, cheese, and anything else they opt to stuff in there.  And one the best places to try it is Chigre El Antoju Sidrería in Llanes

IMG_8944

5.  Take your time at Sanctuary of Covadonga.  Dont confuse this for just a church hence a quick attraction.  You may need to walk a little from your parking spot.  You’ll want to take pictures of it every time you look from every angle.  You must visit the Holy Cave across where you may get the best shot of the church.  And most importantly, dont even think about missing this.

IMG_8816

4.  Follow the Oviedo Escultura trail.  Oviedo and its unique statues is a free open air museum.  Well at least on a Sunday when you can park for free.  You’ll see a statue with a story in every park, square, or in front of important monuments including one of Woody Allen (Much of Vicky Cristina Barcelona was filmed in Oviedo).  But the most famous of the bunch is a little girl wearing a red dress sitting on a bench in the park.  Read about Mafalda to see why she’s larger than life 

IMG_8884

3.  Have a leisurely lunch at El Molín de Mingo.  In Asturias, you have these 7 feet chickens roaming around answering to the name Pitu.  Pitu de Caleya is one of the many delicious local specialties and this is where you try it.  Packed places this hidden are packed for a reason.  Always busy therefore reservations are essential, and sometimes only open on weekends.  A little easier to get to via Arriondas as opposed to Cangas de Onis

IMG_8793

2.  Mix it up at Casa Marcial and Guernica.  The location and setting of Marcial is worth the schlep alone to this two Michelin in the mountains.  The fixed menu options will allow you to mix crafty ingredient driven starters (like the best mussel you’ll ever have) with elevated local specialties like Fabada and Pitu de Caleya.  For seafood head to Luanco for the great rice dishes of Guernica

IMG_8929

1.  Read Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding.  A full chapter on Asturias, Basque and other regions you may come across.

IMG_8880

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Jose Maria {Segovia} – The Suckling King

Jose Maria in ActionSegovia, the perfect tourist town.  How often do you come across places with such sheer beauty and plenty of unique attractions to boot.  Its rich history plays an important global role, and its essentially one giant lesson in Spanish history.  Which is why its best viewed with a guide.  Its monuments are not only important and UNESCOd for good reason, but they are a feast to the eyes.  The aqueduct alone is worthy of the train ticket from Madrid, even if you’ve seen such aqueducts before.  And then you have the Cochinillo (Suckling Pig).

No one knows how it all started, but everyone knows who popularized it.  In the 1930’s Don Candido started carving Cochinillo with a plate while everyone else watched with Love Eye Emojis followed by Cash Eye Emojis.  Today Meson de Candido is still going strong, while many others all over Segovia are now doing the same thing.  And gastrofreaks from all over flock here not for the Aqueduct or the castles, but for the baby pig.  The whole scene is a little disturbing in a way.  Baby pigs featured on window displays, sometimes provocatively, akin to the red light district in Amsterdam.  I figured if my kids ever become vegan, this would be the reason.

But if Don Candido put the Cochinillo on the map, Jose Maria put it on the Google Map.  Today, Jose Maria is the Taj Mahal of the pig pilgrimage and you can feel it when you are 50 feet away from the 5 room restaurant.  It doesn take much Google searching to see videos of Mr Maria plate carving that thing while proudly wearing his medal.  In 2002 Maria, who owns his own breeding farm, founded PROCOSE, an association devoted to the promotion of the Suckling Pig of Segovia.  He converted the pig into a cultural icon.

The mural behind us serves as a reminder for all the plates Jose Maria used to break in the past.  But it wasn’t clear whether it was accidental or did he throw them Greek style when he was done.  But today the carving is so theatrical that everything including time pauses for that 10 seconds.  He cuts and plates it with the plate.  The flesh maintains much of the juiciness.  The skin is crispier than crisp but still chewy.  And its all rather simple.  You expect something more complicated from such fame, but its really just a suckling pig simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  The reason it works so well, is the quality of the main ingredient.  These guys got this thing down to a science.  From the weight of the pig, to the timing of the kill and what it had for breakfast days 4 to 6.

But there were other surprises contributing to this most memorable meal, starting with the Iberico meat and cheese platter.  While we liked the Jamon and Chorizo alright, it was the dryer more textured Lomo (cured tenderloin) that won.  And then came the Judiones, some of the most massive, creamiest white beans you will ever eat.  Part of a stew of course, a relative of the Asturian Fabada we couldnt get enough.

And I dont normally get excited or even remember house wines, but this house red had the Aroma and complexity of a pungent full bodied aged red.  Even Mrs Z couldnt help herself and had a glass too many.  After the meal while we were walking, she suddenly paused, and turned to me frantically “Did you find the Chorizo?!?”  Translation (after 25 years of marriage):  We didnt have dessert.  Did you find a nice Churros place?

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.