Archive for the Andalucia Category

Dear Granada

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Dear Granada.  What I missed in Seville… got a whiff of in Cordoba… I found it in Granada.  This city exudes the romance of every Andalusian fantasy.

On the food front, I found the elusive free tapas.  When you order a drink, a complimentary plate comes with it.  Traditionally, each dish gets progressively better so I found myself ordering yet another drink to see what would come next.  At Bodegas Castaneda (Calle Almireceros), it was paella, followed by calamari, followed by a hearty pork stew.  Three drinks later, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I needed to take my first Spanish siesta.

Paella Calamari

Pork Stew Jose, Bodegas Castaneda

I really enjoyed Bodegas Castaneda, the oldest bar in Granada.  It was always packed with a great mix of happy people.  The casks behind the bar are filled with all sorts of treats to try: jumilla, vermouth, fino sherry, sweet orange wine, and more.  I don’t often go back to places when I am traveling, but I revisited Bodegas Castaneda two more times so that I could take new friends there.  It was equally great every time.

Bodegas Castaneda Mojama + Lomo y Jamon y Pimienta

In addition to the free tapas, there is also a full menu.  On my second visit, Greg (who I met in Sintra and then saw again in Seville and Granada!) and I took Jose’s advice and ordered the lomo y jamon y pimienta.  The cured pork loin, ham, and green pepper came stacked on grilled bread.  We also ordered mojama, a regional delicacy of air-dried tuna.  In hot Andalusia, it was once a practical way to preserve fresh fish.  The mojama was more tender and flexible than beef jerky, but the idea was similar.  The tuna flavor was intensified by the dehydration.  Because the slices were thin, the fish was rich but not overwhelming.

Fish Fritters with Coleslaw Patatas Aioli

Gambas Bodegas Casteneda

I went back a third time with Mairead and Paddy from Dublin.  (We had met while trying to find the ticket booth for the Alhambra.)  On this last visit to Bodegas Castaneda, we progressed from fish fritters to cold potatoes in aioli to whole, juicy shrimp.

Outside Spice Market Outside Spice Market

When I saw an outdoor spice market behind the Cathedral, I was immediately struck by its presence.  Much of Spanish cuisine relies simply on salt, pepper, olive oil, and perhaps some pimenton, all of which serve to highlight the main ingredient.  In Andalusia, however, there is a strong Arabic influence on the cuisine.  The aromatic presence of cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, and star anise was almost a shock to my senses.  The seductive smell of tea, after a month of strong coffee, took me by complete surprise.

Lamb Tagine Lamb Tagine

I was determined to find a great tagine while I was in Granada.  The Albayzin, the old Muslim area, has a great maze of streets to wander.  Most of the stores and restaurants, however, are very touristy.  I peered into window after window looking for the least offensively commercial place, eventually picking a tea house on the main strip of Calle Caldereria Nueva.  That night, it was packed with Spanish students practicing their English.  I chose the lamb tagine which was exactly what I had hoped to try.  The lamb was cooked on the bone until the meat could easily be pulled apart with a fork.  There were also green olives, green beans, hard-boiled egg, and dried plums. Ultimately, the dish was all about the perfect bite of sweet plum and lamb.  Crisp pita was perfect for soaking up the meaty juices from the bottom of the tagine.

Sherry Wine

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Jerez de la Frontera, home to a number of sherry producers, is an easy train trip from Seville.  The town, however, is much larger than I imagined.  The tours all start at the same time; it’s only possible to visit a couple if you are going by foot.  Also, many of the smaller producers only have tours in the morning.  By the time I arrived from Seville and figured out tour schedules, it was noon.  In the end, I was able to visit two of the biggest sherry companies, Sandeman and Tio Pepe.  Both are giants of mass production and marketing: not my first preference, but the best I could do.

Sandeman Tio Pepe

Sherry, like port, is a fortified wine.  Sherry is unique in the way it is aged.  Using the “solera” method, barrels of wine are stacked so that the oldest wine is at the bottom and the youngest wine is at the top.  When 1/3 of the wine is taken from those bottom barrels, it is replaced by the same amount of wine from the younger barrel above it.  Similarly, the second-level barrel receives wine from the even younger third level.  Accordingly, the wine is mixed.  There will never be a vintage on a sherry because younger wine is continually mixed with older wine.

Palomino grapes are used for the dry sherries while pedro ximenez grapes are used for the sweet ones.  The grapes for sweet sherries are also dried in the sun to enhance their natural sugars.

As dry sherries age, a layer of yeast called the flor develops on top of the wine.  This yeast protects the wine from oxidation.  The wines are tested after several months; the wines with the best flor will be kept as fino sherries.  Fino sherries maintain their original golden color and fruity taste because of this protective film.  Wines with lesser flors are made into oloroso wines.  More alchohol is added to the wine, which kills the flor, exposing it to air.  As a result, olorosos darken in color and their flavors become more complex than fino sherries.  When a fino sherry is aged to the point that the flor dies, exposing the older wine to oxygen, it develops into yet another type of sherry, an amontillado.

At the start of the Sandeman tour, I paid 4 euros more to upgrade my tasting at the end.  I figured that, as a culinary student, I should take the opportunity to taste the best while I was in Jerez.  Unfortunately, I really don’t think that the sherries I tasted were right.  I wondered how long they have been opened… probably since the last chump ponied up for the more expensive tasting.  The royal esmerelda, an amontillado, tasted like penicillin, actually repulsive to my sense of smell and taste.  The Royal Ambrosante, a 20 year old sweet sherry, tasted faintly of the antibiotic.  I asked my tour guide if the wine was right.  She opened the bottle, poured herself some, smelled it, and tasted it.  Then, she told me that was how it was supposed to taste.  ????   At the end of the Tio Pepe tour, I stuck with the basic tastings, meant for the everyman tourist.  These were simple wines, not overly complex, but not offensive either.

Apparently, it will take more than a trip to Jerez to develop my taste for sherry!

Seville & Cordoba

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As I headed to Andalusia, I hoped that I was in time for gazpacho and salmorejo, two soups that are only served when the tomatoes are in season.  I was in time to find them both.

Gazpacho by the Glass

Gazpacho is typically made from tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, green peppers, and olive oil, pureed together to make a very refreshing soup.  Barely thicker than water, it is often served in a glass to be drunk.

Salmorejo Salmorejo

Salmorejo, which originates in Cordoba, includes only tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.  These ingredients are then pureed with bread.  The bread thickens the soup, making it miraculously creamy.  Some of the salmorejos achieved the consistency and texture of mayonnaise.  (I mean that in a good way.)  Salmorejo is often topped by chunks of chewy, dry jamon.  Leave it to the Spanish to take something easily vegetarian and add pork.

Tapas has its roots in Seville, although it is everywhere in Spain now.  I had heard that there would be free tapas in Seville: that when you ordered a drink, they would bring you a plate.  Perhaps I ordered food too soon or perhaps I was too obviously a tourist, but I was never gifted with tapas in Seville.  I did, however, find a couple of great tapas spots, full of classic character.

El Rinconcillo El Rinconcillo

El Rinconcillo El Rinconcillo

Opened in 1670, El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona 40) is the oldest bar in Seville.  They keep track of your tab by writing it in chalk on the bar.

Casa Morales Casa Morales

Tortilla Espanola, Casa Morales Casa Morales

Opened in 1850, Casa Morales (Garcia de Vinuesa 11, Seville) is a big, dusty place with all classic tapas selections.  It is very near to the Cathedral.

Bodega Guzman Albondigas at Bodega Guzman

In nearby Cordoba, at 2pm on a Sunday, I could hear the sound of the crowd at Bodega Guzman (Calle de los Judios 7) from half a block away.  The drink of choice there is montilla, which is like a fino sherry.  It is very dry and a little fruity, perfect as an aperitif, but drunk anytime with anything at Bodega Guzman.  The bartenders pour it from huge wooden casks.  I also ordered the albondigas, incredibly moist pork meatballs, served in a sauce fragrant from cumin and pimenton.