Dear Granada

Posted on Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 at 3:06 pm

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.

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