Tag Archives: Benidorm

Favorite and Unique Foods in the Costa Blanca Area of Spain

23 Jul
fresh fish and fishmongers

Fresh fish and fishmongers

Being a foodie and lover of nearly everything from the sea, I feel like I am living in food paradise here in Altea, which is on the Mediterranean in the Costa Blanca area of Spain. I previously spent time with a friend, originally from the city of Valencia, just an hour north of Altea. She always provides interesting cultural and historical information about the area.

 

We went to the old town area of Benidorm for tapas, also known as pintxos. I must add that Benidorm is a place I usually avoid, as it is known for drunks, bad behavior, crazy “hen” and “stag” (in the U.S. known as bachelorette and bachelor parties), exotic dancers, legal prostitution, and mediocre entertainment. However, there are a few redeeming activities, including the tapas spots in the old town, many of which are similar to those in San Sebastian, a culinary delight which boasts the most Michelin stars per square meter, and three of Spain’s three star restaurants out of a total of seven. Like any touristic spots, it is easy to end up in a place with mediocre food and poor service. That is where a local friend can be helpful.

 

Sepia

Sepia

We started at a parallel street to the main tapas alley, where we enjoyed a small glass of wine accompanied by a simple, but tasty tapa of orejas fritas (fried sheep ears) for only 1€. We then moved on to the main tapas alley restaurants. My friend explained the specialties of each. One featured suckling pig and suckling lamb, common to areas of central Spain like Toledo, south of Madrid. (No hate mail please.) My youngest son and I are big fans of sepia (cuttlefish, similar in texture to calamari “steaks”) and small fried octopus legs (rejos,  which have a similar texture and taste to calamari rings and tentacles.) While in Benidorm we ordered huevos de sepia, (eggs of sepia.) Obviously, not every tapa appeals to everyone, but it is fun to go with friends, and share various tapas, including ones never tried before.

 

Besides the omni-present many varieties of regional Spanish jamones (hams) and delicious cheeses available throughout Spain, each area of Spain has its own specialties.

Party-size mejillones (mussels)

Party-size mejillones (mussels)

Even travelling only a half hour inland, one will find different local specialties. Rabbit is popular in my area. There is a dizzying variety of fish and seafood. After a year, I am still struggling to learn the names of all the fish, and shellfish. For example, there are many varieties of bi-valves, not just mussels and clams, but many types of each of them. The specialty seafood markets and even the regular grocery stores have an incredible amount of fresh stock, with fishmongers ready to prepare them to your specifications. You won’t see any fresh fish which is already fileted. Another unexpectedly delicious find was gulas also known as angulas (baby eels) which have the consistency as thick spaghetti with a seafood taste, They can easily be prepared with shrimp, garlic and abundant olive oil (after all, Spain produces the most in the world) and baked for a short time. They are also used in many other ways including salads and toppings for tapas.

 

Gulas (baby eel) and shrimp

Gulas (baby eel) and shrimp

Squid ink pasta or paella are delicious if you like that inky seafood taste. I find the black color to be an inviting, unique experience. On one occasion, when my son and I were at an outdoor venue for salsa-dancing, we ordered the paella negra with seafood. I was surprised that of the 15 or so fellow dancers sharing our table, ex-pats who now live here, none had previously tried it. After a first cautious bite, each of them dug in for more.

 

Paella is a Spanish dish originating in Valencia, so there are many choices of types of paella from which to choose, although there is only one traditional type according to the hardcore, which consists of rice (typically bomba), green beans, rabbit or chicken, snails, saffron and other seasoning cooked in a shallow pan. Other popular local paellas include paella negra (squid ink previously mentioned), verduras (vegetable), a la banda (with squid rings), and mariscos (seafood.) However, there are many iterations of paella, including but not limited to arroz meloso (a slightly moister rice dish) and arroz caldoso (a soupier rice dish.) It is not unusual for a restaurant specializing in rice dishes, an arrocería, to have 10 to 20 rice dishes.

 

fideuawithrabbitandseafood

Fideua with rabbit and seafood

Another popular dish is fideua, which is a dish prepared similar to paella, but made with small pasta instead of rice. For both paella and fideua, which are freshly made to order, allow at least 30 minutes for preparation. But since this is Spain, your meal is likely to last at least two hours anyway.

 

Cocido de pelotas (a stew made with “balls”) is a hearty stew with cabbage-wrapped balls made of ground meat, spices and a binder. Homemade, good quality pelotas are widely available at local butcher shops. The weekly local farmers’ market offers delectable, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

 

Bounty of weekly farmers' market

Bounty of weekly farmers’ market

When I went for pizza, very popular here as in many places in the world, I saw the special topping of the day was “granada.” Although I speak decent Spanish, that word was unfamiliar. I learned it is the word for pomegranate, which actually sounds quite similar. This time of year Valencian oranges are abundant and incredibly cheap, which make delicious fresh orange juice, known here as zumo (not jugo as is commonly used in many Latin American countries.)

 

While I do love the food here, there are some things I miss that are not readily available here, including Mexican-style corn tortillas; many Asian condiments; spices like sage, allspice, red chili flakes, habaneros or other spicy chiles; and my shameful favorite junk food, Cheetos.

 

 

 

 

 

Spain: Travelling and Living Challenges

6 Oct
Moros y Cristianos: Altea 2015

Moros y Cristianos: Altea 2015

Life sometimes gets in the ways of one’s plans, or should I more aptly say, my plans. I intended to post about some of the interesting places I have visited near my home in Altea, Spain, during the week visit of my middle son, Michael, but with a few anticipated and unanticipated events, I felt more compelled to blog on the vagaries of the past couple of weeks.

I have found that if things can go wrong in Spain, they often do. Serendipitously, my son, Michael was arriving on the same day as my computer generated appointment was to get my fingerprints done at the National Police in Alicante to finish the steps for securing my first renewal visa. (For details on my experience with the visa process, see my posts: https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/09/how-to-apply-for-non-lucrative-visa-for-spain-as-us-citizen-bucking-the-trend/.https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/26/patience-and-tenacity-requirements-for-obtaining-a-spanish-residential-visa/; .https://starrtreks.com/2015/08/09/you-must-be-kidding-steps-to-get-a-spanish-visa/

More Moros y Cristianos

More Moros y Cristianos

Since he was arriving into Alicante on a Tuesday, on the same day as I had to go for my huellas (fingerprints) and delivering my photo for my Spanish residential visa, I booked a rental car. It took about a half hour on the local bus to nearby Benidorm, where I was able to book the car for 48 hours for only 38€, far less than what it would have cost if I rented in my little town of Altea. As it was the biggest festival of the year in Altea, Moros y Cristianos, lasting many days, many streets were closed and parking spaces were limited. Probably the only benefit to being disabled is having a handicap placard for one’s vehicle. Even then, it was difficult to find a space for the rental car. After a long search, I finally found a spot. Just to be sure, I made sure the word, minusválido, meant handicap parking; it did. I had a bad feeling about the parking spot, which was confirmed when I went to retrieve the car the next morning at 7:30 a.m. to drive to Alicante for my 8:50 appointment. The rental car was gone. I had no time to try to find it, so I walked about a half mile to the downtown taxi stand, where there were no taxis; it was far too early for most people to be out and about.

When I saw one of the ever-present street cleaners (with a shovel and plastic bucket to pick up litter,) in Spanish, I told him of my predicament and need to be in Alicante for my appointment to renew my visa. He kindly summoned a taxi via phone. I did arrive on time, for a fee of about 85€.

I had an uneasy feeling while waiting for my turn with the staff, having gone through so many errant trips to the local Oficina de Extranjería (Immigration and Naturalization Office) in Altea. However, in this case, all went smoothly, and I the worker commented on how fluent my Spanish was for being in Spain about a year, even sharing his observation with his colleague. (There are many ex-pats living in the Costa Blanca who don’t know more than two words.)

I had originally planned to take the now unavailable rental car to the Alicante airport to retrieve my son, but obviously could not. In the meantime, on his side, the phone app he had set up would not work to contact me. He finally called from a pay phone, and I advised him to take a cab and pick me up at the National Police, and then we would head back to Altea. That went well, for costing another 85€. I am supposed to retrieve my renewal residential visa somewhere around the first of November of this year, a mere four months before it expires for the year. Then I get to start this process all over again.

After he settled in by place for a bit, we headed to the police station to try to figure out what happened to my rental car. In the meantime, I tried to stop at several copy shops to scan and send some important papers, but they were closed for a fourth straight day, this day to recover from the festival partying from the prior week. To abbreviate the part of the story about retrieving the rental car, I was told by the local police that I was in a specifically reserved spot for a handicap vehicle. In Spanish, I replied I have travelled to many countries and never encountered this. Placidly, he told me it would be 136€ to get the car released. What he didn’t say was that I needed to retrieve the car immediately, that there are no regular staff on site, so it took three tries before I was able to retrieve the car, just in time to return it to the rental agency, although with a quick side trip to historic Guadalest.

Michael and I had a fabulous time with friends, and day trips to Guadalest, Denia, Albir and even Benidorm, which I typically detest. (More about those destinations and the Moros y Cristianos festival in future posts.) Naturally, getting the Beniconnect Bus from Altea to the Alicante airport was fraught with snafus, mostly the lack of staff answering the phone, and simply disconnecting after 20 to 30 rings. By persistence, and multiple ways of contacting them, we got a departure time late on the evening before his scheduled departure. Ever the dapper dresser, Michael turned many a head as he headed for the bus.

Michael leaving Altea en route to London

Michael leaving Altea en route to London

I love Spain, except for how difficult it is most of the time to get anything in the government and in businesses done efficiently and the first time. For me, this is (sometimes) a good lesson in patience. My advice remains: plan on at least three visits to accomplish your task, and if it is any less, celebrate!