Tag Archives: jamones

Three Days in Enchanting Granada

24 Apr
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The Alhambra

 

As previously arranged, the last Muslim ruler in Spain, Boadbil, reluctantly handed over the key to the spectacular Alhambra to the Spanish monarchy on January 1, 1492. No matter how much I have read about the Alhambra, I was still gobsmacked by it, from its size and beauty, intricate carvings, water features, gardens and the overall grand, but tranquil, enchanting ambience. By 1238, with the taking of Cordoba from the Moors, the Spanish “Reconquista” had regained all of Spain with the exception of Granada. Under a peace agreement with the Spanish monarchy, Granada flourished. Under Moorish rule, the site of the Alhambra was used as a fortress, and in the 13th century the Nasrid Dynasty began building the Alhambra complex. Any attempt to provide an accurate portrayal of the Alhambra will be woefully inadequate in describing its unique architecture and beauty. The Generalife, the nearby country gardens and buildings on the Alhambra’s northern area are perched higher, resulting in a cooler, inviting respite for the Nasrid rulers and their associates. A view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, Spain’s tallest mountain range, can be enjoyed from the Generalilfe. I recommend the tour of both the Alhambra and Generalife, which takes around 4 ½ hours. Be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance as tickets are often sold out, arrive early, and wear comfortable walking shoes and bring shade from the sun.

 

 

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Palace of Charles V

 

After more than 250 years of rule under the Moors, King Fernando and Queen Isabel fought to restore Granada to Spain, which they succeeded in doing on January 1, 1492. The Alhambra was spared from the usual destruction and/or conversion to Christian buildings, which makes it a unique attraction. However, their grandson, Charles V, built a palace in the Renaissance style within the walls of the Alhambra, which makes for an odd, but interesting juxtaposition to the Moorish designs. This building houses museums of Spanish-Islamic Art and Bella Artes (Fine Arts.)

 

 

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Albaicín and El Sacromonte

The Albaicín is the Moorish old city, which faces and provides one of the many fantastic views of the Alhambra. The Albaicín has a jumble of narrow streets and historic homes called Carmenes, the latter which consist of external high walls to provide privacy and internal fountains, patios and inviting living spaces. The Albaicín church of San Nicolas is a popular destination, and its plaza affords panoramic views. In the hills just above the Albaicín is the El Sacromonte, the caves where gypsies live and perform flamenco shows.

 

 

In 1523, work began on Granada’s Cathedral, which is massive and opulent, featuring both Gothic and Renaissance architecture created by a series of several architects during the 181 years during which it was constructed. It is one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe. It has a gold and white interior and features a circular capilla mayor (sanctuary) with five naves and multiple chapels. Its stained glass dome, large chorale books, and huge pipe organs are also noteworthy. Adjacent and joined to the Cathedral is the Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel, which was built for the royal monarchs between 1506 and 1521. It houses an ornate grille enclosing the altar and the marble sculptures of Fernando and Isabel, their daughter, Juana La Loca and her husband Felipe el Hermoso. Their coffins lay in the crypt below the marble figures. Both facilities offer works of famous artists.

 

Plaza Nueva is the oldest square in Granada, and a good place for a beverage, tapa and people-watching. One of my favorite spots is Bodega Catañeda, a rustic, authentic tapas spot for local jamones (hams), creative dishes, and sherry. There are many eateries serving authentic Moroccan and Arabic food. Granada is fairly compact, so walking or taking a cab are the best options for getting around.

 

 

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Bodegas Castaneda

Since moving to Spain, I have happily taken advantage of the opportunity to explore the country’s diverse and unique attractions, including many UNESCO world heritage sites. For this special venue in Granada, I splurged and stayed at the 14th century Parador within the walls of the Alhambra. In Spain, a parador is a historic or scenic building which the Spanish government has converted into an inn or hotel. The parador at the Alhambra has been described as the best or one of the best in Spain. Queen Isabel and King Fernando were initially buried on the site, while the Royal Chapel was being built in Granada as their final resting place. The parador was a former monastery built on orders of the royal monarchs on a site which was originally a mosque. This parador provides an inviting, tranquil respite after exploring the Alhambra and the City of Granada, and its intriguing history and delicious local foods.

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite and Unique Foods in the Costa Blanca Area of Spain

18 Jan
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. Last week-end I 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 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.

 

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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 recently 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.