Tag Archives: Spanish food

Summer Fun in Altea Spain

21 Aug
Summer in Altea's Casco Antiguo with craft booths

Summer in Altea’s Casco Antiguo with craft booths

While Altea (Spain) always has many entertaining activities, summer brings additional fun offerings. Ever a music fan, I appreciate the variety of city-sponsored live bands playing at various outdoor venues, including 40’s style Big Band, jazz fusion with a Mohawk-sporting accordion and keyboard player, flamenco, regional (Valenciano) folk music, to mention a few. I also went to a rock jam session held on Sunday afternoon at a local tram station, which had an eclectic, inviting atmosphere.

 

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One of the 60 mural paintings hanging from balconies in Altea’s Casco Antigua

In Altea’s hilltop Casco Antiquo, (Old Town), the church plaza and the walkway to it, which are sparsely filled during the winter months (as exemplified my Facebook cover photo), are now packed with throngs of visitors and locals. This month in Casco Antiguo there are a display of 60 painted murals by different artists which hang off balconies, hence named Balconades d’Altea. Also during the summer in Casco Antiguo, there are many artisan craft booths featuring various types of original art, jewelry, leather and more. Most restaurants in Casco Antiguo are open for the summer season, with many types of cuisine available such as Spanish, French, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines.

 

 

 

L'Olla fireworks

L’Olla fireworks

In June, we had the San Joan (Valenciano) for St. John festival, which features water-inspired activities, including parades and midnight bonfires at the beach, which normally are prohibited. Another popular summer beach activity is the spectacular firework display, Castell de l’Olla, over the Mediterranean. People head down to the beach with beverages and/or picnics for the midnight show, which this year lasted over 30 minutes. Alternatively, people may watch the show from the comfort of their balconies or terraces, as I did, or a café in Casco Antiguo’s plaza.

 

During the summer, many people enjoy going to temporary, seasonal chiringuitos, beachside bars/restaurants, which offer full service food and beverages with tables, and shade, if desired. I recently went to bonavida, a great chiringuito on the beach where I love their fried fish and seafood plate. (I recently posted a short video from it on my Facebook.) On many of the beach areas, there are lounge beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent.

 

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

There are many water sports available with a number of seaside businesses offering such activities as snorkeling, diving, kayaking, boat rental, sailing lessons, fishing, kitesurfing, and more. I love snorkeling, and every Christmas school vacation, I took my three sons to warm spots with good snorkeling, such Australia, Belize, Hawaii, Mexico, and various Caribbean islands. The Mediterranean in Altea is warmest in July and August, reaching 25C/80F degrees. For me, that is an ideal snorkeling temperature, so I scheduled a boat snorkeling tour this past week. It was postponed due to unusual rain, so I went the following day. The water was not as clear as I was hoping and the sea life not as vibrant to those which I am used to, but it may have partially been due to the recent rain. I enjoyed it anyway. There are also places to snorkel right off the beach without a boat. The dive center from which I took my snorkeling trip was located at Greenwich Marina/ Pueblo Mascarat. It was my first visit there, and I discovered new restaurants, and live music venues, including one, Macao, with outdoor lounge seating, which I plan to soon attend.

 

In the towns adjacent or near Altea, there are also many activities. This week-end there is the three day Festes de L’Albir, (Fiesta of Albir) with a car parade, children’s activities, food and beverage stand, music, games, and walk to the iconic lighthouse. Several bars in the Albir beach area offer live music, including soul, Latin, rock, comedy to name a few. Bar Cuba is one of my favorite spots, which offers complimentary bachata or other types of Latin dancing at 2000 on Saturday evening, and live Latin music for dancing Saturday and Sunday evening. They also feature other dance lessons throughout the week such as kizomba, salsa, line dance, and mambo for a nominal fee. I enjoy the instructive and professional complimentary bachata

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

lessons with Andres Ledesma so much, I took some small class private lessons with him.

 

What are your favorite summertime activities?

A Fulfilling, Less Stressful Life Running an Artsy Bar in Idyllic Altea Spain

7 Jun
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Sara and David at their artsy bar in Altea

In the same week, Sara Wilson lost her job as a staff writer for a major business magazine, and her husband, David Fernandez, lost his position as a private chef for socialites in New York City. They used that as a springboard to “re-examine our careers and quality of life.” They originally met in France, married and moved to California, then to New York to further their careers. Even though they liked certain aspects of living In New York, their lives were stressful, too money driven, and they didn’t get to spend much time together. Sara reflected, “Life gave us solution when we got laid off within a week of each other.” After considering their options, they initially decided to move to more relaxed Spain with the idea of opening a restaurant with David’s father. When that didn’t work out as anticipated, Sara and David started exploring other options, and eventually settled on opening a bar and eatery.

 

Sara reported, “My six years at the magazine job interviewing entrepreneurs helped us in the process of starting our business.” She added, “Ironically, I learned from people’s stories and their tips for success.” David had previously completed culinary training in Paris. She noted, “David is more of a visionary and risk-taker than I am, but it was our joint talents that helped us develop a successful business.”

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Picturesque and historic Altea

They spent several months exploring towns in the Costa Blanca area along the Mediterranean. They briefly looked at touristy Benidorm, but it did not possess the attractive and friendly location they were seeking. Then, “Unexpectedly we encountered a village paradise…called Altea,” recalled Sara. “We loved Altea’s stunning coastline, white pebble beaches and inviting and tasty restaurants lining the promenade.” But it was when they entered the old town, once a fortress, that they were really “awestruck. We loved its picturesque, narrow, pedestrian streets, punctuated by small artisan shops, that lead up to the hilltop church plaza.” Thus they set about on finding a place in the old town, known as Casco Antiguo.

 

Not long thereafter, they found an apartment and a place to start their dream business, a café/bar which was promoting various forms of art. “The rent was the cheapest we had found, and was the right size for just the two of us to run.” It consisted of two floors that had been transformed from an old house. We liked the fact that it had a mezzanine, a decent stock room, it was just one street down from the church plaza, and was on one of the most charming streets of Altea.” The business had been operating primarily as a sports bar, with a focus on the arts, as well, hence the name AlteArte. Importantly, “The bar already had a local clientele.”

They bought the business, but not the building. Sara stated, “We had been warned that it was important that the business have an existing business license. Just as we were ready to finalize the purchase, we learned that AlteArte did not have a business license.” The owner had applied for it and it was reportedly in process for a substantial period of time, (not unusual with the Spanish bureaucracy), but it had never been completed. Once the owner was aware that this unresolved issue was holding up the sale, the license was quickly approved. Sara and David speculated that the business license application was likely languishing with the local authorities, and that the owner, who was a local native, got the process completed quickly. Sara said, “It helped to buy a turn-key business, with an established clientele.” The prior owner, who sold them the business, wanted Sara and David to be success, and was supportive in a variety of helpful ways.

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Typical evening with friends at AlteArte

Sara and David “wanted to change the ambience to a cozier environment, which we did by adding tables and changing some of the décor.” They later hung their now iconic multi-colored bicycle upside down from the ceiling, and added some other kitschy design elements. They provide Wi-Fi, and show major soccer matches (“fútbol”).   “By changing things, we lost some of the former clients but gained others.” During their first year in business, they were often complimented on their tasty mojitos, so they decided to make that a focus. They setup an increasingly growing mojito menu, and identified AlteArte as a “mojiteria,”which set it apart from the other bars. They also make “nojitos,” alcohol-free mojitos. Adapting to client demonstrated preferences, “We abandoned our early idea of making it a coffee-centric business, instead focusing on our excellent selection and preparation of teas,” in addition to other typical bar beverages. Although their service focus is primarily on beverages, they also have a small selection of tapas and quesadillas, the latter being a popular, but rare item in Altea.

 

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Casco Antiguo in Altea

Asked if they have encountered any problems or challenges in setting up their business, they reported initially the neighbors complained about noise and the tables and chairs they had placed on the stairs adjacent to their building. “Eventually, we were able to make peace with the neighbors, after convincing them that we would keep the noise down, and not cause them any problems.” During the slow time of year, they do minor renovations to AlteArte, but they noted it is hard to find qualified people who complete the work in a timely fashion. After deciding to start their business in Altea, Sara quickly began learning Spanish, something she felt essential in running their business.

 

The owner of their building had been renting out the top floor to various people as a shop with touristic and artisan items, but after a series of several failed businesses there, he asked Sara and David if they were interested in adding the top floor to AlteArte. “We decided to take this opportunity to expand. The top floor is primarily for special events and gallery exhibits, as well as weekly intercambio (Spanish English language exchange.)” AlteArte exhibits “one or two artists’ works each month.” The middle floor is an inviting area with pillows and populated with board games.

“The customers, new and old, shaped AlteArte’s atmosphere by natural evolution.” They have about an equal percentage of local and expat customers, with “most ex-pats in this area of the Costa Blanca area of Spain being Scandinavian.” In the beginning, most of their clientele came through word of mouth and Facebook. After opening the gallery on the third level, we reached out to local newspapers and magazines to promote those events.”

After they first opened in February 2010, Sara and David ran the business by themselves. “During our second and third summer, we hired our first employees. In our fourth year of operation, we hired Emily as our first full time employee. She had been a patron, and she had a good work track record of seven years at one local restaurant.” They emphasized it is very important to check out the reliability and work history of potential employees in Spain as there are generous laws favoring them, such as being allowed substantial sick leave just after being hired. A few months later, they hired another young woman, Ampy, full-time. Both employees are friendly, competent, and able to communicate with the clients regardless of what language they speak. “We pay them a little more than the typical local wage, and uncommonly, we also give them one day off a week including during the busy summer months.”

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Sara and David inside AlteArte

When asked about other start-up or ongoing expenses or requirements, “there was an initial food safety course, basic business insurance, and nominal annual taxes.” They have not had any tax liability in the United States based on their Spanish net income. “We recommend using a gestoria,” which is a person whose task is to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Spanish government departments, for paying complex fees and taxes. “We receive an annual visit from the health department to check for correct refrigerator temperature and proper sanitation.” With regard to promoting AlteArte, “We have done some marketing by advertising our business in local tourist maps. Because we are in the Old Town, which is a steep, historically-protected area, we are not required to have handicap accessible facilities.” Sara reported, “AlteArte has allowed us to cover all of our expenses including the luxury of having two employees” which affords Sara the opportunity to spend long visits with her family in California. This year she has had two separate one-month visits with her family. AlteArte has given David, now 40, and Sara, 37, “a more comfortable, and significantly less stressful lifestyle than at our prior high pressure jobs, and the opportunity to spend more quality time together.”

 

When asked what advice they would give to others considering opening a business in Spain, they recommend, “Be patient and committed.” They said, “One cannot expect to open a business just for a summer, and turn a profit.” They also stated it is important to understand the demand for the type of business one is considering, and the required permits if starting from scratch. “It is also essential to have enough capital for start-up costs, slow periods, and unexpected expenses.” Sara said, “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know before we started how many businesses end up closing down.”

Now celebrating over six years of operation, AlteArte, is a favorite with local ex-pats, Spaniards, and international travelers. They feature monthly art exhibits by local artists; a book club for which Sara often arranges for the author to be present in person or remotely; live music; weekly Spanish-English language exchange (intercambio); movie nights, craft, drama and dance workshops, cooking competitions, and many more. Asked about her most cherished memory, Sara quickly reported it was when director Eugenio Mira, an Altean native, chose to premier his movie Grand Piano at AlteArte, and afterwards had a question and answer session.

Alluring Alicante: Top Stops

4 Apr
Alicante with Santa Barbara Castle on the hill

Alicante with Santa Barbara Castle on the hill

Living in the beautiful, low-cost Mediterranean area of Spain known as the Costa Blanca offers many advantages, not the least of which is the opportunity to travel to enticing, affordable historical and cultural places in the country. Since moving to the Costa Blanca, I have been enjoying nearby venues, all within about an hour’s drive. Almost everything in Alicante is centrally located, so no vehicle is needed once you arrive, although local trams are available if one wants to explore outlying areas.

 

The cosmopolitan area, now known as Alicante, has been inhabited over 7000 years, with periods of rule by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. One of the iconic sites visible from much of the city of Alicante is the hilltop Santa Bárbara Castle, which dates back to the period of Muslim rule starting in the 8th century. It was named for the saint day on which Castilian forces captured it on December 4, 1248. Over the centuries it endured many captures and bombardments, and was sometimes used as a prison. After a period of disuse, it was opened to the public. Entry is free, but there is a small fee to use the elevators to get to the top, or one can walk to the top. The panoramic view is spectacular.

 

Alicante Barrio

Alicante Barrio

Located near the Santa Bárbara Castle, is El Barrio, “the Old Quarter,” which features narrow pedestrian streets, with colorful homes and flowers, a photographer’s delight. There are numerous interesting historic buildings including St. Mary’s Church, built between the 14th to 16th centuries on top of a former mosque. Its ornate baroque façade and interior are a worthwhile stop. The Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) is a baroque building located behind the Explanada Park. Besides the beautiful architecture of the exterior, inside there are historic archeological remains, the famous “blue room,” a chapel, and cota cero, a reference point inside the building from where the height of sea levels throughout Spain can be measured.

 

El Barrio also has shops and stores featuring everything from handmade crafts to luxury brands. Leather manufacturing is a major industry in the Alicante area, so inexpensive quality leather products are widely available.

 

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Iconic Explanada

Alicante is well-known for its regional cuisine. There are many dining options, from informal to formal including traditional tapas to innovative gourmet tapas, paellas, fish and seafood, as well as other types of regional Spanish and international cuisines. For foodies, a visit to the Mercado Central will delight the senses with abundant displays of fresh and unique offerings. There are places to purchase prepared food in the market, and cafes just outside. Another area offering quality cuisine is in the marina area, which can be reached by taking a stroll down the Explanada de España, which is the palm-lined walkway along the Mediterranean. It is paved with six and a half million marble floor mosaic tiles laid in such a way as to create a wave-like appearance; many consider this one of the most beautiful beachside walkways in Spain.

 

Spaniards love friends, family, fun, and festivals. To that end, in both the Old Town and in the Marina areas, there are many inviting sidewalk cafes for socialization and rejuvenation during the day, and lively bars or discotheques where people party until the early morning hours.

 

Prices for a nice hotel typically start around 70€; an apartment or vacation rental may be even less expensive with two or more bedrooms, kitchenette, common living areas and laundry facilities; most beverages including wine, beer, water, and soda for around 2€; and menu del dias (two or three course special menu of the day for as low as 10€.)

Costa Blanca Spain: Quality European Living at Affordable Prices

10 May
Iconic View of Altea

Iconic View of Altea

The Costa Blanca area of Spain is often overlooked by North American as an ex-pat living option. While less familiar than the more well-known Costa Brava and Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca offers a more temperate climate. It is an area of approximately 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline in the province of Alicante. In the month of August, highs average around 84 degrees Fahrenheit and in January around 52 degrees, with total rain about 14 inches annually.

Besides the great weather, the area has many other inviting features. European culture with contemporary music, opera, symphony, ballet and other forms of dance, visual arts are widely available. There are many famed Spanish festivals here, including Easter week (Semana Santa), and Moros y Cristianos. Alicante is in the Valencian province, with Valencia being the third largest city in Spain, where there is the famed unique City of Arts and Sciences complex which houses museums of several sciences and the arts, Las Fallas (featuring elaborate paper mâché statues often with characters that reflect pop culture which are ultimately set aflame in their numerous neighborhoods) and the nearby La Tomatina (infamous tomato throwing festival.) Many Spanish are avid sports fans, as participants or spectators, particularly for soccer; bike, car and boat races, basketball, ocean activities and more.

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Typical street in Altea’s Casco Antiguo

Besides the many coastal communities, there are numerous charming inland towns in the hills, valleys and plains which have castles, ancient ruins, historic buildings, caves, and parks and other nature attractions. Many local words and names such as those beginning with “al” or “ben” are Moorish in origin. The influence of the occupation by the Moors from 718 AD to 1492 is still visible in the terraced hillsides, and numerous orange trees. Each town on the Costa Blanca has its own distinctive charm. Altea is considered the “cultural capital” of the Valencian region and is also known for its iconic hilltop church with shiny blue cupola and white tiles. Villajoyosa has distinctive differently brightly-colored seaside homes, which were intended to guide fishermen back to their specific abode. The provincial capital of Alicante is a sophisticated and historic city, with a stylish promenade area featuring cafes and upscale stores, a large marina and beach area, and the Santa Barbara Castle sitting atop the Mount Benacantil. Elche is home to a grove of about 200,000 palm trees, which have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Benidorm is a popular spot for people wanting a lot of activities, and is party central for many European vacationers. Its two beaches are consistently rated as among the best in the world.

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Sample of delectable (free) tapas served with beverage

The cost of living is surprisingly affordable given all that the area has to offer. For example, rents in Altea range from 325 to 350€ per month for a one-bedroom apartment or studio, and 400€ plus for a large three bedroom. In Elche one can find a 300€ three-bedroom apartment that is centrally located. The Costa Blanca offers ample apartments or homes for sale for under 100,000€, and some under 50,000€. Because of the unique characteristics of each town, it can be advantageous to stay in the widely available, affordable vacation rentals while test-driving a town or even a neighborhood. Several websites, which feature both real estate rentals and sales, can be accessed before visiting the area.

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Bounty of Local Crops at Farmer’s Market

Olives, olive oil, wine, local fruits and vegetable, and the bounty of the Mediterranean are diet staples, and, of course, Spain’s ubiquitous jamones (hams.) Food is generally inexpensive. Most towns have a weekly farmer’s market where there is dizzying display of colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables. At restaurants, in many towns, there is a menu del dia (typically a two or three course meal, with bread, beverage, dessert or coffee) at a nice beachside restaurant cost between 10 to 14 €, and less if one goes to places less upscale or frequented by locals. A glass of wine or small beer (“caña”) can be found for under 2€, which includes a tapa.

The area has many European ex-pats, including British, German, Norwegian and Dutch. That makes for a supply of English-speaking medical professionals. Medical treatment are good quality and prescriptions tend to be significantly less expensive than in the U.S.

Many people do not have cars, instead walking or riding a bike. There is good and inexpensive public transportation on the Costa Blanca, with clean timely buses, and a tram that runs from the northern most town of Denia to Alicante. In Alicante, one can access the national railway system including high-speed trains, and the modern and efficient airport, the sixth busiest in Spain. One person can comfortably live on 1000€ a month or two for 1500€, which includes rent, food, utilities, public transportation and entertainment.

Challenges and Affirmations on Moving to Spain

15 Apr
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View from my window of husband tying his wife’s shoe

Of course it rained today. As I said in an earlier post, since I no longer have a car on which to rain after I wash it, it seems like whenever I wash my laundry and hang it out to dry, it rains. On a positive note, the rain gives me a head start on cleaning the black window grates that adorn my windows. While cleaning them, I observed a husband lovingly tying his wife’s shoe.

The rain reminds me of a puzzling observation. Here in Altea (Spain), many of the newer sidewalks are mad of lovely, shiny white tiles, but when it rains, everyone walks in the streets because they are as slick as ice. When growing up in Nebraska, while it seemed everyone else would glide for fun along the icy sidewalks, I would walk with extreme caution yet was the only one who fell. So I am not taking any chances here.

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My now clean black ornamental window grate

The rain seemed to reflect my most recent mood in dealing with what I thought would be the simple task of paying for my cell phone/internet/television channels. Initially, I could not get service because I did not have a Spanish bank account, even though I had credit cards and a local residential residency card. The local “Movistar” representative spent several weeks trying to get me service. Just after the service was finally confirmed, the installers arrived within a two hours and very quickly and efficiently got all three services up and running. I didn’t get a bill for almost two months, and when I did, I went to the local Movistar office to pay the bill. I couldn’t pay there; I had to either pay at the bank (huge line) or the post office, yes, the post office. I successfully paid the first meager bill of 6.24 Euros, and was surprised at how easily it went at the post office.

Just afterwards, I started getting text and phone messages on my cell that service would be suspended if I did not make a payment of 30 some Euros. I had not received a bill, so I went to the Movistar office and was advised to go to the post office or bank to pay. Long story short, without a bill, I did not have the account number to pay it, as it seems that there are different account numbers for the cell and internet/tv. So today the whole of my day will be devoted to trying to find an account number for the latter. Frustrated, I realized there was nothing more that I could do today, especially given the approaching close of the banks and post office and the close of businesses for the three hour siesta.

I decided to head for a locals café for an inexpensive menu del dia, only 8 Euros, where they place a newly opened bottle of wine on your table from which one can drink as much as one wants. En route, I heard a man addressing me. When I turned around, he handed me the 55 Euros and prior Movistar bill, which had fallen out of my pocket, where I had stuffed it after leaving the bank in frustration. This act of kindness caused my mood to suddenly improve.

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Newly arrived National Geographic World map

Then, as I type this, I had a serendipitous delivery of the 125th National Geographic world map I ordered from Amazon in Spain. I admit I am a nerdy “cartophile.” All three of my adult sons are similarly disposed. Before ordering, I checked to make sure it was current by looking for the youngest country, South Sudan, on the map. This delivery and the anticipation of spending time with my new map has temporarily eased my bill paying distress. Living in Spain, it seems best to order from a Spanish company as I learned when I asked my son to add some condiments and spices to one of the two boxes I had shipped here from California. These were items that I have been unable to find where I live in Altea, like red chili flakes, Vietnamese fish sauce, tamari, etc. I thought it best to leave them sealed so as not to cause any suspicion about their contents, but that assumption ran afoul when I received a demand to provide a detailed list of the contents with a receipt for the value so they could tax me on the imported items. I did not have a receipt, so estimated the cost to be 2 to 3 Euros for about 15 to 20 items. I do not understand why, but I had to pay a total fee of over 50 Euros to get them to deliver my package, but almost two months since it was mailed, I have yet to see it.

U.S. taxes are due today. I have been unsuccessful at having my son forward my 1099s needed for filing my taxes, but found out that if living overseas, one is granted an automatic 60 day extension. I only hope I read that right.

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The sun comes out to shine on the iconic Altea church

However, these challenges and pleasures are all part and parcel of transitioning to a new country. They are lessons is patience, humility, and thankfulness. And the rain just stopped.

Food photos from Altea Spain

22 Mar
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Flowers at market

 

Spain is well-known for its culinary excellence, but perhaps less well understood is how regional the food is. For example, when we were in Toledo, the offerings included suckling lamb, suckling pig, quail, partridge which are available in that area. Here in Altea, located in the province of Valencian on the coast of the Mediterranean, the focus is naturally on fish, seafood and the bounty of local fruits and vegetables. There is a significant presence of typical French fare including baguettes, crepes, and pate, and Italian items including pasta and pizza. In this post, I will feature photos of some of the local products including from the weekly farmer’s market and local supermarket.

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More Food Porn from Altea Spain

15 Mar
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Sopa de puerros (leek soup)

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Paella con bandas (paella with calamari)

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Enselada de tomates (salad of tomatoes)

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Almejas marinera (clams mariner-style)

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Alcochofas a la parilla (grilled baby artichokes)

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Enselada de puerros con jamon (Leek salad with ham)

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Tripa en salsa (tripe in sauce)

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canonigos, huevos con queso y jamon (cononigos (round green leaf herb), eggs with cheese and ham). Also typical bread served with grated tomato with olive oil

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rabo de toro (oxtail)

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pan y alioli (bread with Spanish version of aioli which has no egg). Note the container for the alioli can also be used as an ashtray. More about that on my humorous look at rules for smoking in Spain to be posted soon.

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Chopitos (fried small baby calamari)

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lenguado meuniere (sole meuniere)

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Sole meuniere “after.” Don’t be afraid to tackle eating or cooking a whole fish!

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Flan (a rare time I ate dessert)

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It was a dark and stormy night…

 

Adventures in Dining in Altea Spain

13 Mar
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Tapa with egg and garnish 13 Mar ’15

“Pigs ears?” he asked in Spanish, apparently to be sure I knew what I was ordering when I pointed to one of the tapas trays. I admit I wasn’t 100 percent sure what they were when I ordered them, but every tapa I had ever eaten at beachside Fronton Playa in Altea (Spain) was spectacular. I grew up eating my fair share of offal, so I am game for trying just about anything. On this particular visit, I decided to order a couple of tapas, so I could get more than the typical small tapa bites. Along with the pig ears, I had some small breaded and fried octopus “pulpo” tentacles, which were tender, which is not always the case at many local eateries. The friendly owner reminds me of Danny Devito. On most visits, I order a “vino,” which is accompanied by a creative, tasty tapa, which is included in the inexpensive 1,50 €  IMG_0392

 

 

 

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Valentina in Casco Antiguo

 

Valentina is another of my favorite tapas places where I have had interesting food forays. Andrea and his family hail from Puglia (Italy), but have lived here in Spain for many years. Andrea’s girlfriend, who is the chef, makes creative and delectable food. On one occasion, a darling two-year old girl repeatedly chanted, “Caracoles,” as she waited for the small snails to be prepared and served. She ate them like a pro. On several occasions, Andrea has brought me a tapa that he would not serve to everyone. One memorable tapa was something with a texture similar to tofu but with a meaty taste, saying he knew I would eat it. When I inquired as to what it was, he smiled and replied coagulated chicken blood. My son, Robbie, an executive chef in at Belcampo, a well-reviewed restaurant in Los Angeles specializing in their own humanely and sustainably raised animals, asked me to find out how it was made. 20140522_201050On one of the occasions I ordered something from the menu I had “Milhojas de pulpo y gula del Norte,” octopus with baby eels.

 

 

Dining in Spain is almost always a great adventure. I am an avid fish and seafood lover, and there is seldom a day that goes by when I haven’t had several of the many creatures available in the local Mediterranean waters. I am constantly trying new items from the sea including things we may have one of in California, like calamari. Here the calamari are large rings, about the size of onion rings, and often cooked by breading and frying. I find them too tough. Then there are “chopitos,” whole baby calamari with ink sacks intact, which are best when fried with a light almost-panko like crispness. Sepia is a cousin of sorts of calamari, which is larger and thicker, and is often grilled and served with a green “marinera” sauce, mariner’s sauce, not to be confused with the Italian tomato sauce, “marinara.” I have found some foods to not be worth the effort involved in trying to eat them. After a recent intense Zumba class, I went to a local tapas bar, regularly patronized by cordial smoking, drinking “abuelas” (grandmas) and their grandbabies, (and I mean no disrespect but it is very different than when I lived in San Luis Obispo county, California, where they were the first place to outlaw indoor smoking or smoking near food service.) At the café, I was told the grill had been turned off, but the fryer was working, so I ordered “patatas bravas” (spicy fried potatoes, which are not spicy if someone eats habanero sauce like I do), and fried fish. Note to self: check the type of fish before ordering. They were sardines and other equally small fish, which with my knife skills, yielded few consumable morsels. And the incredible number and quality of bivalves! Almejas (clams), berberechos (smaller clam-like content, with a scallop taste), the itsy bitsy tellinas (too much work), razor clams, mussels, oysters, gooseneck barnacles, and more.IMG_0380

 

The grocery markets are filled with seemingly endless displays of fish and seafood: fresh, frozen, and canned (which are viewed as another great way to access seafood as opposed to American’s frequent opinions that canned food is of suspect quality.) For a foodie like me, the grocery and fresh food markets are intoxicating with their fresh and novel ingredients. As I was photographing the vast displays of fresh fish and seafood at a regular local grocery market, Mercadona, a female fishmonger admonished me from taking more photos. So here I will include a partial sample of the store’s offerings, and the selection of frozen and canned fish and seafood is even larger. (If you read Spanish and the words don’t look familiar, that is because the official language here in the Valenciana Community is “Valenciana,” but more about that surprise to me at another time.) If you look at the trays of fresh items from the sea, it is apparent that many home cooks are adept at using fresh whole fish and other types of seafood.IMG_0378

 

quaileggsI thought I hit the jackpot when I recently walked into a local market and found a beautiful dozen little quail eggs, for 0,90 €, less than the American equivalent of $1.00. On today’s cooking television shows, they showed how to make livers with “sangre” (blood) over a fire in the hearth, and “coda de cordero,” typical recipes from other parts of Spain. The food options here are inspirational, and I am eager for my two boxes of kitchen cooking supplies to arrive here from my former home in California. Those are the only things I had shipped here, (along with a few family and travel) mementos, which speaks to my priorities.

You can find my many restaurant, as well as other reviews, on Trip Advisor, as well as my map of the hundreds of places I have travelled.

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View walking home after tapas today