A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

In Spain: Dream Desserts

Why Aren't Spaniards Fat?

It’s astonishing how attractive people in Spain are and even more astonishing is the fact that they don’t weigh four hundred pounds each. If I lived there, I’d have a weight problem and I’d certainly develop angina from all the cholesterol I’d consume.

First and foremost, I’d consume pork products daily. Iberian jamon for breakfast, chorizo at least once a day, and I would have to have frequent, large samples of a wide variety of sausages. Moving on, for snacks I’d nibble on Spanish cheeses. I’d offset the cholesterol from the cheese with copious amounts of red wine. The vino tinto would cancel out the cheese because we all know how good red wine is for us, don’t we?
If all that didn’t kill me in a few months time, the desserts definitely would. First, can we talk about churros? Fried dough. Lots of it. On a plate and served with something akin to hot chocolate but it’s really more like thick chocolate pudding. The churro is dipped into the thick chocolate drink and devoured for breakfast or for a snack. That sound you just heard was me sighing with desire and unbuttoning my pants because even the thought of this gooey, wonderful mess makes my waist expand. Churros are made upon request and you can watch the entire process at almost any stand that sells them.
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Another popular and seductive treat is waffles. Waffles served with oozy, drizzly, thick chocolate and—if you’d like even more decadence---ice cream. Like I said, how do these people not explode? Irresistible!
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I’ve saved the best for last. The Spanish island of Mallorca in the Balearic Islands seems to be the only place in the world where a pastry called ensaimada is made. I was introduced to this unique taste treat on the PBS show “Spain…On the Road Again” with Mario Batali, Mark Bittman-the New York Times food critic, Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols. This series provides great armchair travel through Spain, its best sites and (even better!) its best foods and wines. Mario ferreted out the best ensaimada in all Mallorca. High on my priority list of places to go, its a bit of a challenge to find. Deep in the heart of Palma de Mallorca, a tiny hole-in-the wall place on a tiny side street contains one of the world’s seven wonders. In Ca’n Miguel you can find the lightest most amazing pastry I have ever tasted. Wound into a spiral and baked, this creation melts into your mouth and left me unable to speak. Cooked with no one knows how much pure lard (yes, lard) I would eat it twice a day if I could. The name apparently comes from the Arabic word saïm which means pork lard. You can get ensaimadas filled with cream or plain. Although the cream is delicious, it’s so good on its own that I prefer the plain. Large ensaimadas are the size of a pie and when you leave Mallorca you see people carrying them back to the mainland in pastry boxes handled as carefully as infants. They are every bit as precious.

Posted by teethetrav 11:02 Archived in Spain Tagged food Comments (0)

A Market to Die for: La Boqueria in Barcelona

A Mecca for Foodies

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La Rambla is a street where you can find anything. Stroll down this long boulevard cutting through the old city, the Barri Gotic, and you are instantly reminded of Paris. The lovely buildings with their wrought iron balconies are quite reminiscent of Paris. But the resemblance ends there and quickly. The Champs Elysees doesn’t host birds, turtles, street performers, or the famous Mercat de La Boqueria, the one market in the world where foodies must come before they die. Unlike like Mecca, once will not be enough.

From early in the morning throughout the entire day, the market is bustling with buyers. Wander in at seven or so and you will find the market filled with restaurateurs there to buy fish just pulled from the sea that will be on their menus and tables by evening. Wander up and down and ogle the gorgeous varieties that nearly leap off the tables; they look that fresh. Tables of snails, gambas, sardines, huge fish, small fish (I’m starting to sound like Dr. Suess; I know, I know).
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After you have gloried in the fish, it’s time for breakfast. Near the front of the market is the famous Bar Pinotxo where you can get strong coffee and a fresh, warm pastry. The owner Juan Bayen has been there forever. Look for the photos of him as a very young man. Watch him greet his regulars and put their order in front of them before they say a word. But get there early or you will find yourself six deep, waiting to get your order in. (See the picture!) Come later for lunch. Everything is delicious, but I especially loved the chickpeas served warm and cooked with sausage.
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Here in La Boqueria you can shop for ingredients to take home to cook Spanish dishes like paella. Buy some Spanish pimenton; smoky paprika that’s hard to find elsewhere and gives paella its crazy, delicious flavor. Buy sea salt and bomba rice, as well as Spanish saffron and you will be cooking happily for months to come.

There is a plethora of pork product stands and it’s hard to know from whom to buy. Try the old standby: watch and wait and see where the locals go, but it seems as though it’s hard to get bad jamon (ham) here. I purchased several kinds of Iberian jamon, sausage and chorizo and it was all so delicious, I was ready to run back to Barcelona as soon as it was gone. (Don’t ask how I got it home. That’s a story for another day.)

Cheese stands were also in abundance and the amazing Spanish cheeses did not disappoint. Manchego is the dry delicious cheese I selected to bring home. It goes perfectly with a smooth glass of Spanish red wine; vino tinto.

On the way out, make a stop at the chocolate stand. They hand you little plastic baggies and a scoop and you help yourself. I thought I had stocked up. By the time my plane landed in the US, my baggies were, sadly, empty.

I’ve made myself hungry. I’m off to have a glass of vino tinto and a piece of Manchego cheese. Adios!

Posted by teethetrav 12:38 Archived in Spain Tagged food Comments (1)

Antoni Gaudi: Architecture in Barcelona Part 2

What to do in Barcelona Besides Eat

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Gaudi’s most incredible achievement is his design for La Sagrada Familia, the church where he spent the last years of his life. It is still incomplete and the city hopes to have it finished within the next twenty-five years. No one hurries in Europe, but the money has dripped in slowly and is now coming solely from the fees to enter the church and from the tours.

Although there is an amazing amount to see on your own, I recommend taking the tour. The guide will explain why the façade of the building facing north looks like an entirely different building than the one facing south. Inside, the nave looks like a marble forest. Indeed, Gaudi was trying to make everything seem natural, holistic, and like it came from nature. Some, but not all, of the windows are complete. Gaudi’s love of light is so extreme that I had a difficult time taking photos because there was so much light inside.

A visit to the roof yields amazing views. A visit to the basement will allow you into the museum where you see a demonstration of how Gaudi invented a new concept in structural architecture. Instead of using the traditional flying buttress for support (like Notre Dame in Paris), he experimented with chains and weights to see how much arch would support how much weight before the entire thing would collapse. Once he had his dimensions, he flipped the whole concept upside down and made it in concrete, marble and magic. I’m sure there is a better explanation from physical science and engineering, but you get the idea.

The entire cathedral is magical. The complexity of the façade depicting the Nativity is worthy of hours of staring. The Passion façade on the opposite side of the building is, by contrast, stark and certainly doesn’t glamorize the suffering of Christ. There are just so many details to absorb. I’m still pondering the numerology puzzle that adds up to 33 any way you try it.

More than paintings, sculpture, and traditional art, I think architecture is not simply aesthetic, but a lifestyle. Gaudi defined Barcelona, its people, and its lifestyle. I don’t see how you can visit the city and not spend some time learning about him and appreciating all he left behind.
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Posted by teethetrav 11:18 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Antoni Gaudi: Architecture in Barcelona Part 1

Tim Burton Meets Hansel and Gretel Meets Walt Disney

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The Spanish have quite a sense of whimsy and humor. Think Salvador Dali and his melting watches,and the car outside his museum where it rains inside the car. You have not seen Barcelona unless you have visited Antoni Gaudi’s Guell Park, several of his buildings, and ultimately the fascinating (and still incomplete) La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral he designed.

Briefly, the Guell Park was sponsored by Gaudi’s frequent patron Eusebi Guell. Imagine Tim Burton meeting Hansel and Gretel and you get a glimmer of what this park is like. Originally, the design was to be a planned community. Sitting at the top of a hill overlooking Barcelona and the Mediterranean, the view is spectacular. Bring a lunch or buy one at the cafe and sit on the curvilinear bench which surrounds the park. It’s made of Gaudi’s signature tiny, colorful mosaics. There are sea themes throughout the park; another one of his trademarks. Still another is his willingness to forgo corners. He uses no straight lines.

My favorite building to visit is Casa Batllo, although many disagree. His Casa Mila is more well-known and some say a better design. I don’t think so. The best view of Casa Batllo is from across the street. The facade is completely made of wrought iron and mosaics that glitter and change throughout the day as the pieces catch the different lights and shadows. That view is free. But pay the small fee and take the tour to go inside. The rooftop alone is worth the price of admission. Walt Disney must have visited here and been inspired. There is a dragon’s back made of sparking tile and ceramics. There is a ceramic cross that shines and glints in the sun. Chimneys are made of more ceramics and tiny colored pieces form abstracts that seem to dance in the light.

Inside, sea themes predominate, as do archways, parabolas, and curves, curves, curves. It’s an easy walk from here to Casa Mila. They are both worth seeing.
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Posted by teethetrav 12:28 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Dreaming of Deia

Muse in Mallorca

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The village of Deia is a postcard pretty town. Set in the hillside on the island of Mallorca, the town is a stone vision that looks much as it must have looked a hundred years ago. The homes are charming with gorgeous flowering vines, palm trees, stone patios, and hanging pots with flowers spilling over. A walk through the village is like a walk back through time. You can hear almost nothing except for birds chirping, the clang of a bell dangling from the neck of a stray goat, and an occasional (but rare) car driving up the mountain. When the morning fog lifts from the mountain and the mist disappears, the sun casts shadows on the ever-changing terrain. You can look down to the sparkling deep crystal blue of the Mediterranean. I loved pretending I lived in Deia. I fantasized about writing every day on my patio, surrounded by all this beauty and silence. My muse was with me there.
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Posted by teethetrav 08:49 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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