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Souperchef Anna Travels | Take Me To Spain

By Souperchef Anna on

A snapshot of our journey through Spain across the different regions.

A snapshot of our journey through Spain across the different regions. Every region has their memories linked around a particular dish, ingredient or preparation that runs in the family and passed down through generations.

 

Hola! This series documents my travels and the inspirations and the stories behind the creation of the healthy innovative soup souperinspirations for TssTakeMeToSpain campaign.

Indeed, I feel very blessed to be able to travel to many parts of the world and experience the different cultures and foods. As it has been commonly cited, the way to the heart is said to be the stomach but the heart may find far more than food, appealing to emotions and the mind too. I have wanted to visit Spain for the longest time, and do a series on my journeys in Spain. Today, Spanish foods is gaining popularity worldwide and also in Singapore, thanks to the masterchefs who have put Spain on the gastronomy map. For some reason, Spanish soups though integral in the Spanish food culture and truly a centre stage for many home cooked comfort meals with recipes passed down through generations, it is often an after thought and never a souperstar in restaurants.  With our travels, we aim to bring this very soul from Spain to our kitchen to your table. This is the start of a series of blog posts documenting our travels across Spain in search for inspirations for these healthy comfort soups.

I have fallen in love with Spain and have left a part of me with her. What is there not to love? The beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees, the picturesque coastline of the Bay of Biscay, exciting cities such as Barcelona full of amazing architecture by the one and only Antoni Gaudi and most importantly the lovely people, the rugged flavours of Spanish foods and the blessings of great weather.

I am not attempting to give a history lesson, that we can ask Google, but I do feel necessary to dwell a little into how Spain became what it is today, the multi faceted influences from the many people who came, conquered or settled in these lands in the course of history leaving their mark. As a gateway from North Africa to the Mediterranean, Spain was where the passage of foods can be traced. The Greeks and the Romans introduced the Mediterranean trilogy of bread, wine and olive oil. Then came the Moors-Arabs from North Africa that introduced citrus fruits, rice, sugar cane and spices from the India. With the discovery of the Americas by Columbus in the 1400s, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, peppers and exotic chocolate were integrated into Spanish cuisine and adopted as its own.

Before this trip, I admit that my knowledge of Spain’s cuisine was limited to El Bulli, molecular gastronomy hub, paella, gazpacho, Iberico jamon and Sangria. How ignorant I was! A country with 17 regions, all faithful to their traditions, just visiting 4 regions, I am only scratching her surface. But for now, that will be have be.

We spent 15 days travelling through Spain. Landing in Barcelona, we headed towards:

Basque country :San Sebastian (2), Bilbao(3), experiencing pintxos

Castile: Burgos (4), learning about The Way of St.James and eating Morcillas de Burgos (Burgos most famous blood sausages)

Aragon : Huesca (1), Zaragoza (5), cooking healthy comfort Spanish inspired meals

Catalunya:

Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, cava capital of the world

Barcelona (My bucket list) 6) (Barcelona Comfort Eats 6), a tick off my bucket list of places of interest and comfort eats

Corca, L’escala, Figueres, Girona (7) where we stayed with great people at Casa Matilda, learning tips on Catalan cooking

French Perpignan (8), eating crepes and buckwheat galettes

 Andorra (9), the towering Pyrenees and snow for the kids

With 2 young kids in tow, we took our time driving and exploring these regions, made pit stops at places to eat including having lunch at Can Roca (owned by the father of the famous Rocas brothers), levitate outside the Guggenheim Museum, did the pintxos crawl  and snowball fighting in the Pyrenees. We were privileged  to stay at some of the places that we can cook, hence there are a series of recipes developed which are my versions and interpretation of some of the Spanish dishes that I have savoured. I am souper stoked to be able to share the Spanish  soups souperinspirations  developed from our travels.

From Spain with love, to our kitchen to you! Buen Provecho!

 

Happy moments in Spain

Happy moments in Spain

 

Muchos gracias! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explore and tell her story! Let the journey begin!

Basque Country | Pintxos crawl

Kids all ready for their foodie adventure

Kids all ready for their foodie adventure

 

We love red eye flights and we love road trips! Weird it may seem, but it is the most optimised. On arriving Barcelona early in the morning, we took the car, and headed straight on the road towards San Sebastian. Holidays are bonding time together as a family with the kiddos. We always discover little things about our children, their little nuances and their changing habits too. We get to learn songs they have learnt in school and games they play with each other. This is something we are thankful and would cherish these precious time we have with them.

Our first pit stop was to buy gorgeous red cherries from a farm-stand on the roadside. 3.5 euros per kg was a real bargain! They were really sweet too.

 

Souper happy Isabella with her cherries

Souper happy Isabella with her cherries. This big box for 3.5!


Huesca, Aragon , Spain

Towering mountains of Murillo de Gallego and white waters for rafting and canoeing


Rolling hills of Aragon country

Acres and acres of rolling hills as far as the eye could see framed with the Pyrenees in the background. Picturesque!

 

San Sebastian

It was onwards journey to San Sebastian travelling through mountain ranges engulfed by clouds. We had another 250km to cover. We passed acres and acres of farmlands, slowly making our way to the coastal city. San Sebastian or Donostia as it is known in Basque language, lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, only 20km from the French border. It has a medieval old town nearest the sea with an expansive sandy beach shaped like a shell hence its name, Playa de La Concha. It is one the top 10 beaches in Europe and has been given the nickname the Monte Carlo of Spain. In the summer months, San Sebastian becomes the most expensive city in Spain when droves of French tourist descend.  Inspired by French nouvelle cuisine, San Sebastian has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. Iconic restaurants with Michelin stars are perhaps not my cup of tea especially with 2 kiddos in tow.

Is there a difference between pintxos and tapas? Technically no! Depends on which part of Spain you come from. Pintxos is basque language for tapas which is a pinch of food. So most of the time, it is used interchangeably.  In San Sebastian, excellent food and souperb quality pintxos  (Basque for tapas) are available all over the city particularly in the old town, La Parte Vieja. Although the roots of tapas are in Andalucia, many will agree that it is San Sebastian that has perfected it.

 

San Sebastian, Spain

In La Parte Vieja (the old town), there were really a lot of people. This was at 8pm and you can see how bright the sky was!

 

We got into town at 8pm with 2 sleepy kids in tow. It was Saturday and there seems to be a celebration going on with lots of singing and dancing so the streets were packed with people. The hope of doing the pintxos bar crawl became really slim as there was no way we could squeeze into most of the bars that were on my to eat list! We did however managed to get a table outside at La Cuchara de San Telmo, coincidentally the most famous and busiest of pintxo bars serving made to order modern creative dishes.

 

La Cuchara de San Telmo (Calle 31 de Agosto, 28, San Sebastian)

We shared a couple of small plates and a table with an American mother and daughter on holiday. These small plates are actually appetizers or first course sizes. Hence prices were double that when standing at the bar. The food here was really good, on hindsight, indeed a cut above most places we went in Spain. The portions for appetizers were huge as below. No wonder the queues here are so long and practically impossible to even squeeze in. Service was really prompt and one of the waiters could speak English. Phew! The food was priced very reasonably for the quality that we were getting. Highly recommended. Our only gripe was we were too full and would have loved to try all more dishes.

 

La Cuchara de San Telmo

There was no way we could have squeezed ourselves in especially with the kids.


My favourite for the night: roasted confit of cod with tzatziki.

My favourite for the night: roasted confit of cod with tzatziki. Beautifully executed although perhaps a little salty but when eaten with bread it was perfect, The cod confit was exactly how it should be, flaky, tender with a crisp skin. The tzatziki on fish was an awesome pairing. 9 euros


Roasted pumpkin rositto with sautted cuttlefish and basil oil ( pesto).

Roasted pumpkin risotto with sauteed cuttlefish and basil oil (pesto). I must say I find this soupy rice dish very interesting. The rice was unlike that of risotto, the grains were still pretty firm and had this bite to it, almost felt like eating orzo pasta. Now to come to think about it, maybe this was labelled wrongly! Loved the flavours of pumpkin with the cuttlefish. The basil oil however made everything a little oily and salty but generally I loved this dish. 7 euros


Salamanca suckling pig slow roasted with beer, creamy mash potato and lemongrass.

Salamanca suckling pig slow roasted with beer, creamy mash potato and lemongrass. This was an interesting combination. Another dish well done. The pork was crispy and there was the hint of lemongrass in the mash that made it not boring and the flavours all came together nicely.  10 euros


Pan fried Montford foie gras with honey, mustard and orange peel

Heart-stopping good Montford foie gras pan fried with honey, mustard and orange peel. The combination of the honey with mustard in contrast with the crispy exterior and the melt in your mouth texture was just awesome. For a moment, guilt can wait. 10 euros


Veal cheeks stewed in red wine with chickpea hummus

Veal cheeks stewed in red wine and chickpea hummus has to be the the bomb. Isabella’ favourite for the night. The meat was really tender, it practically melted away! 8 euros. This was a steal!

 

San Sebastian at night

La Concha, San Sebastian

The waters in the bay at the La Concha was so calm. It was just so beautiful out here


Along La Concha beach at night

La Concha beach at night. There are many hotels along the beach. Most of them are pretty expensive and I could imagine in the peak summer months, they would be full occupancy .

 

Zabala Kafeak (can’t seem to find the address for now, suppose Google or yelp should be able to help)

While San Sebastian residents were still having a sleep in on Sunday, we had a walk around Parte Vieja (Old Town) and finally stopping for breakfast outside this cafe that had a really long queue. I suppose if there is a queue, it could only mean 2 things, souper good food or souper slow and inefficient. It turned out this place makes souper yummy pastries and has 2 souper efficient staff, making tomato bread, taking customers’ orders, making coffee, collecting money and clearing tables!

 

Pastries at Zabala Kafeak

Yummy pastries at Zabala Kafeak with 2 souper hard working ladies behind the counter! They have donuts small and large. Interestingly, the Spanish eats soft buns that are sweet and filled with some sort of custard.


Breakfast at Zabala Kafeak

Our scrumptious breakfast. The kids could not wait to dig in. Everything was really fresh. Chocolate and custard are the fillings for everything here. Almonds being the 2nd most grown crop after oranges is widely used in confectionary and all kinds of sweet stuff. With a freshly squeezed orange juice and a cafe con leche, the breakfast costed us 6.7 euros.

 

We walked around a bit, spent some time lazing around the beach area which was perfect when on holiday. The beach was starting to get crowded by the hour with more and more beach goers coming out to enjoy the sun. But I believe it is not officially tourist season yet.

 

La Concha beach, San Sebastian

San Sebastian reminded me of Positano in Italy, the place where we would board the ferry or catemaran to Capri island. But this was prettier in my opinion as the beach here has pristine white sands and clear blue sheltered waters.


La Concha, San Sebastian

Indeed a lovely day to be out on the beach. An interesting fact: the night before, when we were having a stroll back to our car, the whole sandy beach was submerged in sea water. Practically, the water came right up to the promenade. But when the tide subsided, one can see the shell shape beach really clearly.

Pintxos Crawl (a must!)

Jamon Iberico at a pintxos bar

The Jamon Iberico usually seen hanging from the ceiling in whole leg portions is ubiquitous, and equally good virtually everywhere. (Bar Le Cepa)

 

The way to eat pintxos (tapas in the Basque Country pronounced as pinchos) in San Sebastian is quite different from other cities in Spain. These small savoury canapes are presented in a myriad of colours, forms, and flavour combinations, laid out in giant platters and spread along the bar counters. Twice a day, hundreds of folks will pour into the streets for a traditional pintxos crawl. The trick is to take one or two, have a beer or wine and then move on to the next bar, tasting, drinking and socialising. There are two kinds of tapas: cold and hot ones. Typically, each bar will specialise in one or two pintxos . Each pintxo cost about 2 to 4 euros. A word of caution as I have read on Google, don’t attempt to eat every good looking pintxo at each location, the cost would stack up pretty quickly. Every bar would offer a delicious spread of pintxos to tempt you!

I had some research done as to how the crawl works and how to order before embarking on one. It can be quite intimidating to go into a bar and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish except Hola and Gracias!  It is a very trusting system and the bartenders have a souperb memory. You are given a plate, pick your pintxos and order your drink. A glass of wine ranges from 1.5 euros to 3 euros. Cold ones are displayed on the bar. Hot ones must be ordered from the barman and it is either cooked to order or with heated up using the microwave!  There is always a hot tapas menu hanging from the wall. Not being able to speak Spanish, no worries! We just pointed to the bar man when we see something we like coming out of the kitchen and he will get it ordered for us! Food is the universal language, totally agree!

 

Inside a pintxos bar

The hot stuff is usually ordered by pointing to the chalkboard hanging on the wall. Most people just hang around the bar. Pretty casual setting. Photo taken at Taberna Gandrias. This place if you notice in the background, has wine dispensing machines.

 

When you are done eating your tapas and have finished your drink you would ask the barman for the bill, and you have to tell him what you have eaten. It is very important to be honest, and not abuse this long history of tradition. Traditionally, residents would have one or two pintxos in the early evening to stave off any hunger before a later sit-down meal, rather than making a meal out of a large number of pintxos. Wine options I am really not too sure. They don’t really have a wine list. Typically, you just have to tell the barman whether you prefer red or white or sangria or beer. Spanish wines are all pretty decent, so no worries about having something you cannot stomach.

In Spain, everyone eats really late. Lunch starts at anytime after 1pm and most people would have their lunch at 2pm. So a word of advice, is to get in early at say 12 pm and start the pintxos crawl and by the time the crowd starts coming in, lunch is ticked off the list for the day. This was exactly what we did in San Sebastian.

Most of the pintxos bars are to be found in the old town particularly along the street Calle 31 de Agosto between Bar La Vina and A Fuego Nero. We had the opportunity to visit 3 pintxos bar. We were just too greedy and too hungry and broke the rule at the first bar we visited.

Taberna Gandarias

Situated along Called 31 de Agosto, this jatetxea was our first stop. Specialising in Iberian hams and meats as well as other more traditional style pintxos, we tried a few of their cold and hot pintxos and we ordered the txakoli (pronounced chak-o-lee) – a slightly sparkling dry Basque white wine. The wine bottle is held from a height, creating an impressive two foot stream into a tall glass. This helps to aerate the wine, creating more bubbles. We could not capture a picture as the bar was getting busy and he was too efficient.

 

Taberna Gandarias, San Sebastian

Taberna Gandarias. It was such a contrast from the night before as it was not crowded yet.


A sample of pintxos

The pintxos here are definitely good looking and well presented. They have all the usual suspects with the seafood items but the ones we picked out, felt the most special. All served on really fresh baguette slices. Top: Tempura style cod fish with padron (green pepper), caramelised onions with smoked duck slice and berry and finally morcillas (black pudding with rice) with pimento and a sunny side quail egg.


Hot pintxos

This was from the hot selection from the wall. We ordered this when we saw someone having it and just pointed it to the barman. Freshly grilled squid on a skewer with squid ink.


Pintxo de solomillo

On the plate: grilled sirloin steak with green pepper and seas salt. Actually, we wanted to order the steak on skewers but due to communication breakdown we got this instead. Still good!

Bar Le Cepa

We then moved on to Bar Le Cepa (Calle 31 de Agosto). From online blogs, i have read that their hongos a la plancha (grilled mushrooms) is supposedly the house special, made with meaty grilled wild mushrooms, sea salt and topped with egg yolk. Unfortunately, it was sold out !

Bar La Cepa

The counter at Bar La Cepa is filled with cold pintxos at the front. As you can see, this being at only 12 30 pm, there really was not many customers.


Patatas fritas con huevos fritos with jamon

Patatas fritas con huevos fritos with jamon . We ordered this for the kids. Isabella is a big fan of jamon. The egg was fried lovely in olive oil.


Cold pintxos at Bar Le Cepa

We were good at this place. Only took 1 cold pintxos each! Bar Le Cepa. We were given a big plate each and we were free to choose any pintxos that were at the bar counter. I just showed it to the lady what I ordered, and with a wave of the hand, she sent me off to sit down. They certainly do have an amazing memory.

 

Bar La Vina

Our final pitstop was at Bar La Vina. This has to be tops  in my list of favourite places. Nothing fanciful, just really traditional pintxos. They are renowned for their Tarte de Queso or cheesecake so it was indeed a nice finish to our pintxos crawl ending with dessert.  But we could not help ourselves and ordered a few other pintxos too!

 

Bar La Vina

The evening before, it was not possible to even get near the door. But it was still early so it was good for us to be able to enjoy the food they served, seated!


Counter at Bar La Vina

Jamon hanging overhead the bar. This place looks like it has not been updated for a while. There are really old pictures on the wall, accolades for the bar. The kitchen can be seen from the bar and that is a good sign that they make their food here. A common equipment at most bars is the meat or ham slicer. The rattan basket on the left is to fill baguettes, freshly made from a nearby bakery. I had the opportunity to witness the baker deliver the fresh baguettes in big paper bags. Our barman was really friendly. As usual, this is based on a trust system, we dont pay until we are finished with our meal. Loving it here.


Pulpo (octopus) marinated in olive oil

Pulpo a la gallega: A Galician octopus dish: This has to be one of my favourite pintxos. The octopus was really tender.


Kids being models for food at San Sebastian

Isabella and Eli wanted to be models for the food. It was great that kiddos are getting the hang of no eating until photos are taken LOL! This was a pretty candid shot and really lovely.


Tortilla patatas

Tortilla patatas or Tortilla Espanyol  is one of the most common pintxos. It can be found at every bar. Essentially it is a frittata or egg omelette. The trick to making this is that the eggs have to be still pretty soft inside, almost mushy. I have read that there should not be too much browning of the potatoes or the eggs. It has to be golden brown colour.


Paella

Well, how can we come Spain and not eat paella? This was good but a little salty.


Pimento asado

Marinated grilled red peppers. These were really good. I never knew they can be so sweet. This is a pretty common pintxos eaten with the baguette. Sometimes it is also combined with anchovies, fish or meat as cold pintxos with baguette.


Tarte de Queso

Tarte de Queso or cheesecake. The house speciality. This is Andrew’s favourite and the highlight of our San Sebastian pintxos crawl! IT was creamy, light and most importantly not overpoweringly sweet. Could not agree more. Do not be fooled by its non descript slightly charred exterior! This is one of the best cheesecakes I have eaten!


Wall filled with Tarte de Queso

This is a testament that their cheesecake is really popular. Freshly made by the ladies in the open kitchen, they are letting it cool. I really wish I can have a slice now!

 

Bilbao

Still in Basque country, 100km from San Sebastian, is Bilbao. It is the heart of an exciting and cultured metropolis with a population of 1 million. The city is situated in the area of Bizkaia and is surrounded by a fertile landscape with forests, mountains, beaches and steep coasts. It is the centre of the economic-social development and the main factor of the modernisation of the Bay of Biscay. But not too long ago, it was an industrial hub with major port activities and shipbuilding. However in 1980s, with terrorism, labour demands, arrival of cheap labour from abroad, overcrowding in slums, the city was in a devastating industrial crisis. With some right moves and investments into great architecture and infrastructure projects such as the iconic Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, the city has rejuvenated and today it is a major European art centre. Bravo!

 

View of The Old Town, Bilboa

The banks of Ria de Bilbao overlooking the Old Town of Bilbao (Casco Viejo)

 

Guggenheim Museum

Opened in September 1997, Bilbao’s shimmering titanium Museo Guggenheim is one of the iconic buildings of modern architecture and it has thrusted Bilbao out of depression and firmly into a major tourist and artistic centre.

 

Guggenheim Museum

Gehry designed the museum inspired by Bilbao’s history in shipbuilding and fishing, hence the titanium tiles that sheathe the building is said to be giant scales of fish. This also reflects his childhood fascination with fish.


Spider at Gugghenheim Museum

A sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, a skeletal canopy representing a spider, entitled Maman, said to symbolise a protective embrace.

 

Jeff Koons’ kitsch whimsy Puppy, a 12m-tall Highland terrier made up of thousands of begonias was supposed to be a part of some world tour but the residents were too fond to give him up. Apparently, the residents of Bilbao have called the museum the kennel for El Poop. LOL.

 

Guggenheim Museum

Kids being silly and doing levitation in front of the Guggenheim Museum and in from of El Poop, a 12m tall Highland Terrier made up with begonias. A supposedly passing attraction of a world tour, has now become a resident favourite!


Playground right outside the Guggenheim museum

It was Sunday late afternoon when we got into town. The kids enjoyed a little fun at the playground right outside the Museum. Real nice to sit around the park that has an adjoining bar and cafe.


Wall art on one side of the Ria de Bilbao, opposite the Guggenheim museum

Amazing Wall Mural! This is huge. Just for porportion, the cars were tiny in comparison. This was underneath the La Salve Bridge opposite the Guggenheim Museum. I tried to google for the artist and the story behind it but to no avail. It is definitely interesting to find all these street art scattered around town.

 

It was nice stroll in the evening along the banks of the River Nervion, next to the Guggenheim museum. Bilbao is pedestrian friendly and small enough that a visitor can cover most of it on foot in a day. We wandered the streets of the Old Town in search for dinner.

 

Bakery in Bilbao

We were captivated by this display of breads and sweets. Really clever use of drawers to face the full length glass.


Statue of Lady of Begona

The Spanish people are mainly Roman Catholics. Here in the Old Town, is the Statue of Our Lady of Begona, Patron Saint of Biscay. In this statue, Blessed Mother seated in an armless chair wearing a crown, and holding the Child Jesus on her knees, with a red rose in her right hand. Christ is giving a blessing with his right hand and holds and open book in his left.

Amarena Bilbao Restaurant

 

This was not the best place we ate in our Spain trip. But it had lovely interiors, in a really old building and the walls I suppose would have been a few hundred years old. Most of us eating were tourists.

 

A lot of places were not opened, and after walking for a long time, we settled for this.

A lot of places were not opened, and after walking for a long time, we settled for this.

 

Once, I saw the menu, I knew what I wanted. Definitely to try some soupy food! Sopa de pescado was an obvious choice for me. Everything from this restaurant was just ok, but I suppose being near the coast, they have amazingly fresh seafood.  This soup we had left such a mark on me, that while I was having this, the whole time I was thinking how I can I bring this taste back and how can I make it slightly different. And thus the souperinspiration Sopa de Pescado my version (spicy!) was created for The Soup Spoon #tsstakemetospain series.

 

Sopa de pescado

Sopa de pescado, a Basque style seafood soup. This I thoroughly enjoyed as the flavours were robust and the seafood was really fresh. It taste better than it look, I assure you.

 

Some of the dishes we ordered, we did not enjoy as much. I believe we still have to be open and to try foods from different cultures. It could also be bad translation of the menu that caused some misinterpretation. Just a disclaimer, these are purely my opinions and how I am shaped to like certain food preparations more. The foods may be traditionally prepared with lots of love but it may not be my food love language.

 

Crab stuffed piquillo peppers over a creamy prawn and leek soup

The menu reads: Crab stuffed piquillo peppers over a creamy prawn and leek soup. But i don’t get it. It said that it has a prawn and leek soup but what came was a sauce. Stuffed piquillo is a very traditional and well loved Basque pintxo. I suppose this is something that I really did not enjoy. The crab inside was like a soft mushy steamed cake with no texture. It certainly did not remind me that it was crab meat.


Bacalao a la vizcaina aka Biscayan Cod

Bacalao a la viscaina. Another very traditional Basque food. When I was doing my research on this, I found out that it was supposedly made with dried cod that had been soaked for 24 hours. It was a pretty generous size of  fish given. To be honest, we did not really like it, as we felt the sauce was overwhelming and we were expecting the fish skin to pan fried till crispy like the one we had at San Sebastian. The cod fish felt like it had been poached and it was just “gelat” (Sg for overwhelmingly rich). After doing some research, I realised that this is the the Biscay way of cooking dried cod and the skin cannot be fried or burnt. I can only say this was not our cup of tea.


Entrecot de ternera con salsa de pimenta verde patatas panaderas

Sirloin steak with green pepper sauce and baked potatoes. We ordered this for the kids. Huge portion. It was ok but not memorable. In Basque country with its expansive inland grasslands, meat is very commonly featured. I think it will be very difficult to be  a vegetarian though.


Paella de arroz bomba con bogavante

Bomba rice paella with clawed lobster and crayfish. This was ok but not the best that I had before.

 

Overall, the food here was ok, but nothing that would make me come back again. Sometimes with kids, when everyone is really tired, we just make choices for food based on availability and I think we were not the only one with that dilemma that evening. Most of us had walked till the end of the Old Town, and there was nothing much that was really opened and we did not really want to eat pizza so this seemed like a good choice. The food was pretty expensive compared to some of the other places we ate, spending a total of 76 euros for 4 of us.

This concludes our travels in Basque country. Would definitely love to go back to San Sebastian and actually spend a couple of days exploring and just relax on the beach and let the kids play in the waters, enjoy the yummy pintxos and that cheesecake from Bar La Vina!

We travelled inland to Burgos in the region of Castile.

Burgos | Way of St.James

Our travels took us from Bilbao inland into Burgos Way of St.James. We can’t help but feel in awe when we saw huge amount of land dedicated to the growing of wheat extending as far as the eye could see. Castile-Leon with its vast expanse of land is greeted by bitterly cold winters and blazing hot summers. With her lands being conquered by the Jews and the Arabs and reconquered by the Christians in the 11th century, brought about an integrated cuisine featuring elements of all three cuisines. The Castilian landscape is dominated by sheep hence lamb is a preferred choice of meat here cooked using simple methods and good ingredients.

Burgos is the capital of the unified kingdom of Castile-Leon and it still preserves important vestiges of its medieval splendor. It was a major stop for pilgrims using the Way of St.James on their way to Santiago de Compostela and a centre of trade between the Bay of Biscay and the south.  It has many historic landmarks, of particular importance; the Cathedral of Burgos, a masterpiece of Spanish Gothic architecture (declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984), Las Huelgas Reales Monastery and Miraflores Charterhouse.

We met a friend, David, who hosted us to lunch in one of the restaurants in Plaza del Rey San Fernando. We were greeted by the splendour of the gothic themed Cathedral of Burgos, an outstanding and elegant piece of  architecture, and it is the only one in Spain which, for its cathedral building alone, has received the UNESCO World Heritage designation. We were told that  the cathedral took a whopping 400 years to be completed. It was an expensive project to undertake and the nearby villagers although poor and had nothing to eat were still forced to build the cathedral, hence the project was stalled many times and over extensive periods too.  Finally in 1567, it was completed and it represents a  comprehensive example of the evolution of Gothic style, with the entire history of Gothic art exhibited in its superb architecture and unique collection of art, including paintings, choir stalls, reredos, tombs, and stained-glass windows. Although predominantly Gothic, the cathedral also displayed other artistic styles after being inspired by the Italian Renaissance due to the length of its construction.  Beneath it lies the remains of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as “El Cid Campeador”the famous Castillian son, and his wife, Doña Jimena.

 

Gothic Cathedral of Burgos

The extraordinary Gothic cathedral of Burgos is one of Spain’s glittering jewels of religious architecture and looms large over the city’s skyline. Construction on Burgos’ Gothic Cathedral began in 1221 and spanned mainly from the 13th to 15th centuries.The west front is flanked by towers terminating in octagonal spires covered with open stonework traceries. The façade possessed ornate and fantastic surface decoration.  In the lower portion, coats of arms, shields, and crouching lions have been worked into the ensemble. The exterior is decorated with carved traceries, figures of angels and armoured knights.


Plaza del Rey San Fernando

This square lies in front of the majestic cathedral and has numerous restaurants and cafes. L’arruzz was where we had lunch.

 

L’arruzz Restaurante

We had a wonderful lunch and being a gracious host, David wanted us to try different foods of Spain. With enthusiasm, he explained the Castillian cuisine and how different it was from Basque. Needless to say, we over ordered again!

 

Gazpacho

Gazpacho: Served in many restaurants during summer, David told us that he would make it at home too. David works as a microbiologist and food scientist and has a keen sense of smell and taste. He felt this was not too good as it did not seem too fresh and the tomatoes had started to turn sour.


Morcillas de Burgos

Blood sausages stuffed with arroz, the most famous of all Morcillas de Burgos which means blood sausages from Burgos. These babies were sliced and deep fried. This were absolutely yummilicious. You can’t really taste the blood, it just looks black. It taste a little like deep fried Chinese rice dumpling.


Pan con tomate with jamon Iberico bellota

We were given a demonstration of how to enjoy the jamon. Typically, it comes with crusty bread with slices of juicy ripe tomatoes, The trick is to squeeze the pulp and rub into the bread and putting the jamon slices on the top. The jamon sits on my  tongue as the yellow ribbon of acorn-rich fat began dissolve into savoury bliss.

 

The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests called dehesas along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as jamón ibérico de Montanera. The exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavour of the meat and the ham is cured for 36 months.
The next grade is called jamón ibérico de recebo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain. This is followed by Jamón ibérico cebo de campo. This ham is from pigs that are free range but fed on a diet of grains only. The last type is called jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs reared in pens that are fed only grains. The ham is cured for 24 months.

David explained that the highly prized bellota variety, must be of the black Iberian pig variety or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% Ibérico. They would feed on acorns or the bellota, which fall from oak and cork trees in the dehesas from early October to early March. These pigs need to run around all day in the woods, for their muscles to develop and for the ham to taste the way it does. The acorns are high in fat, a large percentage of which is unsaturated oleic fatty acid, and eating them is what makes the pigs’ fat so soft and creamy, on the verge of melting at room temperature. Acorns also contribute to the ham’s nutty flavour and aroma, as essential to the product as the meat itself. Of all commercially raised Iberico pigs, only 5% are both pure breed and acorn-fed. They need to reach a body weight of 160kg before they can be slaughtered.

From start to finish, the ham-making process is simple: grant good pigs the freedom to be good pigs, let them feast on the land, then cure their flesh with little more than salt and air. Having said this, the process of curing and aging can be an arduous  but important one. The meat becomes dryer, and cools off as the second winter commences. The special aspect of Ibérico is that it can go through this cycle two or three times. The result is a build up of complex, volatile molecules in the ham that transform it from a piece of pork into an orchestra of flavors. With the Bellota hams, the most miraculous transformation is of the fats. Through this period of heating and cooling, salting and drying, the fats are broken down. Because of the antioxidants in the acorns and the unique curing process, the saturated fats are changed into healthy mono-unsaturated fats high in oleic acid similar to that of olive oil. Jamon Iberico should never be sliced by machine but instead always by hand to paper thin slices.

 

Jamon Iberico Bellota

Acorn-fed jamon Iberico is intensely sweet. It’s floral, earthy, and nutty like good Parmesan, with fat so soft it melts right in your mouth. The acorns from the encina oaks are rich in oleic acid, the same chemical which can be found in olives. The flavour finds its way into the fat of the animal, so much so that the locals refer to Iberian pigs as “olives with legs”. The taste lingers like a bottle of fine wine. An essential part of the flavor and mouth-feel was the way the fat melted away, releasing flavours that told the story of the noble Ibérico swine, of the dehesa forest pasture, of the years of careful curing, and of the countryside of Spain itself.

 

This was a great paella! Thus far, we have eaten the seafood version and now a chicken and vegetable version and it had inspired me to make my own version but it cannot be exactly labelled as paella as I cooked it in a baking tray ! LOL! But it was just as good. (Link to recipe to follow)

 

Paella with chicken and vegetables

This was a good paella, a very good one. We had to wait a while as it was made to order and most importantly not salty.  The kids really enjoyed this more than the seafood variety. Seasonal vegetables like asparagus are added here. Made using good quality arroz and saffron, this dish is definitely comfort food. What I have learnt is that a paella can only be called a paella, if it was cooked in this special pan. If not, it is just arroz.


Assortment of desserts

David gave feedback to the waitress on the quality of the gazpacho and look what we got in return! A bigger than normal dessert platter with ice cream, brownie and the more traditional creme brulee like puddings. Way too much for 3 adults and 2 kids.

 

Camino de Santiago (Way of the St.James)

While we were having our lunch, we saw many sunburnt men and women with walking sticks.  David told us they were pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago also known as Way of St. James or Route of Santiago de Compostela.  Burgos receives many of these visitors in a year as it sits on the principal crossroad of northern Spain along this special route with many starting points across Europe particularly France through the Pyrenees and into Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with Rome and Jerusalem. There are dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled and this was also the reason how trade flourished. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The route is also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey. Many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”. The way of identifying the pilgrims was that everyone had this scallop shell hanging on their backpacks and commonly seen along the trails. Wearing a shell denotes that one is a traveler on the Camino de Santiago. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the beginning of their journey and either attach it to them by sewing it onto their clothes or wearing it around their neck or by simply keeping it in their backpack. The shell is seen on posts and signs along the Camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way.

Today, many hikers walk the route for other reasons, a great way to explore hiking trails and biking for sports and leisure. We were told that there is a special stamp card created and as one passes by the important checkpoint, you will get a stamp. For this pilgrimmage, one can take as long as you like, and there is no sequence that you need to follow. There are plenty of rest places in churches and hostels that used to house the pilgrims for a night with food and water for a small fee. We would definitely come back to embark on this spiritual trail in the future. Besides spiritual cleansing, I think this is one of the best ways to see a country, walking and cycling at one’s own pace.

 

Cyclists taking a break on the Camine de Santiago

A common sight here in Burgos, men and women either on bikes or with walking sticks on the pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela, a traditional form of spiritual path or retreat for spiritual growth. According to Codex Calixtinus, a 12th century manuscript, the pilgrim route was designed to be narrow. For the road which leads to life is narrow; on the other hand, the road which leads to death is broad and spacious. The pilgrim route is designed for cleansing away vices, the pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent. It leads to the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward will a blessing, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens.

 

Burgos is a filled with pretty streetscapes that extend beyond the landmark cathedral. We spent the day exploring the historic quarter and her sombre grey stone architecture and statues.

 

A day in Burgos city

These were one of the many sculptures seen in Burgos city


A day in Burgos city

A common sight in Burgos, cobbled stone pathways, not open to traffic. This is the historic part of Burgos leading from the Cathedral.


Bronze statue of a naked pilgrim outside the Burgos cathedral

This statue depicts a weary naked man who was on The Way of St.James taking a rest outside the cathedral. He was said to have leprosy. But the kids thought it was cool to sit on his lap!


A grocer store selling morcillas de Burgos

Commonly seen in the city, there are many stores such as this ones selling morcillas de burgos, cheeses, rice and jamon of course. Wished I could buy all of the stuff home!


Arco de Santa María, the medieval entrance at the city was built in the 14th century.

Arco de Santa María, the medieval entrance at the city was built in the 14th century.


Zaftig statues

The kids had fun posting with the statues in the city. It would have benefited everyone more, if there had more descriptions on the statues and its origins. I googled online and found that these are  zaftig statues depicting a woman along side her equally rotund man. Possibly pilgrims from Basque country.


The green corridor created along the River Arlanzon

Most of the parks in the city of Burgos can be found along the river Arlanzón. The banks of the river itself constitute a green corridor along the city. In total, there are nearly 3 square miles (1,878 acres) of parks in Burgos and one tree for every 3 inhabitants. The kiddos really had fun walking along its banks spotting baby ducks trailing their mamas.

 

We travelled to Zaragoza entering Aragon country the next day.

Sant Sadurni | Cava Capital of the World

Our first stop in Catalunya was to Sant Sadurni cava capital of the world. Cava is a sparkling Catalan wine made by adding sugar and yeast to Penedès wine which is then stored in traditional bottles to produce a second fermentation.  It is a municipality in the comarca of the Alt Penedès in Catalonia, Spain at the confluence of the Avernó river and the Anoia river. This region boasts picturesque countryside flanked with acres and acres of land dedicated to wine growing.

From Zaragoza, we travelled for another 3 hours by car to the region of Catalunya. Catalunya or Catalonia is a country within a country, with its own language, complex history and is steeped in traditions probably closer to France than to other regions of Spain such as Aragon and Castile. Although relatively small in size, it has Spain’s business brains and earns one fifth of the national income. Catalonia packs a lot into its four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The stunning cove beaches of the Costa Brava make it one of Spain’s loveliest coasts, backed by the top foodie scene, the Jewish history of the medieval city of Girona, and Salvador Dalí’s gloriously surreal ‘theatre-museum’ in Figueres. Head north and one can encounter the majestic Pyrenees rising to a mighty 3000m peaks from a series of stunning valleys crisscrossed with numerous hiking trails. Indeed, plenty going on here!

 

Sant Sadurni d' Anoia

The streets of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia closed to traffic. On the surface, the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia is rather non-descript. Most of the town sits on a hill above the Laverno River. It has a small square with bars and a couple of shops. But this is the capital of Cava country. Every other building seemingly houses a cava producer.


Oak barrels in Sant Sadurni

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is named as the capital of Cava and a walk in town one will see many cava shops offering free wine tasting . These oak barrels sit proudly in town as a testament to its cava producing history. It is a pretty area with lovely architecture surrounded by over 80 wineries!


Sant Sadurni d'Anoia

95% of all Cava is produced in this region due to the unique combination of soil and sun from the Mediterranean weather.

 

Codorniu Estate

One particularly famous Cava is Codorniu which is internationally renowned and if you would like to take a tour remember to book in advance. 1872 was the year when Josep Raventos Fatjo uncorked his first bottle of wine made by the methode champenoise where the wine is fermented and matured in bottles. This is however not a new method as the French Benedictine monks developed this process in the 17th century. Why was it called cava? Cava means cellar. After the discovery, Josep dug a cool cellar (cava) and had the sparkling wine stored in these cellars. His cava proved popular and soon he was supplying to the royal family in Madrid. As a result, many wineries came into play producing cava using various techniques. To differentiate those made using the traditional method and the better quality sparkling wines, the label Champan de Cava (Cellar Champagne) was introduced. However, the label was dropped when Spain joined the European Union and France requested for the ban of the term for obvious reasons. Today, it is simply known as Cava.

 

Sala Puig, Codorniu Estate

Sala Puig, The Cathedral of Cava. The building housing the winery and cellars for aging are described as modernist and were designed by the modernist architect and artist Josep Puig i Cadafalch and was completed in 1915. The bodega was declared a national monument in 1976. The wine is stored in nearly 30km of galleried cellars beneath the buildings of the winery making Codorniu, the largest bodega in the world. We were there past 5pm, so technically the place would have been closed. However, that evening, they were hosting some corporate guests hence we were allowed in as well to walk around a little and out of good gesture, we were even invited to join the tour. As it was not in English, we declined. So we just hung out a little in the hall and the lawns.


Cordoniu Estate, Sant Sadurni d' Anoia

Inside Sala Puig, Codorníu Cava Bar where one can taste wines and cavas .The Cava Bar is located in the Sala Puig, built by the architect Puig i Cadafalch. It is a jewel of Catalan Modernism, and it was declared a Historic and Artistic Heritage in 1976.


Anna, Cordoniu Estate

My name is Anna! There is a series of cava with my name on it. Anna de Codorníu’s origins date back to the 16th century, with the story of a family of winegrowers headed by Jaume Codorníu According to a document from that period we know that the family owned grape presses, barrels and kegs for winemaking as early as 1551. In 1659, Anna, the heiress got married to Miquel Raventos combining two great dynasties of wine makers. In 1983, the first chardonay sparkling wine was born and it was christianed Anna de Cordoniu, a tribute to the heiress of the dynasty and the last person to bear the Codorniu’s surname. Since then, there had been many new introductions into the Anna repertoire with the most recent, customise your own Anna bottle. I truly loved the packaging and all. A bottle costs about 7 euros, affordable by most standards. I bought 2 bottles back.

 

Taps de Suro (Pl. Ayuntamiento, 7, 08770 Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, Spain)

We headed back to town and had dinner at a restaurant run by chef Marc Subirats Casado. We were truly impressed by the quality of his food and he would come up and explain the menu to us, making sure everything was running well and overall good unpretentious comfort food. Reviews were mixed on TripAdvisor but we certainly enjoyed the food especially the kids.

 

Taps de Suro

The front of the restaurant, Taps de Suro in Sant Sadurnia d’ Anoia.


The interior of Taps de Suro

Nice, warmly litted restaurant. They had the wine corks stringed together and had used them as a decoration. Pretty smart idea, don’t put the corks to waste, reuse them for another purpose.


Fillet of beef served with grilled peppers and potato

Fillet of beef served with grilled peppers and potato. One of the dishes we had. Others we ordered which were all really good were the chicken wings with lemon, salt and pepper, Pork ribs with soy and honey, which was really really good, falling off meats from bone is always a sign that the meat has been well cooked.


Cheesecake at Taps de Suro

This was really enjoyable, light cheesecake and not too rich.

 

Next stop: Barcelona,  the land of modernist architecture, home of Gaudi and gastronomy.

Barcelona | Bucket list | Where to go?

From Sant Sadurni d’ Anoia, we proceeded to Barcelona. Blessed with warm weather more than six months a year, flanked by the ocean and the Pyrenees, great nightlife and culture, dozens of parks, good museums, and a very cosmopolitan population,  Barcelona is a true metropolis. This timeless Mediterranean city is also one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with many flocking the city to visit Gaudi’s works, eat not so traditional paella and sip expensive sangria.

We spent 5 days in Barcelona. We took our time to explore the city by bus, foot and subway. A great way to explore the city is to take the hop on and hop off tourist bus on a 2 day pass. It gives a really good overview of what Barcelona has to offer and with the audio guide, there was a short presentation of the places of interest and their significance as we rode past. I thought I would just highlight a few that we visited since this is not exactly a full travel blog.

Barcelona is filled with the works of Antoni Gaudi.  Antoni Gaudi was born in 1882 in Catalonia. He was born of humble roots and his father was a coppersmith. Gaudi showed interest in architecture early on and went to Barcelona to study. It took him eight years to graduate. It was 1878 when Catalan architect and director at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura. Elies Rogent, singled out Antoni Gaudi at graduation declaring, “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius – time will tell” And in response, Gaudi with his ironical sense of humour reportedly told his friend. “Llorenc, they’re saying I’m an architect now”.

Gaudí’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. Gaudí considered every detail of his creations and integrated into his architecture the crafts of ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as trencadís which used waste ceramic pieces. Under the influence of neo-Gothic art and Oriental techniques, Gaudí became part of the Modernista movement which was reaching its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His work transcended mainstream Modernisme, culminating in an organic style inspired by natural forms. Gaudí rarely drew detailed plans of his works, instead preferring to create them as three-dimensional scale models. This was the reason why it was not easy to duplicate his works after he died. Between 1984 and 2005, seven of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

 

Basilica of The Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s most important work and the symbol of Barcelona to the world. In 1883, the architect started to work on this project. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete his work when he was knocked down by a tram while on his morning walk and died shortly in the hospital for the poor . This is one building that is forever under construction! Seen here is : the passion facade that was recently built. The three entries of the facade are “dedicated to the three Christian virtues.” The columns are bone-like and the figures are very sad which adds even more drama to the scene than Gaudi had planned. It was Josep Maria Subirachs that sculpted this, capturing Gaudi’s ideas of the facade in a modern way. Construction on Sagrada Família is not supported by any government or official church sources. Private patrons funded the initial stages. Money from tickets purchased by tourists is now used to pay for the work. Private donations are also accepted through the Friends of the Sagrada Família.


Casa Mila La Pedreda

Casa Mila: Built between 1906-1912 by Gaudi, it is today an important cultural centre of Modernist influence run by the Fundacio Caixa Catalunya. It is popularly known as La Pedrera (meaning the ‘The Quarry’). It was his last civil work built between the years 1906 and 1910. It was commissioned in 1906 by businessman Pere Milà i Camps and his wife Roser Segimon i Artells. At the time, it was controversial because of the undulating stone facade and twisting wrought iron balconies and windows designed by Josep Maria Jujol. Architecturally, it is considered structurally innovative, with a self-supporting stone front and columns, and floors free of load bearing walls. Also innovative is the underground garage. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Currently, it is the headquarters of the Fundació-Catalunya La Pedrera, which manages the exhibitions, activities and public visits at Casa Mila.


Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo: The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a visceral, skeletal organic quality. Between 1904-1906, Gaudi remodelled the home of the industrialist Josep Batllo. Like everything Gaudí designed, it is only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense. The ground floor, in particular, has unusual tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. There are few straight lines, and much of the façade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís). The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia) which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

 

One notable Unesco World Heritage site highly recommended for visiting would be Park Guell. It is filled with architectural fantasies and being situated on Carmel Hill, in the Garcia district, it offers a great view of Barcelona city and the bay area.

 

Park Guell

Park Guell is a public park although it was originally designed as a residential development along the lines of the English garden cities. However, this was a failed project as it was concepted during World War 1. Only 2 houses have been built as show houses. Gaudi himself lived in the house that is today a museum dedicated to him


Park Guell

Park Guell


Park Guell

Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander, popularly known as “el drac” (the dragon), at the main entrance


Park Guell

The columns inside the Hypostle Room. The ceiling is formed of small domes built using the traditional Catalan vault technique of brick-built timbrel vault. The ornamental soffits on the ceilings  are made from trencardis (tile shards).


Park Guell

Roadways around the park to service the intended houses were designed by Gaudí as structures jutting out from the steep hillside. As can be seen, there are separate footpaths in arcades formed under these structures. Gaudí designed them using local stone integrating them closely into the landscape. His structures always echo natural forms, with tree trunk like columns.


Park Guell

Park Guell: The unique shape of the serpentine bench enables the people sitting on it to converse privately, although the square is large.


Park Guell

Trencadis (broken ceramics) pieced together as a design, signature Gaudi work.

 

 

Anella Olimpica

The Olympic Park includes all the sports facilities built for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Seen here, is the Torre Telefonica. The Anella Olímpica (Olympic Park) is located in the hill of Montjuïc, Barcelona. The major facilities consist of the Olympic Stadium, or Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, the Palau Sant Jordi sports hall, the telecommunications tower designed by Santiago Calatrava, the National Physical Education Institute (INEFC) and the Picornell swimming pools. The Joan Antoni Samarach Olympic and Sports Museum is also located in the Olympic Ring. The main promenade is located uphill, midway to the militar castle. The complex includes the main baseball field opposite the swimming pools.


Park Guell

The view from Park Guell of Barcelona city with La Sagardia and the district of Montjuic extending to the bay can be seen.


Barcelona Trade Fair

Barcelona Trade Fair as seen from atop Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The square seen here is Placa Espanya and the Magic fountain in the centre is the works of Carles Buigas in 1929, a fanciful piece that combines light, music and rhythm of the water. At the top right, it is the Arenas de Barcelona, once a major neo-Mudejar style bullring but has since been converted into a shopping complex.


Parc Joan Miro

The sculpture by Joan Miro: Woman and Bird. There used to be slaughterhouse here but it has been since been converted to a park, a first example in the city of reusing an obsolete urban facility to something attractive.


Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

The National Palace, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1929, is the home of the most important museum in Catalonia featuring exhibits that trace the history of art from Romanesque through to modern times.


Mercat de Santa Caterina

Mercat de Santa Caterina: This is a local market rehabilitated with a bold mulitcolor roof that reminds of a still life of flowers and fruits.


Camp Nou: FC Barcelona

Camp Nou: The grounds of the football club is a must visit for fans of FC Barcelona. It is one of the largest football stadiums in Europe. There is also a museum for those who would want to know more about the history of F.C.Barcelona. The week we were in Barcelona was just after F.C.Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champion’s League. As such, there were many flocking to the stadium to buy souvenirs and of course the football jersey.


Ramblar de Mar

Port Vell. This area houses MareMagnum, an architectural complex filled with shops, restaurants. It is probably the only place licenced to open on Sundays in Barcelona. The Aquarium is also situated here, one of the largest in Europe containing important collection of Mediterranean species. This area houses the Maritime Museum in a Gothic building, the only medieval shipyard preserved in Europe.


Cigala

Avant garde artwork: Cigala by Javier Mariscal can be found along Moll de La Fusta which used to be warehouses for wood in the Port Vell area before Barcelonata beach.


Monument to Columbus

Monument to Columbus: This huge structure is flanked by lions as seen here. Hugely popular for photo taking, this monument pays homage to Christopher Columbus who discovered the Americas.


El Born

Walking in the El Born area, where streets are filled with shops, bars, art galleries, museums and churches. We spent quite a fair bit of time exploring the enclave of narrow streets.  It was just nice to kinda walk and get a little lost.

Barcelona | Bucket list | Comfort eats

Barcelona bucket list of comfort eats

On the spectrum of food, Barcelona will go down in the history of high cuisine thanks to universally-known chef, Ferran Adria, propelling Barcelona at the forefront of of gastronomic revolution. However, Barcelona goes back much further. As the capital of Catalunya, it was an important centre for Catalan medieval cuisine in the Middle Ages. Due to its strategic location as an important goods port in the Mediterranean, Barcelona had always been cosmopolitan and open. It was the city of counts bringing together the counts of Barcelona and the monarchs of Aragon, hence it is a mixture of all these cuisines that influenced it to be what it is today. The result, a rich traditional heritage.

I did some research of where we should go eat and understand in depth the role of soups in this region to gather inspirations but 5 days was really not enough to eat through the list I made up. Moreover, some of these places were difficult to find, too far apart and some were really crowded and not suitable for kids. For us, we tried our best to find the places recommended, but at the end of the day, we just enjoyed walking around, lingering in a delicatessen shop with products fit for the most demanding gourmets, enjoy many drinks before settling down for a meal in a restaurant. Walking around a neighbourhood, gave us the opportunity to visit the grocery stores, the bakeries, the local art scene and that non descript statue in the park. Not the most productive if all we wanted was to eat our way around the best places in Barcelona. But it gave us the opportunity to stumble upon many great finds too that turned out to be memorable experiences for us. Here, I would take the opportunity to highlight some of the food places we visited which are worthy of a second visit.

 

Mercat de La Boqueria (La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain)

The Mercat de Sant Josep commonly known as the La Boqueria,  is perhaps Barcelona’s foremost tourist landmark situated along the stretch of La Rambla. Manuel Vazquez Montalban defined La Boqueria as the “Cathedral of Senses”. The current market was built in 1840 in its current location although the earliest mention of the market was in 1217. Today, it is a bustling market filled with tourists from day to night. There is probably nothing you cannot get here, from freshly squeezed juices, to light bite of tapas, a cone of freshly shaved jamon, a sit down freshly cooked to order seafood meal by the bar, to the cornucopia of well displayed fruits, vegetables, hams, meat and spices. Some would say this is a tourist trap, but it is definitely highly recommended for a visit as it does showcase the best produce from around Barcelona. It is enough just to be aroused by the smells, flavours and noises when one visits.

 

La Boqueria Market entrance

The Boqueria Market, as it is known today, has been through many phases of life. The first mention was in 1217. The origin of the market was that of a travelling open-air market, placed in the Ramblas of Barcelona. In Catalonia, towns and cities have been founded around markets and the same rings true for La Boqueria. It was founded in front of one of the gates of the old city wall (Pla de la Boqueria) where fruit and vegetable traders from local towns and farms near by would sell their products. The spaces inside the city at that time were too small to establish a big market of the current Boqueria kind and it was necessary to set them outside the walls.


A tapas bar in La Boqueria

A common sight of tourists enjoying the tapas sitting by the bar.Tapa glorious tapa! Look at the amazing array found at just one taperia!


Freshly squeezed juices and fruits

Another common sight with many fruit stalls offering freshly squeezed juices at 1 euro and cut fruit cups for 2euros.


Carving of the jamon

Another popular item sold at the market is the Jamon. Originating from different places, different types of feed, vacuum packed into different packaging to allow tourists to bring them home. There is something for everyone.


Seafood purveyor in the La Boqueria market

It is amazing with the meat market and the seafood market and the vegetable market all situated together, there was hardly any smell when we stepped into the market. How do they do it? After all, it was summer and even in an airconditioned place like a supermarket, seafood and meat would always make their presence known.


Spices sold at La Boqueria Market

The exotic co-exist with the locally grown produce. Saffron, paprika, chillies, all can be found here. I am not too sure about the prices here, but it does seem a little more expensive than in a supermarket but I suppose the quality should be better here.


Plump tomatoes at La Boqueria Market

Amazing displays of colourful fruits and vegetables. Visual merchandising is serious business here. Everyone takes a lot of pride in creating a visual feast for shoppers. The Catalonians have a lot of pride and everything is deliberately placed to tickle our senses.

 

Pinotxo (pronounced as Pinocchio) (La Rambla, 91, 08002 Barcelona)

Near the front entrance of La Boqueria market is Bar Pinotxo. It is the most famous of all the eateries inside the marketplace and has since become an institution serving traditional Catalan cuisine for more than 50 years. It only has a bar counter and 14 seats and most of the time, it is constantly buzzing and there is rarely an empty seat during its operation hours from 6am to 3pm.

 

Bar Pinotxo at La Boqueria market

We were really lucky that the morning we were there, the place was surprisingly not crowded and we seized the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a meal


Joan Bayen of Pinotxo

The familiar picture of Juanita Bayen commonly known as Pinocchio, dressed in his characteristic waistcoat and bowtie and his signature thumbs up, has gone all around the world. He is the owner of iconic bar and is always quietly taking orders and recommending hungry tourists what to eat.

There’s no printed menu here. Everything is prepared depending on what’s fresh and seasonal. Juanita spoke little English but we we were still able to communicate asking us was there anything we did not eat and was quick to give us a recommendation. At times, we just pointed at what other people were having.

Squid with haricot beans

This is one of the recommended dishes by everyone online, so we had to have it. Baby squid or chipirones . Bathed in a warm sauce of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the beans and squid were a perfect combination.


Carne stew

Beef stew with peas and potatoes. The beef was really tender and the tomato based gravy was good.


xuxos de la crema

Highly recommended is the xuxos de la crema . This was Elijah’s favourite. He had 2 himself!!! Xuxos is a Catalan pastry, made from viennoiserie pastry that is filled with crema catalana, deep-fried and then rolled in sugar. We had a few cafe con leche made by skillful Juanita too. He is a real smooth operator behind the bar counter.

 

Tast a la Rambla (La Rambla section called Rambla de Santa Mònica from Centre d’Art Santa Monica to Columbus Monument)

We were just strolling along Barcelona’s famous Rambla Street and stumbled upon all these food kiosks that seemed to be manned by some real pro looking men in white. We were souper stoked when we realised that this was Tast a la Rambla, a gastronomic explosion of the best restaurants and gastrobars coming together whether it was traditional cuisine or new world Spain modern interpretation. This is a yearly event in June and we were real fortunate to be in Barcelona to experience it.  It is similar to Singapore’s Savour, which showcases restaurant food by top chefs in Barcelona in tapas size portions at reduced prices. The only difference is this is not an exclusive event that one needs to buy tickets to get in. We just had to buy tasting tickets that entitled us to choose 4 tapas dishes for 16 euros. This year there were altogether 47 stalls with at least 15 of them were with Michelin stars. How cool is that? It saved us the trouble to locate all of them separately!

The weather was great and  they had all these lawn chairs and low tables for us to sit and enjoy our food. We bought 16 euros worth of tickets and I thought it was quite a steal considering if we were to go have tapas at a bar, it would have costed us 2 to 4 euros per tapa anyway. It will be odd to travel to each of this restaurant separately and only eat one dish. This was indeed convenient for us to explore and try their foods.

 

Tast a la rambla

Tast a la Rambla happening at the the section of Barcelona’s famous Rambla street called Rambla de Santa Mònica which is from the Centre d’Art Santa Monica to Columbus Monument nearest the port. Indeed we feel souper stoked to be able to attend this world class restaurant food festival in June 2015. Many of Barcelona’s top chefs offered samples of their best cuisines. This picture was taken about 11 am. Tourists are getting curious and everyone was probably trying to figure out what was going on.


A beautiful day in Barcelona. Kids playing their favourite snakes and ladders. It was really nice that they could do this right in the heart of the city. Something perhaps the Singapore organisers of Savour should consider?

A beautiful day in Barcelona. Kids playing their favourite snakes and ladders. It was really nice that they could do this right in the heart of the city. Something perhaps the Singapore organisers of Savour should consider?


Basilico Gastrobar

Basílico Gastrobar 100% beef meatball sauce, fricassee with Saint Georges ‘mushrooms in black bread and crispy onions.


Fresh baguette from Triticum at Tast a la Rambla

Butikfarra: Fresh baguette from Triticum filled with Duroc sausage with bacon, mushrooms and crispy onion. The crispy onions was a nice touch to the baguette. Essentially, Butikfarra is a high end gourmet hotdog place using the freshest ingredients.


Iberico Jamon croquettes

Mont bar: Corn fed Iberico Jamon croquettes, made fresh to order. These were really yummy. It practically melts in your mouth and this was Elijah’s favourite. Gooey in the centre filled with bits of jamon.


berican pork with rice and prawns

Cala Nuri: This was my favourite tapas of the 4. The flavours were really well balanced and the rice was cooked perfectly. Only later, I did a google and found out this place had been around for a really long time. It was started by a couple, and now the business is run by their son. A true rice dish in Spain is where the ingredients take second stage. The rice and its flavors are the most important.

 

Cuines Santa Caterina (Mercado de Santa Caterina, Avinguda de Francesc Cambó, 16, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)

Cuines Santa Caterina is located in the Santa Caterina’s market – renovated by top architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue.  Cuines means kitchens in Catalan. Cuines with a S because this restaurant offers foods from 4 different types of kitchens: Of the World (Asian), Mediterranean, Charcoal Oven (Italian) and Vegetarian. Their motto is market food to share.

We chanced upon this restaurant while walking in the Barri Gothic area. I recognised it as I have seen this restaurant’s interior being featured in design magazines. This place seems very popular with locals and tourists alike.

We were told by the wait staff that  the people sitting outside were having tapas menu. The inside seating was strictly for restaurant food and no cross ordering allowed. There were some unhappy guests but I understand why this was so. The price difference between tapas and a dish was almost double for most and some even triple. It just would not make economic sense to have the average spend at 10 euros per pax.

We opted to sit in the restaurant . We loved the interior decoration which reminded me of Scandinavian interior design by its simplicity of the materials made of wood, stone. There were even ficus trees planted in between rows of communal tables and  an entire wall composed of shelves stacked with bottles of wine, olive oil, vinegars and flours.

 

Cuines Santa Caterina

The outdoor seating is very popular with the locals and tourists. We were however warned that there have been plenty of snatch thieves targeting their customers.


Cuines Santa Caterina

The interior of the restaurant. The foods are made in the open kitchens flanking the dining area

 

Food wise, we loved it. The way the menu was designed. It is being sectioned into categories such as vegetables, fish/shellfish, pasta, rice dishes to name a few. On the other axis, it is being sectioned according to the different cuisines offered. You can choose a wild salmon tartar, a cantonese fried rice followed by a creme catalana for dessert. They do have a huge selection of food items including thai chicken curry, california rolls and mushroom stuffed ravioli.

This place also has a reputation of rude and unfriendly staff from reviews on TripAdvisor. Coming from the same industry, I do empathise. In my opinion, the place is just too busy. The highly productive staff were very efficient in taking orders, serving the food, clearing the tables and seating guests. With the kind of volume, there just wasn’t much time to engage in small talk or be extra attentive to customers waving their hands for something. Generally, customers would perceive such behaviour as rude and snobbish. One thing we do notice is that tipping is not a norm and typically most places don’t even levy service charge. So perhaps this may be a precursor of the less than ideal service standards in Spain. Generally the prices were reasonable and the quality of food was good.

 

Steamed mussels at Cuines Santa Caterina

Good fresh mussels steamed in its juices with garlic, bay leaves and rosemary.  Price: 11 euros


Roasted chicken Mediteranean style

The roasted chicken was served with popped corn and sprinkled rosemary leaves. Just a simple well executed dish. The popped corn was an interesting addition to the chicken dish giving it extra crunch. Price: 13 euros

 

We went back a second time for an early lunch on a Sunday afternoon, but this time for the tapas menu. Prices ranged from 4.5 euros to about 10 euros. Menu items included the usual suspects like patatas bravas, anchoas and the not so commonly seen shrimp tempura, and thai chicken curry with prawns. This is actually quite smart, repeating items from their restaurant menu and selling them at tapas portion size.  The place was significantly less crowded and what a beautiful sunny day to sit outdoors. We were warned however to take good care of our belongings as there had been too many incidences of snatch theft.

 

Tapas at Cuines Santa Caterina

Clockwise from right: Cod fritters, fried artichokes, grilled vegetables and pimentos de padron. My favourite has to be the pimentos. It was surprisingly not hot and pretty sweet to taste. The grilled vegetables was very good and at 5.4 euros, it was definitely very worth it.


Clockwise from the right: Mini fillet of pork and foie gras, gazpacho, breaded calamari. The gazpacho was ordered from the main menu of the restaurant as they did not have it in the tapas size. This was perhaps the most dissapointing dish we had as it was priced at 9.8 euros. The pork fillet was only 6.2 euros and was far more better value.

Clockwise from the right: Mini fillet of pork and foie gras, gazpacho, breaded calamari.
The gazpacho was ordered from the main menu of the restaurant. This was perhaps the most dissapointing dish we had as it was priced at 9.8 euros. Apparently, on one of the days, they have a tapas size at 2 euros!!! The pork fillet was only 6.2 euros and was far more better value.

 

Pasteleria La Colmena (Placa de l’Angel 12, 08002 Barcelona, Spain)

While walking in the Barri Gothic area, we stumbled upon La Colmena Pasteleria and was immediately taken by its quaint shopfront. We saw plenty of people walking out with these beautifully piped meringue looking desserts and decided to check it out. Google informed us that this was one of the oldest patisserie in Barcelona dating back to 1864. Time seemed to have stood still and everything looked pretty old school giving it an air of antiquity. I could imagine in its hey days, families stopping by in their Sunday best, after mass service at the nearby cathedrals to give their kids a sweet treat, a reward for being obedient children during the week.

 

Pasteleria La Colmena

La Colmena is one of the oldest patisseries in Barcelona, established in 1864. Isabella and me intrigued by the wide array of biscuits  and pastries in the shop front window trying to decide which one we should have. I just loved how old school everything was from the display counters to the tin boxes used for the biscuits.


La Colmena

Traditional pastries sold here at La Colmena. We were contemplating whether we should get this creme filled flaky pastry.


Pasteleria La Colmena

Our final choice was the lemon meringue, piped high into a cupcake tray. It tasted very much like a pavlova in texture and lightness. The whole cone was meringue. There was no biscuit base. The core was pillowy soft. My only gripe was that it was just way too sweet for my liking. Isabella thought it was really interesting, something that looked exactly like soft serve ice cream on a cone, yet it was more like marshmallow.

 

Churrería El Trébol (Carrer de Còrsega, 341,08037 Barcelona, Spain)

Many would say how could one visit Spain and not eat churros. Churros is a fried dough pastry something like a Spanish version of doughnut or our local Singapore dough fritters, often served with a cup of thick hot chocolate to dip the goodness in. I have never really been very much of a fan as most of the ones I have eaten were either rock hard or just too doughy.

We stumbled across this place after a long walk from Parc Guell to La Pepita. (*by now most of you would have noticed that we have a knack of stumbling on great places to eat! LOL! This is what happens when we just keep walking and walking. Great way to explore any city) Unfortunately, it was Sunday and they were closed. Kids were getting tired and hungry. Papa kept telling the kiddos we were reaching and it ended up to be a 1.5 hours walk. We saw these lovely thick churros in the display and we just could not resist. They were really good. I must say the best I ever had! The churros were thick and crunchy, crispy and at the same time it had the softest interior. They were lightly coated in sugar and cinnamon upon request. These were best eaten dipped into their signature hot chocolate. It was so good, that we went back to get some more a couple of days later.

The place was non-descript and small, with just a small counter filled with churros, a long bar table with high stools and a small kitchen at the back.  Little would I know that this place is actually Barcelona’s oldest churreria launched in 1950. They have various kinds of churros from custard filled ones to chocolate coated ones. For us, the traditional ones are still the best! The owner, Cecilia Martínez, started making and selling churros with her husband in the 40s, before they opened the doors to Xurreria El Trebol a couple of years later. Today it’s Martínez’ children and grandchildren handling the business.

 

Xurreria Trebol

Barcelona’s oldest churrería, El Trebol (meaning clover), is a local favorite for this fried ecstasy. A family-run churro shop, El Trebol is popular for its thicker and crunchier churros. They are open 24 hours on weekends. Apparently, they are really popular with party goers. A Spanish friend told me this is what they would eat after a night of partying before going home to bed.


Churros

Coated lightly with cinnamon and sugar, these churros were to die for! I love them plain. Isabella would not let them out of her sight. 2 euros for a small bag, there were at least 10 sticks in the bag.


Churros dipped in hot chocolate at El Trebol

The kids really enjoyed them being dipped into hot chocolate. There was just a nice touch of sweetness to the crispy dough fritters. The chocolate way of eating, just too messy for the kids. We used up a whole packet of wet wipes!

 

Fabrica Moritz Barcelona (Ronda de Sant Antoni, 41, 08011, Barcelona)

Fabrica Moritz

Fabrica Moritz

 

Moritz is an iconic Catalan beer brand founded in Barcelona by French immigrant Louis Moritz Trautmann in 1856. Moritz beer was initially brewed in a small factory in the Raval area of Barcelona’s old city. In 1864, they moved to a larger brewery at Ronda de Sant Antoni in the Eixample district, where they brewed the popular beer for just over 100 years. However, Moritz closed the factory in 1966 and moved production outside Barcelona to Parets del Vallès. The business continued to grow steadily but in the 70‘s oil crisis seriously affected various sectors of the economy and Moritz owners decide to sell their part of the shareholders and the company closed in 1978.

Moritz beer re-emerged in 2004 when the fifth and sixth generation of the Moritz family resurrected the brand which is now brewed under license in Zaragoza. The old factory building on Ronda de Sant Antoni stayed in the hands of the family. It underwent a 30 million euro renovation by celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel to house the Moritz beer museum, the microbrewery, restaurant and novelty gift store. They wanted to position themselves as the “Beer of Barcelona” and oust the already known and accepted by all citizens Estrella Damm. Loving the David and Goliath spirit here! Go Moritz! Today, there isn’t any doubt, after 10 years of this relaunch, the Moritz beer is a closely linked and rooted brand in the city of Barcelona.

 

Fabrica Moritz Barcelona

Fabrica Moritz: one of the largest microbrewery in Europe. This was the original Moritz brewery and has since undergone a major refit and today it houses a concept store with Triticum bakery, a section selling fresh unpasturised beer and another area selling designer objects and Moritz merchandising from T shirts, to bicycles, to books on craft beer brewing.


Fabrica Moritz

The original walls of the underground area used to store beer. A must visit is to the toilet where one can see the original wall and floors of the building. It also houses the vats and fermentation tanks .


Fabrica Moritz

Fabrica Moritz. The M concept store within selling merchandising.Great for getting trendy novelty gifts and souvenirs.


Fabrica Moritz

Souper cute couch converted from a yellow Fiat. Overhead, it hangs graphics and pictures that can be bought home for decoration. Great branding initiative.


Fabrica Moritz

Fabrica Moritz: The Epidor: fresh draft beer, strong bodied toasty lager on tap. The  fresh unpastuerised beer is piped from the microbrewery below.


Fabrica Moritz

Fabrica Moritz: the poussin a la Moritz served with chips is one of the highly recommended dishes from the restaurant.


Fabrica Moritz

Fabrica Moritz: Bomba de la Moritz (homemade beef and potato croquette served with a spicy brava sauce). This was really good! Bomba is bomb in Catalan.

 

Nomad Coffee Productions (Passatge de Sert, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)

We had our fair share of cafe con leche in Spain for our caffeine fix, but call us snobs, but we were missing our well made cafe latte from full bodied Brazilian and Colombian with cherry, floral and chocolate notes. We stumbled upon this coffee shop when we were exploring the El-Born area. There is such a thing as Third Wave coffee in Spain! Cøffee Lab & Shop opens Monday to Friday from 9:30 to 3:30 where we met two times champion, Jordi making all kinds of magic using a DC/PRO that glows, AeroPress, V60 with Hario Buono pouring kettle. The beans are carefully selected and roasted here. They don’t have much desserts except for two different varieties of cake. I had the Colombian which had cherry notes, at 3 euros per latte. I should have opted for a double shot when he asked me. One shot was pretty weak for the size of the cup they were using. We were there in the afternoon, and there was some sort of coffee appreciation being conducted.

 

Nomad Coffee

Nomad Coffee


Nomad Coffee

Minimalistic interior with cool vibes at Nomad Coffee. Aren’t all Third Wave coffee shops the same? LOL..


Nomad coffee

A well made Cafe Latte at Nomad Coffee. Great robust flavours with notes of chocolate and cherry.

 

Casa Lolea (Sant Pere Mes Alt, 49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)

Just round the corner from Nomad Productions, is a must pit stop! We stumbled upon Casa Lolea, ( * for lack of a better word .. we stumbled.. again.. LOL, as I was proofreading this, I could really count the number of times I used stumbled in this post alone!) a small little cafe restaurant with a retro decor. What caught our attention were the beautiful polka dot bottles of sangria and the story of how they make their sangria on little folded cards written in English. We were pretty full after coffee and lunch, but we had to go in to experience the decor and of course the sangria! Sangria is a traditional and popular drink in Spain, with every bar and every household having their own recipe. However, the quality cannot be guaranteed as most bars would use whatever is available, or was going to expire or using cheap wines for mixing. I have tasted really bad ones before and nothing like Casa Lolea’s. Casa Lolea makes sangria using good wine and natural ingredients, and I have gotten information that Albert Adria was involved in helping to come up with recipe for the concoction, so this must be consistently good!

 

Casa Lolea

Casa Lolea: Steps away from the stunning façade of Palau de Musica yet far from the flow of mass tourism, Casa Lolea offers a charming, quality alternative to the overpriced pitchers of sangría that dot the plastic tablecloths of Las Ramblas.


Casa Lolea

Casa Lolea ups the ante on the traditional vermouth bar, serving up a refreshing new brand of artisan sangría and with a interior decor and facade like this, no wonder, it is fast becoming a favourite with the urban foodies in Barcelona.


Casa Lolea

Thanks to its retro air and bright décor, Casa Lolea has brought a much-needed burst of style to Sant Pere Més Alt. Just look at the floor!!!! It has also quickly become an elegant meeting spot for both urban foodies as well as young Catalans looking to revamp their grandfather’s Sunday afternoon tradition.


Casa Lolea

Casa Lolea: The menu outside. I have read pretty good reviews on TripAdvisor on its food, especially some of the tapas dishes they serve. It was pity we were just too full to eat.


Casa Lolea

Casa Lolea serves handcrafted and all-natural red and white varieties of sangría. This is the no.1, a red wine sangria and my favourite too. A light cherry red tone, clean, bright and attractive with a slight effervescence of fine bubbles making this drink really refreshing. It is of cherry, orange peel, lemon drops, cinnamon and sour strawberry. It was very pleasant to drink, full bodied yet crisp and fruity. I can drink a bottle myself!


Casa Lolea

Casa Lolea: Homemade carrot cake, not by the restaurant, but someone else. Nonetheless, it tasted pretty homemade and was really good enjoyed with the sangria.

 

We loved it so much and decided to google and see whether anyone was selling this in Singapore. To our excitement, we found Vinos Exclusivos, the local distributor in Singapore. We contacted Ruben and  we are souper stoked that he came on board to be one of the partners for our #tsstakemetospain campaign sponsoring some sangria for our lucky winners. Ruben, a Spaniard himself, told us how he too stumbled on the shop exactly like us. Highly recommended for those of us who love refreshing cocktails!

 

Bar del Pla (Carrer Montcada, 2, 08003 Barcelona, Spain)

Situated right near the Picasso Museum and surrounded by tapas bars in the Barri Gothic, this place is easily missed. However, I assure you, the food here is good and highly recommended. According to TripAdvisor, they serve plenty of very good dishes and the place can get crowded at night. We visited it about 5 pm, and there were just a few ladies having some drinks.

Jaume Pla, Jordi Palomino and chef Jordi Peris opened Bar del Pla in 2008.  The partners, all seasoned professionals, wanted a place to hang out in, somewhere joyful, casual, easy to share with friends – a bar, but with a virtuosic kitchen, a well-stocked, wide-ranging cellar and accessible prices. The kitchen uses mostly local produce and works from a traditional foundation, relying less on the fryer and more on fresh preparations. The menu is familiar in content – bravas, anchovies, croquetas – but they do have unique dishes some clearly with Asian influence in taste. I think it is this spirit of reconceptualising and innovating on the old with imagination peppered with international influences, breathing new life into the same old tapas that makes Barcelona a breeding ground for experimental nouvelle cuisine and gastronomy.

 

Bar del Pla

Bar del Pla: This long, cozy bar, located in a not very obvious spot between the Picasso Museum and the Santa Caterina market in El Born, looks like just another tapas joint, with its big wooden cask out front, hams suspended from the ceiling and colourful tiles on the floor inside.


Bar del Pla

Bar del Pla: The oxtail with foie gras, a modestly sized but incredibly potent dish that plays the meltingly soft braised beef against a shatteringly crisp phyllo wrapper. Topped with a piece of seared foie and small bits of deep fried onions! This was quite an innovative dish but most importantly, the flavours came together wonderfully. We ordered drinks and only one tapa here only as we were really full from all the eating and the kids wanted to use the bathroom!

 

La Pepita (Carrer de Còrsega, 343, 08037 Barcelona, Spain)

Sofía Boixet and Sergio Andreu started La Pepita in 2010 with not very much money but with plenty of help from friends and family. (Sounds oddly familiar! The Soup Spoon story!)  He was an industrial designer with academic background but decided to give it all up when he recognised his true vocation was in culinary arts. After a spell at the cookery school run by one Michelin starred restaurant, Hoffmann, he moved to Paris with Sofia to work for two years in the kitchens of El Fogon, the restaurant run by the chef Alberto Herraiz, a well-regarded Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant. In 2010, the couple returned to Barcelona and opened La Pepita in the neighbourhood of Gracia.

At La Pepita, Sofía takes care of the front of the house, while Sergio fine-tunes the menu with creativity drawing inspirations from the latest innovations in the culinary sphere and fusing it with Catalan and Mediterranean traditions. Result: Culinary magic! Old world food infused with varied flavours that are modern, globally influenced but yet so warm and familiar at the same time. We enjoyed most of the dishes we ordered but some stood out more. I would definitely come back and try the rest of the food as it resonates with me what the couple is doing, good old tapas with a creative twist.

Pepita sandwiches are supposedly their speciality, inspired by the pork loin sandwich, pepito de lomo. They created a whole slew of varieties with fish, seafood, vegetables placed between two crunchy wafer thin slices of bread. We however did not order any of these sandwiches! We figured we would be too full to eat anything else. I saw some peeps eating it when we were there, and I regretted not ordering it ! A good excuse for me to go back next time!

 

La Pepita

La Pepita is a prime specimen, with its passionate owners while anchored in the tapas tradition, reinterprets classic dishes through the cross-pollination of other cultures’ ingredients and ideas to serve tapas with a creative twist. Tip: Go early for lunch and there would be no queue. I have read that they can get really busy in the evenings and the wait can be crazily long. It was not a problem as we got in at 1230pm.


La Pepita

The subway tile lining the walls of the walkway corridor is filled with graffiti scrawled by customers and friends – a kind of nod to the Paris métro. The traditional bluish looking tiles with patterns add Andalusian charm to the space behind the counter, where hams and strings of garlic and chillies hang. I have read an interview on Sofia that she is a Barcelona girl with Andalusian ancestry.


La Pepita

La Pepita is such a cool, vibrant place full of quirky details.  Almost every inch of the restaurant was covered with graffiti. While waiting for your food, you could leave your own little message. Such a gem! I wonder whether they will give the place a fresh coat of paint when every cm is filled with scribbles and blessings?


La Pepita

The waitress was really friendly, brought out permanent markers for the kiddos to write, draw or just adding their little touches to the already crowded walls. Isabella found the right spot, the glass panel behind where we were sitting was perfect! It had a little curtain drawn across it so it hadn’t been explored much compared to all the other inches of the surrounding walls.


La Pepita

La Pepita: Loving Isabella’s little cartoon drawing of the whole family to tell the world we were at La Pepita in 2015. Indeed, a good reminder of our time spent dining. Quirky but memorable dining experience.


La Pepita

La Pepita: Vegetarian “Tapalatas”- tapas served in tins which remind us of traditional Spanish tinned preserved foods. In this case, we ordered a hummus topped with chopped beetroot, mint and cucumber. Drizzled with good olive oil and served with very thin slices of toast.


La Pepita

La Pepita: This was the “Very Important Croquette” It was made with a lot of cheese and mashed potatoes, fried and topped with slices of jamon.


La Pepita

La Pepita: Chicken croquettes with romesco sauce.


La Pepita

La Pepita: An example of culinary magic! The best dish of the lot! Foie gras with chopped hazelnuts, cocoa, coarse salt and piped white chocolate. Topped with finely grated lime zest.


La Pepita

La Pepita’s aubergine fritters with goats cheese, honey, apple sticks and balsamic reduction was probably the weakest dish of our lunch. The fritters were a bit soggy and the taste was overwhelming. I loved the crunchiness of the apples though!

We made a version of crema catalana based on the one from La Pepita. Recipe is up on the blog now! Real easy to make too!

La Pepita

La Pepita: Crema Catalana is essentially a creme brûlée.  Sweet and creamy with a crunchy exterior, this was light and delicate. Loved this!


La Pepita

La Pepita: A cool way to present the bill! Loved this!

 

This place will never be like the traditional tapas institutions like Quimet & Quimet, El Xampanyet and La Cova Fumada, but it has my respect for challenging traditions, giving their own interpretation of these dishes and infusing them with global flavours. I enjoyed most of what we ordered and I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Barcelona.

 

Bodega 1900 (Carrer de Tamarit, 91, 08015 Barcelona, Spain)

Bodega 1900 opened quietly back in September 2013 and the man behind it is non other that Albert Adria. This hole in the wall restaurant specializes in vermouth and tapas, two of his greatest passions. The name pays homage to the bodegas, small corner shops where one can grab a quick bite and a glass of vermouth, and the year of the building’s construction (1900). It is decorated to feel like a turn of the century tavern.

It  mimics an old-school tapas bar (and calls itself a ‘vermutería ‘, though it only stocks Martini), draws inspiration from Adria’s childhood, when his father would take him to a neighbourhood bodega for the traditional pre-lunch drink and snack known as a “vermut”.  With an Adrià at the helm in the kitchen, one can be assured that it would be somewhat innovative, while still staying true to the flavours that dominated in local food from the early 20th century: the smoked, the salted, the grilled and the pickled.

I read an online interview Albert gave, and the motivation for opening Bodega 1900 was to be able to close this pre dinner place at 8pm. A few years back during the El Bulli days, his wife Sylvia told him that their son was growing up quickly and he should try to be part of that process . He needed to slow things down instead of working 16 hours a day. This was something that resonates with me and I can fully understand as an entrepreneur and a parent of 2 young kids.

 

Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900 is housed in a building dating from 1900, hence its name. I have read that Albert himself was responsible for the interior decor. His aim was to make customers feel as if they were stepping inside a time honoured bodega that has been “in the hood” for years.  The restaurant is charming yet unpretentious. There is an outdoor sitting and in the front room, the ambience almost feels too casual and felt somewhat great for lingering a few hours, with little to suggest that it comes from one of the world’s most lauded culinary geniuses. The only giveaway were the impeccably dressed wait staff in their starched whites.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: On entering the room, there is a waiter with a clipboard with the evening’s reservation list and he would greet us too. There is a scattering of small round marble topped tables, pushed into corners and some bar stools against the side of the wall. This space is used for customers who just wanted some drinks and light nibbles. One can opt to sit at the small terrace to enjoy the warmer days and nights in summer months.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: I loved the old fashioned feel of the place.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: In the bustling back room, there is more space which has a scattering of tables and this space is shared with a bar and an open kitchen. Not seen here, behind the bar is a series of  great old school refrigerators with windows acting as the wine cellar. The low ceiling with wooden beams, the old photos decorating the walls and the marble tables give a cosy and relaxed atmosphere to the restaurant. The big Martini picture seen here is a testament that this place was inspired by the ‘aperitif’ culture.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: the back room has larger tables for more comfortable dining. With its classic tiles, marble table tops and wooden chairs, in addition to other ‘vintage’ decor, it is at once a restaurant and homage to the past. The faded polaroid shots of customers and framed pictures just added a very personal touch as if we were eating in Albert’s home.

 

We managed to make a reservation for 5pm, Lol! Who eats at this time except tourists! The place was not crowded at all.  What truly impressed us was how impeccable the service was. Originally, I was afraid they had a no kids policy, after all, this is common for most Michelin starred restaurants. The restaurant staff were very friendly and accommodating to the kids. A special shoutout to our waiter Alberto. We were not sure what to order, so he suggested that he would have something put together for us to enjoy, a few starters, something for the kids and they would bring food out until we say stop. He also asked us if there was anything we were allergic to or did not particularly fancy. It was a welcoming change to receive such wonderful thoughtful service. Each time, our food was served, Alberto was there to give an explanation of the dish, how to enjoy it which made the food and experience that little more special. Thus far, in Spain, the service level has been spurty, staff can be pretty harried and can come across as rude possibly due to our language barrier.

We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of food by Alberto. Everything was light and delicious with the use of top quality ingredients executed masterfully by Albert’s team.

 

Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Starter: Fried Seaweed crisp with sesame seeds. It was really something nice just to nibble on. Nothing new for those of us coming from Asia, as we do eat seaweed as a snack and more recently, the thai version that comes in a pack deep fried. We saw the kitchen staff at Tickets, also one of Adria’s, opposite Bodega preparing it when we came and recce the place a couple of days earlier. Tickets has a higher price tag and difficult to get a reservation. However, due to the small kitchen at Bodega, quite a few of the tapas are made by Tickets. Ain’t that a steal!


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Souper thin potato crisps which the kids adored very much. Alberto taught us to have the chips drizzled with their homemade  tabasco like sauce. The ingredients on the bottle stated wine vinegar, smoked sweet and hot paprika from Vera and black pepper. I have read that food critic José Carlos Capel raved about the chips and he lauded the cuisine at Bodega 1900 as being the perfect blend of East and West.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Chicharron (Pork rind with paprika) :I have always steered clear of this as most of the time, they were pretty greasy and oil drenched and at times tasted rancid. However, boy was I surprised, these were the crunchiest and most high quality pork rinds I have ever eaten.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900:  These freshly made chicken nuggets were for the kiddos. Chicken breast breaded with smashed potato chips that gave it the extra crunch! A great idea that I should try in the future when we have a kids party over at my place.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Aubergine fritters with a gazpacho like sauce drizzled with kicap manis! I am not kidding, it tasted like kicap manis (sweet dark soy sauce) and I don’t think it was balsamic reduction. I asked Alberto regarding the gazpacho like sauce, and he told me it was salmorejo, a thicker version of gazpacho accented with garlic notes. Salmorejo is made with more or less the same ingredients as gazpacho—bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and tomato—but the proportions are different. More bread, less tomato, no water to thin the puree. The aubergine sticks were very lightly coated with semolina like batter and deep fried till barely golden in colour. As a result, very crispy on the outside with a melt in your mouth interior.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Of course, there were iberico jamon on the plate. These thinly hand cut slices were from Joselito, cured for 5 years. They practically melts in your hands. Served with traditional pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomatoes).


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Razor Clams pickled  in olive oil, with black pepper and a bit of citrus. The texture was different too, from a grilled clam. They were more moist and almost thickened. These were very good. In the background, marinated anchoas, a speciality here in Catalonia.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Next platter to arrive to the table was the assortment of cured and smoked mackerel, tuna, eel and sardine. This plate we were instructed to start with Mackerel and finish with the sardine for intensity of the different flavours.  The eel was smoked with saffron and the wind dried tuna with almonds. I really loved the diversity of flavours here.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Hot skewers beautifully grilled on charcoal. We were served a lamb skewer with Moroccan spices and leek, a pork skewer marinated with Japanese sauce. The middle was almost pink and there was a good taste of char on the outside. Actually, to be honest, I could not really tell which meat was which. The meats were so well marinated and texture wise it was very hard to differentiate.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Alberto did not order this for us, but I have read so much about this, it would be a wasted trip not to try these famous olive spheres.  Certainly one of the more unique items on the menu, and most definitely a homage to Ferran’s molecular gastronomy.  I actually liked it. Once in the mouth, the faux olive popped! They tasted like really briny, very good olives but the texture was that of  egg yolk. Mind blowing!

 

And now to end our tapas style dinner with irresistible desserts! How could we forget Albert’s moniker “the pastry chef from elBulli”!

 

Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Chocolate brownie encased with a chocolate covering . This looked like an unassuming Magnum ice cream.


Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Inside the dark chocolate shell was a moist soft chocolate cake aka brownie topped by an intensely chocolatey ganache. This was awesome , it was soft and crunchy, gooey and moist all at the same time. Kinda felt I was eating a souped up Mars Bar!

 

Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Desert was melon injected with gin and white vermouth with finely grated lime peel on top. The melon was very ripe but it didn’t taste of melon so much, it was more of a background for the rest of the ingredients – the gin the vermouth and the mint.

 

The bill came up to be slightly shy of 150 euros for drinks and food for 4. Not cheap but for the quality and the chance to experience the magic touch of Albert Adria in a fuss free manner, it was definitely worth it. Highly recommended to anyone intending to visit Barcelona.

I have read that Albert Adria sometimes works at the bodega during the day and would pop over to Tickets, opposite for dinner service. Never in my wildest dream, would I think we would actually see him at Bodega 1900. He popped into Bodega cladded in T shirt and jeans. I was souper stoked. I was a fan girl asking our waiter Alberto, whether I could take a picture with Albert but he thought it was best for me to ask him myself. But in the end, he told us he would try to ask, if he was still around the restaurant. When we finished our meal, he was nowhere to be found. I suppose at that moment, anyone could see the disappointment written all over my face! LOL!.

We took our leave and guess what, we saw him having a discussion with his staff in the space next to Bodega 1900. Normally, I would not intrude but I felt that if I did not ask, I may never get a chance to shake his hands and say hello. In a very apologetic manner, I knocked on the glass door and asked sheepishly whether I could have a picture taken with him. He smiled and said YES! That was a relief. He came out, shook our hands, even spoke to us a little bit asking where were we from and spoke about the weather in Barcelona. He was just so humble and nice! One of the wait staff across at Tickets, told me I was really lucky as he would not normally be around. Aww..

 

Bodega 1900

Bodega 1900: Picture taken with Albert Adria. While I was souper stoked, my husband had to burst the bubble and said that I may have one tapa too many! Oh well, time to get back on the souperdiet, eating clean and healthy after all the travelling is done!

 

Still in Catalunya, we went on to our next leg of our trip to Corca and finally up to the Pyrenees in Andorra. Bye Barcelona! We enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

Catalunya | Soup Inspirations and stories

Catalunya was a big part of our journeys in Spain and we are very blessed to be able to get our soup inspirations and stories through the friendly people we met.

From Barcelona, we continued our road trip to Pyrenees in Andorra. We decided to took the longer route via Perpignan, entering Andorra from France instead of Spain. The reason was to go to Figueres, home of the Dali Museum. Still in Catalunya, we stopped in Corca, L’escala and Girona en route. It was nice to be on the road again and to enjoy the countryside. Amazing people we met who told us stories about the area, comfort soups of the Catalan people, and even tips on where to eat!

 

Corca

Corçà is a medieval village in the province of Girona and autonomous community of Catalonia, Spain. It is in between Girona and the Costa Brava with a small population of less than 1500. We absolutely adore this place. Everything felt so peaceful and serene here. Staying at Casa Matilda stirred up my inner desires to one day uproot and run my very own Bed and Breakfast ! LOL! Maybe in the future when I retire.

 

Corca

En route to Corca, a common sight here in Spain. We just could not get enough of this. Seems like it was a scene from a 1900s when all roads were sandy tracks for horse carriages.


Corca

In the village of Corca. The church bell can be heard ringing every hour faithfully well into the wee hours of morning.

 

Casa Matilda (Carrer Major 31, 17121 Corca, Spain)

On arrival, we were greeted warmly by Leo. We were welcomed into his home. Built of 15th Century stone and completely refurbished, the house kept its original architecture but has been retrofitted to include modern amenities. Leo and Helena were wonderfully friendly and hospitable. We exchanged travel stories, stories about our homeland, stories about our children.  These personal stories are what makes our travels memorable.

We heard their urban love story. Leo was a bartender from Buenos Aires working in Barcelona. Helena, a Catalan girl working as a social worker in Barcelona. The song would probably go “You had me at Gin and Tonic”, paraphrasing the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Boy gets girl, starts a family. Leo and Helena felt that they did not want to bring up their child and future kids in a hectic city like Barcelona. They work long, irregular hours and Leo did not feel it was what he wanted. They gave up everything they had and moved to Corca. They spent a lot of money ( insane amount i figure!) on the bed and breakfast and named it after their beautiful daughter, Matilda. Matilda is a lovely 4 year old girl, confident, friendly and carefree. She is very privileged to be able to spend every day with her parents. They have never looked back since. We spoke in detail with Leo on this commitment and sacrifice of becoming an entrepreneur. This is increasingly so, many city dwellers feeling the stress and bottled up unhappiness, wanting to spend more time with their precious little ones, giving their children a better quality of life.  Not all can afford or have the courage to do what Leo did.

 

Casa Matlida

Casa Matlida: our rest for the night


Casa Matlida

Casa Matlida: this is a beautifully restored 500 year old building converted to a bed and breakfast operated by the lovely couple Leo and Helena.


Casa Matlida

Casa Matlida: One of the 2 balconies on the rooftop where one can just chillax, plonking myself onto the couch and with a good book in one hand and a glass of Casa Lolea no 1 Sangria! Life would have been perfect. This place seriously conjures up happy thoughts about uprooting and coming here to also run a bed and breakfast.


Casa Matlida

Casa Matlida: our breakfast prepared by Helena. Breakfast on the roof terrace was lovely with a full spread of delicious fresh fruit, meat cheeses and pastries. For breakfast, their dog, Pomelo was ready to lead us upstairs. The homemade breakfast was excellent.

 

After breakfast, we continued our conversations with Leo and Helena. Seeing that Helena is such a great cook, I had to ask her about what soups or stews they eat during winter and whether she has any recipe, What followed, was a two hour of detailed explanation on Catalan dishes and cooking of traditional Catalan dishes. Of course there was no written recipe. It was how her mother taught her and she would pass it on to Matilda in the future. Google Translate and Google images were of great help in translating the names of some ingredients. The chicken escudella featured as a souperinspiration for #tsstakemetospain series was inspired by Helena’s account of her mother’s recipe of escudella i carn d’olla. The traditional version uses pork feet, beef bones and botifarra negre (blood sausages). Using some of the tips she gave me, I made a healthier version, at the same staying as true as I can to her recipe. Thank you Helena for sharing your kitchen stories on Catalan cuisine.

We spoke at length regarding the types of spices and herbs that she would use in her cooking, about paella, fiduea and the influences of Roman culture on Spanish foods. This was when I fully understood why Spain is so diverse when it comes to food and methods of preparation. She shared that saffron, and pimenton is hardly used in her cooking as these were mainly used by the Galician. Paellas were mostly eaten on Sundays for family lunches and hardly on other days. One interesting fact was paella or some sort of rice dish is always featured in the set menu at restaurants on Thursdays only. Simple reason: no fish on Monday, fish comes in on Tuesday, and by Wednesdays, the restaurants can get them cheaper as they would not be as fresh. Seafood would tend to become expensive on the weekend, as most families would buy them for the Sunday lunches. Hence Thursday seems like the best day for everyone to serve and eat paella!

It was really nice to be able to be in someone’s home and learn from them. Food always has this power to bring people together.

 

Casa Matlida

Casa Matlida: Missing Matlida in the picture. Matlida is Leo and Helena’s 4 year old, the reason why the couple moved to Corca from Barcelona. She had followed Leo’s sister (visiting from Buenos Aires) to Barcelona for a day trip early that morning. The kids played well together the day before and Isabella was looking forward to have some more fun with her after breakfast. Well, there was still Pomelo (seen here with stick) to play fetch with!

 

L’escala

Leo suggested that we head towards L’Escala where they have a really nice beach. It is about 22 km from Corca, and it was a real pleasant drive in the evening. L’escala is a municipality in the comarca of the Alt Empordà in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is situated on the Costa Brava, located between the southern end of the Gulf of Roses and Cala (bay) Montgó. It is an important fishing port and tourist centre, and even has a festival dedicated to its famous anchovies in the month of October. L’escala anchovies are known for being particularly aromatic and full of flavour, with a strong and intense taste.

Tourist season has not officially started. I have seen pictures of packed beaches online in the peak summer months. For now, a sleepy fishing town by the coast. We were the only ones on the beach. The town was quiet and the restaurants empty. The kids had fun playing in the sand and on the swings. It was 6pm and still bright. We just sat and watched the waves crashing onto the beach and enjoyed the sea breeze. Ah, bliss! Except when I had to keep getting up to push Eli on the swing as he still did not know how to propel his body forward.

 

Le Escala

L’escala beach.


L'Escala kids on swing

Kids on swing


Le escala beach

L’escala beach.


Le Escala kids

L’escala: For a change, we had pizza. This place was by the beach and they had a wood fire pizza oven. This is what we noticed, there were many pizza places in L’escala, a popular food among tourists!


Le Escala

L’escala: pizza to be shared. Besides the pizza, we ordered the escalivada con anchoas, a speciality in L’escala.

 

Escalivada con anchoas

Escalivada is a traditional Catalan dish of smoky grilled vegetables. It typically consists of roasted eggplant and bell peppers with olive oil, and sometimes onion, tomato, minced garlic, and salt. The name comes from the Catalan verb escalivar, “to cook in ashes,” referencing the dish’s traditional preparation in the embers of a wood fire. The dish can be grilled outdoors on a grate until charred and soft, or may be cooked whole directly on glowing coals and then peeled. Commonly eaten here with anchoas as a tapa or an appetizer.

The salty oily big L’escala anchovies were a beautiful contrast to the earthy roasted vegetables. Although anchovies have traditionally been fished and salted at different spots along the Gulf of Roses, the town of L’escala is most internationally renowned for its traditional methods of preparation. The Phoenicians and Greeks (in the 6th and 5th centuries BC) were the first to introduce techniques for preserving anchovies through salting processes. Subsequently, the Romans continued with the same process. Today, this same technique is used to preserve L’escala anchovies.  Traditionally, this whole process has been carried out by fishermen’s wives, and today most workers involved in the process continue to be women, who are considered to be more careful and diligent in their handling and treatment of this exquisite fish.

 

L'escala

L’escala: Escalivada con anchoas: I have learnt that anchovies are classed as blue fish and, therefore, highly rich in fats and omega 3 fatty acids that help reduce cholesterol levels and triglycerides in the blood. From readings, anchovies can help thin the blood, preventing the formation of clots and embolisms so doctors recommend eating at least two portions of blue fish per week! Wow! TIme to get some for a healthy heart.


Le Escala

L’escala: a last look before leaving town. As the sun set, it bathed the landscape with a certain glow and everything felt so serene.

 

Girona-Can Roca (Carretera de Taialà, 42 – 17007 Girona )

On the subject of Spanish food,  how it earned international recognition with the Rocas brothers taking top spot again and that the wait list to eat there is 1 year, Leo lamented how he could not understand what all the fuss was about. He told us, to go eat at the father’s restaurant, Can Roca instead. Helena recounted how Can Roca had always been a family restaurant in Girona and that no one in town would probably go eat at the sons’ place. Amazing isnt it, how our love language for food can be so vastly different! She would eat at Can Roca any day as it served good food at affordable prices. I was souper stoked on hearing this. After all, I certainly enjoyed good honest comfort foods better, something traditional: how mama makes it and truly good for the soul!

To eat at the restaurant where the brothers grew up, learnt the art of cooking from their first influence, the matriarch of the family was definitely a highlight for me.  I could not wait to experience the foods that inspired the brothers without all the fanfare and no one year wait list.  We arrived 20 minutes before the start of lunch service and saw a whole slew of staff in starched whites from El Celler de Can Roca, having their lunch before their own star-studded service for 40 guests. All 60 of them filled the dining hall enjoying home cooked meals by Can Roca. What a sight!

 

Can Roca

Can Roca: the front of the restaurant. To the left of the restaurant, is the main building housing the bar and dining area for El Celler staff and the residence. We saw patriarch Josep still working in the kitchen when we were there.

 

The lunch menu is one that was fixed at 11 euros per person and included a drink (beer included!). This was perhaps the cheapest 4 course meal I have eaten in Spain! Came with a mixed salad, followed by a first course with 3 choices of either arroz a la cassola, vegetables or homemade chicken croquettes which tasted like a healthier version of M’s nuggets. Second course was grilled chicken, sausage, grilled pork or fish. Dessert : traditional crema catalana, homemade chocolate ice cream or coffee flan. The following series of pictures were our lunches that day. As one can see, we tried not to repeat what we each ordered. This place is not about plating and how beautiful the food will look on the table. It was just good traditional comfort food cooked with heart, like how mama used to do it.

Service wise, this place was made to be productive to a T! Everything was clockwork precision. There was a table of 10 next to ours who possibly made a reservation. Before they arrived, the salads were already placed on the table! I suppose that is why having a small menu with few options drives productivity upwards.

Arroz la cassola, a kind of soupy rice with squid ink. This was really good. It was cooked with chicken and seafood. It reminded me of our Teochew porridge where the rice grains were still intact. This is the inspiration behind July’s vegan souperinspiration for #tsstakemetospain series, vegan rice casserole with ratatouille vegetables. I later made the first version prototype in Andorra.

Crema catalana dessert was something we enjoyed very much too. This cream is the most typical of Catalan cuisine and is associated with the festival of Saint Joseph. It is also known as Saint Joseph’s cream. Recipe will follow!

 

Can Roca

Can Roca: My lunch


Can Roca

Can Roca: Andrew’s lunch


Can Roca

Can Roca: Elijah/Isabella’s lunch

 

We would highly recommend this place if you are gonna be in this area for a day trip.

After a souper fulfilling lunch, we went for a walk in town. 200m away, sits the world’s best restaurant El Celler De Can Roca, with 3 Michelin stars and a wait list of at least 1 year. I have read that the restaurant sits 45 and has an army of 60 chefs for each service! Would love to perhaps go sometime in the future. But for now, the memory of dining at Can Roca suffix. As any tourists would do, we took pictures for memory sake to shout, been there, done that!

 

El Celler Can Roca

El Celler Can Roca. 2015 best restaurant, situated in Girona with 3 Michelin stars. (The Michelin star is probably the most well recognised and influential culinary award in Europe. The Michelin Guide establishes a scoring system for the award-winning restaurants of between one and three stars and reserves these awards for a very small number of top quality establishments).


El Celler Can Roca

El Celler Can Roca: The grounds of the restaurant was beautiful. I could imagine sitting outside for drinks and nibbles early in the evening when it is is not so hot.

 

Figueres-Dalí Theatre-Museum

From Girona, we made our way up towards Figueres. Figueres is a small city in Catalonia, Spain with a population of 40,000. The name of the town means ‘fig trees’ as historically they grew with great abundance around the area. The town, much like Girona, is a relaxed alternative to Barcelona with relaxing cafés on side streets, and a compact Old Town core. The city’s main attraction is the world famous museum of native son, Salvador Dalí . After the Prado in Madrid, it is the most visited museum in all of Spain. This was precisely the reason for our pit stop. However, we came in pretty late in the afternoon and we still had to make our way to Perpignan, hence we only walked around the perimeters of the museum and the old town. A case of being over optimistic with our schedule.

The Dalí Theatre-Museum was designed by Salvador Dalí. He was a renowned surrealist painter born in Figueres in 1904. The museum was built from the ruins of a former theatre and converted into what can be seen today– a bizarre yet amazing mix of the weird and wonderful creations from the mind of Dalí. It is the second most visited museum in Spain, after the Prado in Madrid. Dali designed it in the last years of his life, designing every little detail. The outside walls have small sculptures of bread buns. On top of the museum you see golden mannequins and giant eggs. How quirky is that?

What intrigues me to want to visit was the opportunity to to observe, live and enjoy the work and thought of a genius. As Dalí himself explained: “It’s obvious that other worlds exist, that’s certain; but, as I’ve already said on many other occasions, these other worlds are inside ours, they reside in the earth and precisely at the centre of the dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspected and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”

This is definitely worthy of a day visit. I was told that in summer months, the queue snakes around the village square and be prepared to wait hours to get in. Tickets are  not cheap at 12 euros each but definitely an extremely fun museum to explore for all the family and for all ages. I will be back for a visit!

 

Theater Museu Gala Salvador Dali building from outside

The exterior walls are covered in Catalan bread decorations made of plaster and on top of the museum it is beautifully decorated with golden mannequins and giant eggs.One of the most visible elements of the museum is the transparent grid structure in the form of a geodesic dome crowning the building, an idea by Salvador Dalí which was realised by the Murcian architect Emilio Pérez Piñero (1935-1972). The dome has become not only the emblem of the Theatre-Museum but also a symbol for the town of Figueres itself. Today the museum is the largest surrealistic object in the world. “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” — Salvador Dalí


Dali Museum

Dali was obsessed by bread! It was said that on his first visit to the US he stepped off the plane with a loaf of bread on his head. The photo clearly shows what appears to be varnished loaves of bread on the heads of statesmen. He definitely has a wicked sense of humour and an eccentric personality looking at his art work and sculptures. The mannequins probably represents the Oscar statues since this was supposedly a theater.

Andorra | Ruggedly beautiful or concrete ugliness?

One question that comes to mind when travelling in Andorra. Is it ruggedly beautiful or concrete ugliness? High in the Pyrenees is the nation of Andorra. Sandwiched between France to the West and Spain to the East, this mountain kingdom is one of Europe’s coveted vacation and skiing destinations and is well known for pristine powder-snow slopes and snowy peaks. Due to the mountainous nature of Andorra, there is only one road entering Andorra from France, and only one widely-used road entering Andorra from Spain. Entering on the main road from the Spanish side is a relatively straightforward drive; however entering from France (Perpignan) which we did, was a more stressful affair involving many hairpin bends. The road was twisty and steep and not for anyone who has motion sickness. On the sun-scorched Spanish side, the Pyrenees are barren, red and brown compared to the one flanking France. The mountainous terrain was broken by sparkling streams and gentle coniferous forest with more waterfalls here than in the Alps.

The drive from Perpignan to Andorra took about 3 hours with a distance of 154 km only. Many would wonder what would the kids be doing on these extensive road trips. Sleep! Games, chatting, laughing, fighting, eating and most of all singing! Teaching each other new songs that they have learnt. It was a wonderful experience for working parents like ourselves to listen to them banter with one another, learn their rhyming songs that they so eagerly want to teach us. Here are two particular songs that have been repeated over a 100 times almost like a broken recorder and these are the words to the songs.

“Down by the bay, where the watermelon grow. Back to my home I dare not go. For if I do, my mother will say, have you ever seen a pig wearing a wig, down by the bay….The song gets repeated many times with the last part as a rhyme .. have you ever seen a cat kissing a bat, down by the bay..” I think you get the idea.

At other times, it will be something similar to scissors, paper, stone but with a twist, where interesting sentences are being recited:

“Thousand a monkey men, sitting on a rubber band, hopscotch the rubber band, what colour is his underwear?” Then we would hear a shoutout of a colour: example TURQUOISE, and the word gets spelt, followed by another series of sentences, then finally the scissors paper stone. We had fun learning these games at meal times too. They do want the iphone and we do cave in at times especially when I have to prepare the meals and they were really getting very bored and would request to play some of their favourite games. It is inevitable and I think it is about managing the time spent.

One very interesting thing, Andorra is a curious and distinctive pocket of European life with an identity of its own, operating as a tax haven and banking enclave. It is like a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, a country coexisting within two realms, nature and modern concreteness. It is ruggedly beautiful, right smack in the heart of the Pyrenees with green mountains, with chamois, trout streams and wildflowers;  but at the same time, it is totally devoted to building shopping malls, hyper marts, rows of duty free shops selling liquor, cigarettes and perfumes as well as shops selling tax free items from high end carbon bicycles to Nespresso machines, to luxury watches and high street fashion. Being a ski town, I can really understand why this is so. There will be nothing much to do when night falls hence shopping would be perfect to tempt tourists to part with their money.  Almost all the local population works in the retail, services and travel industries.

 

Andorra

Andorra: Mountains, blue skies and sunshine occupied one realm of Andorra. A co-principality since the 13th century, mountainous Andorra has two princes as heads of state: France’s president and Spain’s Bishop of La Seu d’Urgell (a historic town just south of Andorra). The country adopted a democratic constitution in 1993, creating a parliament and limiting the power of the co-princes. The economy is based on tax-free shopping, tourism, and international banking.  Andorra has traditionally looked south to the Iberian peninsula and it is the only country to use Catalan as its official language.


Andorra

Andorra: A country blessed by prosperity. Although 98% of Andorra is not suitable for agriculture, they have managed to find a niche, a tourist hub with great outdoor activities during the day and good shopping too. In the capital city of Andorra la Vella, the landscape juxtapose with concrete slabs, faux cobblestone and neon lighting. Billboards and name brands scream at travelers from every direction. It attracts many Barcelonians on the weekends. It is a shopping haven as tourists look for good deals.


Andorra

Andorra: On a Sunday at Andorra La Vella. A musical festival showcasing different talents. Each gig gets to perform about 1/2 hour.  Andorra La Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe, tipping the scales at 1023 metres. There is  a fair amount of buzz (and traffic) to its narrow streets, busy restaurants and duty-free shops. It gets really crowded from Fridays to Sundays when weekenders from Barcelona flock into town seeking to swap sea breezes for crisp mountain air.


Andorra

Andorra: Ski resorts aplenty. Every year, thousands of amateur and professional skiers visit the ski resort areas of Vallnord and Grandvalira. The slopes of the Pyrenees are not for the faint hearted. In summer, hiking and biking are popular activities. There are a few beginners’ trails but the mountainous terrain are of medium to difficult.


Andorra

Andorra: Anyos Park Mountain and Wellness Resort, where we stayed. It has tennis courts, swimming pool and a kids playground. In summer months, the rates are a lot cheaper. We rented our service apartment for a very reasonable rate. With a service apartment with full kitchen facilities, I spent the night cooking and experimenting for the souperinspirations. It was also possible to cook some homecooked meals inspired by the tapas we had in Barcelona. With such beautiful weather outside and a balcony to relax, it brought a sense of calmness and I was able to work on the soups for the #TssTakeMeToSpain campaign.

 

Inspired by the crepes we ate at Perpignan, kids wanted to have them for breakfast. I did not have milk so we changed the recipe for one-cup ingredient pancakes  to use 1 cup water, I made it into a crepe instead of a thick fluffy pancakes. And the recipe worked wonderfully for savoury and sweet crepes! We had ham and cheese rolled up crepes and sweet pancakes with homemade strawberry jam and yoghurt. What a treat for the kiddos! This has to be the most versatile recipe I have in my repertoire.

 

Ham and cheese crepe

Ham and cheese crepe inspired by the crepes we had in Perpignan using the one cup ingredient pancake recipe.


Crepes with homemade strawberry jam

Sweet crepes using one cup ingredient pancake recipe with yoghurt and homemade strawberry jam.

 

Inspired by the soupy casserole we had at Can Roca, I made an attempt to make a vegan version, Vegan Arroz Samfaina La Cassola made with rice, peppers and vegetables cooked down like how I would do a french ratatouille. The best of both worlds, a spanish paella marrying the french ratatouille to create a new hearty rice soup. Must be the fresh mountain air that helped me with coming up with a great soup! Sourcing for the rice and saffron would prove to be the most challenging of all. Plenty of Italian rice but not many stock the spanish rice variety and saffron was insanely expensive in Singapore.

 

Ingredients

Ingredients used for Vegan Arroz Samfaina La Cassola


Vegan Arroz soup

Vegan Arroz Samfaina La Cassola

 

The Sopa de Pescado we tried at Bilboa inspired the next soup made. I could still vividly remember the taste of the Basquaise stew and with a well equipped kitchen, I set out to create my version. Here, I actually used the frozen mixed seafood, readily available in the frozen section of the supermarket. It was not the best choice but it provided me a good avenue to do a quick testing how the soup would taste like and whether I was able to recreate that wow experience. I would say it was a good attempt taste wise. The challenge would be to recreate the soup in Singapore, to get hold of the right Spanish spices and ingredients that would create magic.

 

Sopa de pescado

Ingredients for sopa de pescado


 

Inspired by the pintxos/tapas we had at San Sebastian and at Barcelona, we made a series of tapas to be brought along for our picnic during our hike. To think about it, we did not have a single meal in any restaurants or fast food places in Andorra.

Tortilla Española or Tortilla de patatas(recipe), referred to as Spanish Omelette, is the most common gastronomic speciality found throughout Spain. It is essentially an egg omelette made with added potatoes and fried, similar to the frittata. This was inspired by the pintxo version we had at Bar La Vina in San Sebastian. Only difference, this was filled with potatoes and frozen mixed vegetables I had bought earlier for the vegan rice soup.  I had it topped with goat’s cheese and blistered cherry tomatoes and lots of freshly chopped parsley. Great eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice.

 

Tortilla espanyol

Tortilla espanola: The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold; it is commonly served as a tapa or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into pie style (triangle) portions (pincho de tortilla).

 

Being adventurous, I made another 3 pintxos, my healthy versions of the Spanish dishes I have tried and most would have heard of.

1. La Pepita with its modern take on tapas, had me crave for the hummus topped with beetroot and finely chopped mint leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

2. Bar Pinotxo squid with haricot beans inspired a vegan version using chickpeas cooked with lots of parsley and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction.(recipe link)

3.Patata Bravas, a common pintxos and tapas found in every tapas bar. I have made it with sweet potato for a change. Surprisingly good when eaten with hummus.

4. My favourite: chopped avocado cherry tomato salsa. (marinated with olive oil, coriander and freshly squeezed lemon juice)

 

Trio of tapas

Trio of tapas: 1. Tapaleta: hummus with beetroot and mint. 2. Chickpeas with parsley and balsamic reduction. 3. Sweet potato version of patata bravas.

 

How many ways can we eat tapas? Let thee count the ways! Kids were crazy about corn thins and rightfully so. Great way to replace the baguette pieces typically used as base for tapas. Rice crisps or thins would make a choice for a gluten free option. What about French style in freshly baked vol-au-vent shells?

 

Tapas on corn crisps

Tapas on corn crisps.


Tapas french style

Tapas french style with 4. marinated chopped avo with cherry tomatoes, coriander and goat’s cheese.

 

We tried  sopa de ajo (Garlic soup) when we were in Zaragoza but it was not to our taste. I was determined to make a version that was healthier. Using good chicken stock, adding fried garlic crisps and a whole poached egg. To up the healthy quotient, I added some freshly chopped vegetables. (recipe to follow)

 

Sopa de ajo

Sopa de ajo, a healthy version

 

Yes, I got carried away! So much food for just 4 of us. LOL! With the containers that we had, we packed our freshly prepared food, all ready and excited for our picnic lunch.

 

Our lunch in Andorra

Our prepacked lunch for our picnic.

 

The excursion to the Tristaina lakes is one of the most popular in Andorra. We were pretty nervous, as this would be the first time that we brought the kids on a real hiking trail. Previously, when they were younger, we would carry them on baby carriers on hikes. The kids were really excited as we just bought them both new sports shoes. This is good for a first time excursion, as there were many paths around the lakes that we could walk until we feel tired and cut back early if we so wish. This variety of options make the Tristaina lakes an excellent choice to see high altitude mountain lakes without having to climb for hours.

 

Andorra

Andorra: The Tristaina lakes is one the most popular hikes in Andorra, as they were easily accessible from the road. This hike is recommended for the wide range of fauna and flora and most importantly the well-marked and tended paths.


Andorra

Andorra: Our chosen lunch spot was located right off the main road and allowed us to have our picnic while enjoying stunning views of the valley below. After a yummy lunch, we proceeded with our hike. Isabella especially loved the vegan arroz soup.


Andorra

Andorra: If you love hiking or trail running, Andorra, in the heart of the Pyrenees is the perfect place. Look at this! Breathtakingly beautiful! The best way to discover Andorra’s beauty is on foot, step by step, immersing ourselves in the picturesque landscape and admiring how through the course of time, the mountains and streams were moulded bit by bit .


Andorra

The kiddos did great. Singing as they walked. Some parts were pretty steep but they did well. So proud of them!


Andorra

Andorra: The spectacular view when we reached the first of three lakes, which is just 45 minutes from the start. Primer lake, at 2,250 metres above sea level, is the smallest has the bluest waters.  The last snow was melting as the days got warmer. The kids were ecstatic as it was their first time seeing snow and walking on it. It was very slippery as we all very quickly found out as we attempted to make our way across. There were many funny moments, when we would slip. Isabella and Eli had snowfights and the valley was filled with their laughter.


Do you wanna build a snowman?

Do you wanna build a snowman? Isabella’s work of art. She has always been the more creative one. Very patiently, she put her snowman together, finding little twigs to make their its little arms.


Andorra

Andorra: Isabella was going to handcarry her snowman back. She attempted to do so but it very quickly melted in her hands. There was a tinge of disappointment and sadness when she had to abandon it along the trail.

 

The kiddos went for an hour of pony ride led by us around one of Andorra’s village of La Massana. This was also a great way to discover Andorra in summer, seeing the stone architecture against the backdrop of the mountains.

 

Horseriding

Andorra: Horseriding in the village. This was one of the highlights for Isabella.

 

My conclusion is that Andorra has a lot to offer with its  picturesque Alpine like villages with stone houses, slate rooftops to its beautiful mountain snow covered peaks and duty free shopping. In my opinion, Andorra made the right move to incorporate the shopping into its offers. It is a necessary evil that has paid off for Andorra and her citizens.

We spent 3 days in Andorra. We drove back to Barcelona from Andorra to catch our flight home. This marked the end of our Spain holidays and my souperinspiration trip. Thank you for the wonderful memories. I loved hearing the different stories about what people believe and their traditions. For me, this is an enriching way to know a culture; by their stomachs!I have been inspired tremendously and have learnt a lot. As a working mama, I have learnt a little more of my little ones on our trip and it is a memory we cherish. Indeed, we are very blessed to be able to spend quality family time together and immersing them to be global citizens. May our travels and road trips inspire you and your family to do something different too!

Signing off! Muchos gracias.

 

Pyrenees

Andorra: A final shot for the family album in the picturesque Estanys De Tristaina