Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pintxos and Txakoli: San Sebastián's Perfect Pairing


San Sebastian's food scene is a lively display of artful, gastronomic hedonism. The main characters in this scene are pintxos; small bites of delicious food prepared in mouthwatering variations.

When I walked into my first pintxos bar, I was a bit intimidated. On the bar, there were dozens of plates filled with amazing finger foods and the choice was hard. The bartender handed me a plate and I chose mussels with a pico de gallo on top with a glass of Rioja. I watched as people made their choices and sipped on beer or wine and then left. When I was finished, I went up to pay and was shocked that my bill was only €3! 

The next place was very similar but their specialty was anchovies. I chose an anchovy skewer with pickles and a green olive. The briny taste of the pickles mellowed the saltiness of the anchovy and the green olive was the perfect finish, like an olive in a really good martini. I ordered white wine with this bite and knew I had fell in lust with a new way of eating.
Then, I found the pintxos bar that would become the favorite of my trip. Zeruko is a small unassuming place with mind blowing food. Part of their charm is that they incorporate molecular gastronomy for those who really want to geek out on their food. What kept me returning were the sea urchins topped with roe and olive oil and their gold dipped artichokes stuffed with scallops. I could.not.get.enough!! I also learned about a local wine called Txakoli which is poured with a dramatic raise of the arm into the glass below; this is to let the small bubbles settle. The wine is a light, refreshing white with the perfect amout of acidity to pair with some of the more heavy seafood bites. The staff was kind and knowledgeable and never tired of my many questions. 

The charm of San Sebastián was solidified by the pintxos experience. It is such a lively and social way to spend an evening. Perfect strangers or friends meet around a bar filled with food, choose their bites and sip their drinks while chatting. Each night, I met lovely people and learned about the various parts of the world they had travelled from. Travel never ceases to amaze me when it comes to the people I meet, especially when I am alone. Everyone's story is fascinating in their own right and the pintxos experience was like a large moving dinner table.

Every time I travel, I try to find a place or dish that commemorates the taste and feel of the region I am visiting. The Basque proved to be geniuses when it comes to capturing the feel of their region. Everything I ate tasted fresh from the sea and the wine paired perfectly with the abundant flavors. From my time in San Sebastián, I will always refer to pintxos and Txakoli as the most unforgettable tastes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Catania: At Least the Food was Good


I travelled to Sicily with 2 dear friends before a work conference. We stayed in Catania and planned on walking around, sipping cappuccinos and eating delicious seafood. We were able to do all of these things, but not in the way we expected...

At the arrival gate, we searched for our names on the signs being held up by drivers. I had spent some time communicating with the hotel about our arrival and they assured me that a driver would be there to pick us up. I didn't see our names or the hotel's name on any of the several signs. We looped 3 times with no luck. However, the hotel did send me detailed directions for taking the bus just in case I needed them. So, we hopped on the bus and arrived a bit later only to be told by the front desk, that our driver was looking for us at the airport. We laughed an exhausted laugh and checked into our room to figure out dinner for the evening.

Catania is located on the Southeastern portion of Sicily and is a port town where seafood is abundant. We were told to go to a certain restaurant near the center of town for "amazing seafood". I think all of us were too tired to try to translate the Italian menu, so we had the waiter pick for us and soon we had Prosecco, oysters and bread in front of us. The more I ate the heavier my eyelids became and it was apparent we were not going to last much longer. But we wanted to toast our first night in Sicily together and found a wine bar and ordered Campari spritzers to commemorate our journey. Soon after the clinks of the glasses and a short cab ride, we were all asleep.

The next morning, the clouds had found a comfortable spot right above Catania and we decided to venture into the city for some shopping and lunch. Shopping was limited but we did find an amazing place to eat lunch. The sun started peaking through and we found patio seating and ordered arancinis. Arancini is a large fried ball of various flavors of risotto. They are delicious. We ordered 3 different flavors--eggplant, pistachio and spinach. All wonderful and savory. 

After lunch, we walked around the city and found that it is full of graffiti and litter. I was planning on taking pictures of history and found my camera roll full of graffiti instead. There were a few times when we felt like we needed to get out of an area quickly only to find ourselves in a likewise situation. It was adventurous and we were happy to hop on a bus back to the hotel.

That night, we decided to eat dinner near the ocean away from the city and hopefully redeem the day, especially since we were headed to work the next day. There was a lovely section near the ocean with a few restaurants and we found a table inside overlooking the water. Pizzas and wine were ordered as we watched the lights twinkle on the water. Our food was delicious and the wine paired perfectly. We laughed about our adventurous day and offered appreciation to each other for our ability to travel well together.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

San Sebastian Arrival

When I arrived in San Sebastian, it was raining and dark. I had taken the train from Barcelona that afternoon, watching the Spanish countryside pass by in anticipation for my arrival. I was dreaming about laying on the beach and practicing my slowly growing Spanish vocabulary. I was tired from my adventures in Barcelona and could not wait to be in a smaller beach town. So, when I arrived to a rainy seaside town, I was a little disappointed. The cab driver spoke very little English and something that sort of resembled Spanish, but not enough for me to understand. After 5 minutes, he was able to figure out where I needed to go and off we went.

I rented a room in an apartment off Airbnb.com like I did in Barcelona and hoped my little research on the area would pay off. As I entered the building, I saw a tall twisting staircase in front of me and proceeded to climb the stairs up to the 3rd floor. I reminded myself that I was strong as I hauled my heavy suitcase up the stairs.

The man who was to be my roommate for the next 4 days greeted me with a smile and pointed to the lift and asked why I didn't use it. I laughed at myself for not looking around the lobby downstairs for such a thing. He was kind and had a map ready for me with points of interest marked as well as the apartment's location so walking around would be a breeze. I was grateful for his kindness and very clean apartment and went to sleep.

The next day, I rose bright and early to wander around to familiarize myself with the area. It was very cold with strong winds and drizzle. I decided my first stop was going to be a coffee shop with warm pastries. I found a lovely spot near a square which had an amazing variety of pastries and coffee. I sat at a window and wrote while watching people walk by in the downpour that had started while I sipped my cortado.

When the rain stopped, I walked to the beach in hopes of tanning. The weather was still very cold and windy so I just walked the boardwalk until I reached a mountain. I saw the famous symbol for the Camino de Santiago that I have been contemplating on walking and decided to follow the sign to see a portion of this 500 mile trek. As I was ascending the mountain, the views became more spectacular and the weather warmed. I offered up my gratitude on this small portion of the trail and descended to revel in the sun on the beach below.

With the sun out, the water was a brilliant turquoise. A few brave sunbathers and swimmers flocked to the shore. I found a patio overlooking the beach and ordered what was to be my first mind blowing dish in San Sebastian...Iberican jamon tosta-- Iberican jamon on top of crusty bread with tomato rubbed into it, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. The jamon in Spain is amazing. It is full of flavor and sliced perfectly thin. So delicious.

Contentment was the only emotion available at that moment and I basked in its beauty. With the gorgeous water, mouth watering food and warm sun, the beginning of my San Sebastian trip proved to be just what I needed after the vibrant, gorgeous and addicting cacophony of Barcelona.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Love Letter to Barcelona

Your streets are the veins where life flows through you. You are vibrant, colorful and always alive. Your serenade is boisterous laughter, perfectly played guitars and the stomps of flamenco dancers. You wear the uniform of the bohemian--free flowing, one where colors are mixed not matched. Hair is uncombed yet beautifully tousled, thick with waves and colors from years in the sun. Your skin is bronzed with a slight hint of freckles, each telling of a sun drenched adventure. You feel passionately; fighting like a feral cat yet your love runs so deep it balances you out. Your scent is smokey and sweet--a blend of tobacco and fruit blossoms with a hint of petrol.

You are my lesson in anything goes and letting go. I was shown that nothing needs to happen in patterns. Life is messy, loud, chaotic and most of all beautiful. I learned to get lost and wander; opening my heart to peel back yet another layer. I held my breath in your presence...tense yet excited at the same time. You challenged my bravery and showed me another facet of my strength.