Three Ways to Stay Healthy on the Road

Ainssss pero te estás quedando en nada!

Rosa seems to think I’m getting skinnier, but even as I’m preparing for my wedding next summer and taking a bit better care of my body (read: no Doritos for breakfast).

“Come back after Christmas and you’ll see what two weeks of vacation does to me!” I quipped.

German food collage

Last year we were gorging on beer and brats in Austria (case in point above). The year before, I fell for catalán pastries. And now that I’ll be in America for nearly three weeks and likely stress eating, there’s no telling.

It might be in vain, but whatever the reason, many people choose to go on a diet before travelling. But on arrival at the destination, regimes tend to fall apart. Thanks to the temporary nature of vacations, scarfing three slices of French toast and honey at breakfast (or endless pastries because, Paris) suddenly seems okay. But there are ways to stay fit and healthy while on the hoof. 

I should take my own advice.

Use the facilities

If your hotel has the facilities, it might be time to break a sweat in that gleaming, state of the art gymnasium, or attempt a few laps in the pool. You’ll feel invigorated for the day ahead, and what’s more, when you get to the buffet breakfast, the choices you make will be smarter than simply loading up on carbs.

Image by Health Gauge at Creative Commons

I used to marvel at a traveling recruiter who always managed to stay so thin, even when on the road. She told me her secret was in buying day-long gym passes or simply booking a hotel with the right facilities. Duly noted – my tennis shoes are packed for my Christmas trip!

Incorporate exercise into your sightseeing

Take the opportunity to do something amazing on your bucket list that will also work wonders for your fitness. It might be getting up at 5am, taking the Metro across Budapest and enjoying a swim in the thermal baths. You could sign up for a scuba diving course in Egypt, or book a horseback expedition in Cyprus. There’s also the joy of exploring a location on foot – some cities, like Seville, are worth ditching the taxi fare for strolling around.

Going Hiking in Spain

I’ve got the perfect excuse this Christmas – I’ll be snowboarding Summit County Colorado for nine days!

Eat right

Just as it is back home, local food can make you fit or flabby – it all depends on what you choose to eat. Yes, it’s tempting to indulge in foods like crepes or deep dish pizza, but doing this on every day of your vacation will make you feel sluggish. You need fuel for sightseeing, not fat.

eating a thalis in India

Make sure to sample some of the healthy local produce or cook in your rental if you’re able. Sampling local cuisine is literally at the top of my list each trip, but remember you want to broaden your horizons, not your waistline.

While I’m committed to making these holidays my least gluttonous yet, there is one thing I can never help when it comes to being healthy at Christmas – KIDDIE GERMS! Fingers crossed my body holds up for the next week as I tackle exams and cross-Atlantic flights!

How do you stay healthy when you’re traveling?

Tapa Thursdays: Taberna Panduro

Wee, another posts about a gastrobar! I mean, I love a mushroom risotto and fig croquetas like the next guiri, but even with new restaurants opening all the time offering the same sorts of dishes, I was hoping for a little more.

After spending the morning and better part of the afternoon at the Feria de Jamón de Aracena, we were looking for lighter fare for dinner. Faced with only a Spanish decision – either deep-fried at Dos de Mayo or too expensive for end-of-the-month dining at Nazca – I was surprised to find a newer, second branch of the popular Taberna Panduro halfway between the two on Calle Baños.

We arrived early for a Saturday dinner – around 8:30 p.m. – and a few drinks inevitably turned into nibbles. I opted for a wine after a beer drinking marathon at the ham fair, choosing a hearty Jumilla simply because it’s a DO that’s hard to come by out west. Glasses of wine are not only affordable (3.50€ tops), but a number of DOs are represented.

Panduro is just shy of its third birthday, and noted for the quality of its dishes and reasonable prices. We did things the old-fashioned way: everyone chose what they wanted to eat, and we sampled. Jose María had a tatami de atún, I got grilled squid served with risotto and ñora peppers, Hayley opted for the grilled vegetables and Maru had lagrimitas de pollo with guacamole, though I may be wrong about who got what. We ordered cod to round off the last bit go hunger pangs.

The cod was slightly undercooked, and the guacamole didn’t seem too fresh, but the rest of the dishes were spectacular and beautifully presented. This Panduro’s decor was less harsh than the sleek reds and blacks of the sister tavern at Doña María Coronel, near Calle Feria.

The waiter brought us out more bread and olives as the restaurant began to fill up. Even though it’s de rigeur for places to charge for munchies, Panduro left them off the bill.

Had to put myself to bed after this long day, but five oversized tapas and several drinks each had us hovering at 10€ a head. A job well done, I’d say.

If you like Panduro’s offerings, you’ll also like: La Brundilda | The Room Art Cuisines | La Bulla

Panduro is at Calle Baños, 3, open daily but Monday for lunch and dinner.

Have you been to Taberna Panduro? Which of these tapas would you like to try?

The Best-Kept Secrets in Florence

I admit I’m terrible at keeping secrets, but only the kind that you’re bursting to share with people. The kind where no one is being talked about and no one will get hurt.

I would have loved to keep the Novio completely in the dark about our Tuscan holiday until we arrived to the airport in January 2013, but as someone who hates surprises, it was easier to tell him to pack for a weekend of eating and drinking, with a little bit of walking around in between courses.

It’s not secret that I love Italy and just about everything I’ve experienced – my great aunt married an Italian just off the boat, and together they founded Chicago-based Italian food import company Dell’Alpe. Italian food and language have always been present at my family gatherings. The Novio had never been to anywhere north of Cagliari, so I bought him round-trip tickets, a secret I kept for less than three hours. 

Having spent my first solo trip in Florence, the city’s main sights held little mystique, so I got a local to spill the beans – Tiana Kai, an American married to a Fiorentino, who sent me a list of bars, enotecas and hole-in-the-wall trattorias. But everything went out the window when we arrived cold and hungry to Florence after 10pm.

Despite wrong turns, nearly scratching our rental car and being at the inability to find our hotel, the concierge suggested a hidden trattoria for dinner. When I say hidden, I meant really was – even after an exhaustive Internet search, I still can’t find the name. It was near the Mercato Centrale and just as nondescript as every family-run restaurant on the street.

We arrived just before the kitchen closed around 11pm. Ushered to a table and poured glasses of wine, we blinked blindly at the menu, which was all in Italian. A group of American students chattered nearby, crinkly their glasses of Chianti together every opportunity they got.

I found two words I knew – ravioli and gorgonzola – and settled on it. The Novio ordered another ravioli dish and a plate of antipasto. We broke a no-pasta-or-rice-before-bedtime rule.

The restaurant’s kitchen was just over his right shoulder, so I watched the chef hand roll the pasta, shape the raviolis and stuff what looked like pulled pork into the small squares of pasta. Lumps of cheese went into mine, which were then tossed in a wine sauce and garnishes with walnuts. The Novio had unwillingly chosen wild boar, which is also the unofficial mascot of the city (hence the photo).

The following morning dawned cold but bright. I walked the Novio past all of the important sites – the Uffizi Galleries, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio. We vowed to spend our euros on food and drink, and therefore skipped the lines at the Medici palace for an espresso in the square, just steps from the iconic David statue.

We ended up near Santa Croce at noon. Entrance was a few euros, but as soon as the Novio found out it was Franciscan, he was willing to fork over the equivalent of a nice glass of wine. Though not a secret, hidden church, this basilica houses the remains of illustrious Italians, like Galileo and Michealangelo, in addition to providing respite from the cold sun. It’s a simple church, though its 16 chapels house frescoes from celebrated Italian artists.

We sat in the adjacent plaza after our visit,and I turned on my data to try and find a hole-in-the-wall pizza place I’d visited a few years back and found an open wi-fi code at a nearby wine bar. 

A college friend of mine had studied in Florence and recommended Il Gato e la Volpe. I had a meal there five years before, during my first trip alone in 2008. The waiters had sat me with an Italian American family who shared their wine and breadsticks with me as I devoured a pizza by myself.

Secret or not, this is as dive bar as classy Florence gets – wood paneling, rickety chairs and the smell of burnt pizza crust. We shared a liter of beer, a pizza and gnocchi with pesto for less than 12€, the price of a plate of pasta or individual pizza in a moderate restaurant near any major site in the city. (Via Ghiballina, 151, near Santa Croce. Open Daily)

We walked off our plates in the neighborhood, exploring roadside monuments and tucked-away piazzas before ending up back at the Arno and within view of the Ponte Vecchio.

The last place on our list was Piazzela Michelangelo – not an off-the-map place by any means, but most tourists don’t know it’s accessible by car. Tiana had clued us is, so we grabbed our bags from the hotel, shifted into first gear, and climbed the winding street in our Fiat.

The views were stunning on the clear day. We traced our steps through the narrow roads of the so-called Cradle of the Renaissance, from the Mercato Centrale to the Duomo to the backstreets of Santa Croce.

We were soon on the road to Bologna, food capital of Italy, where we’d skip again the leaning towers in favor of pasta, oysters and wine. Even in Emilia Romagna, we’d find locals willing to lead us to local foodie hangouts and invite us to rounds of grappa in the university area.

We left Italy after 48 hours, easily a few kilos heavier and without seeing any major sites. Unless, of course, you could seeing the Ponte Vecchio from afar.

Have you ever been to Florence or Bologna? 

Tapa Thursday: Meson Sabika in Naperville, Illinois

 Growing up, I didn’t even know Spanish food existed. My mother is not an adventurous eater, and even our tacos were devoid of spice, onions and garlic powder.

When I began studying Spanish at age 13, I was exposed to an entirely different culinary world – Spanish cuisine. Tapas were discussed extensively in my textbook, but it seemed like a foreign concept that I’d never get to try. That is, until Señor Selleck took us to Mesón Sabika – one of the few Spanish restaurants in the Chicagoland area at the time – senior year for a field trip.

Recently, Kaley of Kaley Y Mucho Más published a post on why she thought American tapas restaurants get it all wrong. She’s definitely got a point – tapas portions at raciones prices and a more crowd-pleasing “take” on Spanish cuisine is not for me – but since I had to be at Meson Sabika for a lunchtime meeting, I figured I could have a beer and a few dishes.

Arriving at a Spanish meal time of nearly 2pm, the frazzled but friendly waitress led us immediately to the bar, where we figured we’d get away from the lull of chatter of the other patrons. Built in 1847 as a family home, the mansion that houses Meson Sabika has various dining rooms named after Spanish cities, landmarks and foods with accented ceramic bowls and bullfighting posters. Not as sleek as Café Ba-ba-reeba or Mercat a la Planxa, but definitely more intimate than Café Ibérico.

The Spanish wine list is extensive, with even lesser-known DOs like Jumilla and Toro represented. Margaret chose a fruity Rueda, but I stuck with a beer and ordered a 1906 (Spanish restaurants may not know Spanish food, but Meson Sabika had my two favorite Spanish beer brands, Estrella Galicia and Alhambra!).

While safe, the menu plays up Spanish favorites by making them a bit more American-palate friendly. Many of the meat dishes had cheese or roasted vegetables with them, bocaditos came with garden salads and not one dish contained a weird animal part. We settled on papas bravas to share, which came covered with shredded manchego cheese and chopped parsley. Not the most Spanish dish, but definitely tasty.

We each decided on an individual entrée – skirt steak with roasted potatoes and cabrales cheese for my sister, eggplant and roasted red peppers sliders for me. After so many brats and beers and processed food, it tasted like home.

While Spanish restaurants stateside might not embrace the eat-as-many-small-plates-as-you-like and we’re-family-let’s-share mentality that I love about Spanish food traditions, the menu does have a lot of different choices for even the most wary about Spanish food (let’s put it this way – my mother thinks it’s an appropriate for a big party venue) and makes it pretty easy to share a few things and still get your own plate. 

But, ouch, the bill! A meal like this back in Spain might have run us 20€ without a tip, but I ponied up $50 after tax and tip for the two of us. And no free olives?!

Have you been to any tapas bars or Spanish restaurants in your home country? What it your opinion on their food, prices and portions?

In case you go: Mesón Sabika is located on Aurora Avenue in downtown Naperville. Open daily for lunch and dinner; Saturdays, dinner only. Their menu is available on their website.

Tapa Thursdays: La Dalia

I have the secret to getting a table at some of Seville’s hottest dining spots.

Go during a big football match. Really.

I have to admit that I was a bit disheartened when I wound up at La Dalia at 10pm midweek. There was no buzzing chatter or the cacophony of cutlery banging against plates. In fact, the only other people in the restaurant were the two members of the wait staff.

But at least I got a table right away.

La Dalia has received pretty good reviews of late, as the small bar is close to the Alameda and is yet another gastro pub offering spins on Spanish favorites. What I liked about the menu is that it (mostly) strayed from typical offerings in fusion and gastro places – no risotto here, but wild boar, an offering of cheeses and baked fish fashioned with chutneys and beans.

By the time H showed up, I was pretty decided on the few dishes I’d like to try, though many didn’t come in tapas form. We settled on duck and apple croquetas, morcilla de arroz with pisto and a fried quail egg, and a mini ox hamburger with foie gras for each of us, plus our requisite beers.

The croquetas and morcilla came first, and I was already making a mental note to come back and try more. But the hamburgerseso, sí, a gastrobar staple, was topped with cheddar cheese, which effectively killed the flavor of a well-cooked meat.

In lieu of one last tapa, we decided on dessert. In hindsight, we should have chosen another dish. The apple pie was doused in strawberry sauce, which cut the entire flavor of the apple and cake, and the brownie was dry. 

La Dalia wasn’t a total washout, but I won’t be running back there any time soon. I didn’t think the staff was especially friendly, either, but they could have just been bummed that they were missing the big game.

Los detalles: Calle Trajano, 44, right off the Alameda. Tuesday to Saturday 1:30 to 4:00 and 9:00 to 11:30. Closed Sunday and Monday dinner.

Tapa Thursdays: Banderillas

Just as soon as it came, spring has left.

In other words, it’s already too hot to sleep.

My diet changes with the weather – just as soon as I’ve put away my heavy sweater, I stop eating lentejas. With my summer wardrobe comes gazpacho, salad, caracoles, fried fish and banderillas with my beer.

Where it comes from:

What it is: A banderillas is a snack that takes its name from the barbed sticks used in bullfighting (and, according to Google images, also the name of corn dogs). Pickled vegetables are stuck onto toothpicks and eaten in one bite. These vegetables can include gherkin pickles, red peppers, cebolletas, guindilla peppers and olives, and sometimes include anchovies or even chunks of cheese, depending on preferences.

Goes great with: Beer and a warm, sunny day! Just don’t drink them with wine – the banderillas are briny with a kick from the pepper and therefore kill the taste of a robust tinto.

Where to get them in Seville: The banderilla is great for parties, and you can buy pre-made jars at the supermarket or make them yourself at home. As something to matar el hambre after work, I’ll grab a tapa from La Melva (Cardenal Ilundain and Manuel Siurot) or any other old man bar.

What are your favorite bar snacks? Do you like banderillas?

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