Tapa Thursdays: Eating at a Guachinche on Tenerife

Julie’s plan had only three itinerary stops on my only full-day on Tenerife: Rental car. Teide. Guachinche :)

Eager not to ruin my own surprise, I refused to give into sneaking a peek at what this oh-so-tenerifeño dining experience was. I actually didn’t know it had anything to do with food until after we’d climbed to the peak of Teide on empty stomachs and was promised a mountain of raciones.

Zigzagging down the face of the active volcano through rollercoast roads, I actually think I heard my tripa gurgle. But the excitement in which Julie told me about these temporary, family-run restuarants blew my expectations (sorry, done on the volcano expressions and puns).

“Si esto se llama La Salú para mi madre, que descanse en paz!” 

The small restaurant’s owner, David, was showing us around the various dining rooms, all set around a humble kitchen where family members were peeling Canarian wrinkly potatoes (papas arrugás) and preparing meat at a grill. His mother, a sevillana by birth, married a Venezuelan before moving to the island. When she passed away, her family, who had always loved wine, planted a small vineyard and the guanchinche was born. The name, La Salud, is a homenage to the family matriarch.

We chose seats on the covered patio, watching the clouds roll in over Puerto Cruz. 

Guachinches began to spring up on Tenerife as humble restaurants from which small producers could sell their product. The island’s volcanic landscape lends well to producing young, fruity reds, so we ordered a half liter to begin with. The restaurants operate so long as there is wine to sell – it’s common to find guachinches closed late in the season. 

There were just five dishes on the menu, guaranteeing that everything we tried was fresh – eggs, sobresada and fries (huevos estampidos); garbanzos with a spicy tomato sofrito; chistorra sausage with fries, steak and cheese produced on the island. We ordered all but the steak and an extra half litre of the family’s fruity, fresh wine.

What I loved about the experience (aside from the price – 25€ for everything!), was the personal service we received. Everything was served hot and tasty, and we left satisfied.

Guachinches have started to pop up on nearby Gran Canaria, but the real thing is as tenerifeño as Teide itself.

If you go: La Salud is located in the town of La Orotava on the western side of the island, just east of tourist town Puerto Cruz. The address is Camino de Los Gomez, S/N. They’re typically open from 1pm until 11pm, though may be closed if the wine is depleted. You’ll need a rental car to reach many of them, or a reliable taxi service, as the guachinches tend to be set away from major cities in the north.

Have you ever been to a guachinche, or something similar? Would you eat with locals?

Picking Winter Fruit in Southern Spain

In the winter months, citrus fruits, figs, mushrooms and chestnuts are ripe and ready to be picked. Olive oil harvests begin, and crops like pumpkins, avocados and leeks begin to pop up in supermarkets.

As a kid growing up in the icy Midwest, we’d often have raspberry and tomato plants, which only came around in the summertime. My grandpa lived in Orange County and would send us navel oranges as holiday gifts – without fail, there’s always one at the very bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning.

Coming from a country that pumps horomones into everything we consume, Spain is a breath of fresh air. Horomone-free, that is. I have learned to live with seasonal products. Strawberries comes in the early spring, sardines are best eaten in the months without an R in the name, and tomatoes are available year-round, thanks to greenhouses in nearby Los Palacios. Winter means fig jam, roasted chestnuts and zucchini soup.

As part of our day in the malgueño countryside, Mickey and I searched a small orchard for the ripest figs, lemons, and oranges. Honeybees continued to flit around the fruit that had fallen to the ground and smashed open. Sergio crushed a few ripe olives, showing us how oil was traditionally extracted from Southern Spain’s star crop. Mayte explained how to pick the best fruit, which had been victim to little rain this year.

Later that day, our hand-picked lemons would dress up our fideuà, the oranges formed the base of a fresh salad with spring onions and cod, and the fleshy part of the figs were devoured, turning our lips red.

My experience at A Cooking Day was offered to me for free by Mayte and Kety. My opinions, and the extra calories, are all mine.

Spain Snapshots: Little Known Wines from Spain and Portugal

You should blame my host family for my love of wine. Not used to drinking with dinner, they’d top up my glass with rich Ribera del Duero wines, saying it was all part of the cultural experience.

(if only I had a euro for every time someone told me wine is part of the cultural experience in Europe.)

Thanks to the arid temperatures, firm soil and river terraces, the Denominación de Origen La Rioja and the Duoro river regions of Spain and Portugal have become top wine-producing (not to mention an award-winning) regions in Europe. After a trip last year to Porto and several master’s projects centering on wine, I became hooked on vinos from lesser-known regions of both Spain and Portugal. Now that the harvest season is here, I find myself spending more time in the wine aisle of my supermarket, curious about where my palate can take me.

Here are some of my new favorites:

Madeira

Unbeknownst to me, Madeira wines of Portugal are up and coming, thanks to their wide range of grape varieties grown on this small island in the Atlantic. If variety is the spice of life, Madeira wines have it all – ranging from dry to sweet, and even used for cooking purposes. What’s interesting about these wines is that they can stay good after being opened, thanks to the extreme temperatures in which the grapes are grown. Madeira wines are becoming increasingly popular in the US, though they haven’t taken hold in Spain.

Ribera de Guadiana / Tierra de Barros

After my master’s program assigned us a case study on increasing wine sales internationally (my type of project, clearly), I learned about the wine region we’d chosen, based on having a group member in Cáceres. This region encompasses two dozen grape varieties, the most prominent of which is the garnacha. Their latest harvests have been classified as Very Good, and I find the red complement the typical foods of the region quite well, particularly ham, migas and embutidos.

Jumilla

When the Novio and I were visiting Murcia last year, I searched for something to do besides eat baked octopus. Unbeknownst to me, Murcia hosts the Jumilla wine region, the breeding ground for the monastrell grape variety. The wines we tried at Bodegas Garcia Silvano were deep and woodsy, and you can find them at Mercurio Gastrobar in Triana.

Speaking of, there are loads of wine bars and specialty shops in Seville, and I’d recommend lunch La Viñería de San Telmo, Flor de Sal for Spanish wine tastings with Andre, or checking out the Viñafiel wine store near the cathedral.

This post was made possible by Tesco Wine.

Have you ever tried any of these DO wines? What Iberian wines are your favorites? Lauren explained five interesting facts about Spanish wines – check it!

From Wine Tasting to Extraordinary Architecture: Discovering the Douro Valley

Author’s Note: Seville wasn’t always the object of my Spanish affection: I spent six weeks living with a host family in Valladolid, perfecting my castellano accent and drinking copious amounts of Ribera del Duero wine, still one of my picks. The fertile Duoro valley, which begins in Northern Castilla y León, flows into Portugal, who has also gained international fame for its port wines from the region. I had the opportunity to visit its capital, Porto, and became a big fan! I’m aching to go back and explore more: Home to some of Europe’s most remarkable natural landscapes, the Douro Valley is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s finest regions. An international hotspot for fine wine production, this charming valley is the ideal destination for a summer holiday. 

As one of Portugal’s most sparsely populated areas, the Douro Valley is an excellent destination for visitors looking to escape the stress of urban life. Relax and unwind as you travel down the Douro River, taste great Portuguese wine, and enjoy yourself in this area of natural beauty. Read on to learn about the Douro Valley’s five best attractions for visitors looking for fun, sun, and relaxation, courtesy of Shearings Holidays, a leading tour provider of coach tours to Spain.

Wine Tasting

The Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s most well-known wine growing regions, with the unofficial title of ‘world’s most beautiful wine region.’ Famous for its delicious port wines, the Douro is one of Southern Europe’s wine growing hotspots. Relax beside the Douro River and sample one of the region’s famous ports, including 40-year-old tawny variations. Lovers of red wine will enjoy spending their holiday in the Douro’s vineyards and riverside wineries.

Authentic Portuguese Dining

The Douro Valley region is home to some of Portugal’s finest food, as well. Spend your first day in the region exploring Porto– the region’s largest city. Known as the country’s capital of fine dining, Porto is an excellent place to taste authentic Portuguese food.

Known for its seafood, Porto is the perfect place to taste bacalhau – a dish made using salted codfish. Other options include the popular beach BBQs in Matosinhos, where you can sample grilled fish, chicken, and shrimp.

Excellent Architecture

The entire Douro Valley region, and Porto in particular, is home to some of the best architecture and urban design in Portugal. Relax near the Douro in the central districts of Porto – also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and spend an afternoon exploring the thin, winding city streets. Streets near the city center, like Rúa Miguel Bombarda and the streets winding around the Seu and the university are especially charming.

As one of Europe’s largest mercantile cities in past eras, Porto is home to a style of tall, thin townhouses that are hard to find elsewhere in the country. The riverside area of the city, known as Ribeira, is a great place for architecture nuts to explore.

River Cruises

The Douro Valley is also renowned for having some of the most incredible scenery in all of Southern Europe. With vineyards lining the mountains that surround the river, a trip down the Douro is an incredibly stimulating visual experience.

Whether you opt for a short one-day cruise or a five-day river trip, spending your holiday on the Douro River is an excellent way to enjoy some of Southern Europe’s most dramatic scenery.

Historical Sites

Northern Portugal, the Douro Valley region in particular, is home to one of Europe’s oldest civilizations. Porto, the region’s largest city, was a Roman outpost during the height of the Roman Empire’s dominance of Southern Europe. Because of its historical significance, the region is filled with stunning churches and palaces. The Porto Cathedral is a beautiful Romanesque structure at the heart of the city, while the Palácio da Bolsa is a gorgeous 19thcentury palace that was formerly the city’s stock exchange.

From fine wine to delicious food, incredible houses to beautiful historical churches and Roman buildings, Portugal’s Douro Valley is an immensely rewarding place for visitors looking to relax in beautiful surroundings and discover Portugal’s history. This travel guide was written by Shearings Holidays, one of Europe’s leading coach holiday companies. Visit their website to learn more about river cruises in Northern Portugal and Spain. If it weren’t true, I wouldn’t publish it cuz I like keeping it real.

Tapas Thursday: Eating Italy

Little known fact about me: Italian food is as much a part of my family’s table fare as meat and potatoes. And I have not one ounce of sangue italiano in me.

There’s two parts to this story: firstly, my mom studied gelato and fashion in Rome in the 70s, developing a love for Ferragamo and fromaggio. And my great-aunt Mary Jane married the boy next store, my beloved Uncle Mario, whose family arrived from Northern Italy when they were in high school. Mario Rubenelli started the Dell’Alpe food import company, whose products can be found around Chicago. Imported olive oil, pepperoncini, balsalmic, and parmesean cheese were always on our table.

When I surprised the Novio with a weekend trip to Bologna, we had little else on our itinerary but gain a few kilos and wash it all down with Chianti. Add an overnight trip to Florence, and our food hangover was coupled with an art and architecture one.

Upon arrival to Marconi Airport, we steered our car south towards Firenze. Eager to eat, we arrived frantic and without a place to park. Our hotel recommended a small trattoria, and we snuck in just before they closed. The place, Trattoria da Guido, was cozy and lit with candles with a plain view of the kitchen. We communicated with our waitress in Spanish with a sprinkling of Italian – vino, prosciutto, acqua, grazie.

My eyes immediately went to the gorgonzola ravioli with walnut sauce, and Kike’s choice of tagliatelle with wild boar meat – a symbol of Florence, anyway – was clear. My chianti arrived with our salad topped with mozzarella and Parma ham, and our fresh pasta a few minutes later. Manggia, we did – I didn’t even take any pictures! My dish was heaven – creamy with nutty undertones and just the right amount (Via Faenza, 34. Open daily for lunch and dinner).

The following morning, a breakfast with a view of the Medici Chapel and the Saturday market met us early. After an espresso, hot panini and even some nutella for my banana, we stopped by the nearby San Lorenzo food market. On a sleepy Saturday morning, many of the stalls hadn’t even opened, meaning the Novio and I had nearly the entire maze of fish and vegetable shops to ourselves. But I was on a mission: to bring back a hunk of parmesean, even if it mean donning more clothes on board our return flight if my suitcase was overweight. Tempting were the rolls of salami, mortadella and tiny flasks of limoncello.

The morning was punctuated by stops in sunny piazzas for another caffeine jolt or Moretti beer. I was aching to get the sightseeing done and get onto having another meal, this time in a student pizzeria where I’d eaten years ago. The wood-backed chairs and exposed brick walls of Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe lent a comfortable atmosphere for our crostini appetizer as we poured over a six-pages of pasta, pizza and calzones. On my first solo trip, spent in Florence, I’d had a simple pizza and a small jar of wine, and the waiters seranaded me from a small corner table on a busy Saturday night – I needed that pizza again.

In the end, we split a hearty potato gnocchi with pesto and a margherita pizza with parmesean and ruccula (Via Ghibellina, 151, near Santa Croce). The meal was a perfect balance and a great value, and it filled us up during a day of driving back to Bologna and a long winter’s nap once there.

Emiglia Romano is the unsung food hero of Italy, home to Parma (of ham fame), Modesto (of basalmic vinegar fame) and tasty regional capital, Bologna (of the meat sauce fame). The gritty capital is not only known for its food, but for its modern university, which meant cheap and plentiful food options abound.

After a long sonnichiarre, the Novio and I bundled up and got a glimpse of the Due Torres, San Petronino church and Piazza Neptuno. Our hotel was right next to a highly-recommended osterria, but the early dinne crowd had us huddled in a bar, drinking beer. Upon changing locations – an aptly named bar called Siesta – the bartender asked the Novio what kind of beer he wanted via the young Italian sitting next to us.

Peppino – with two Ps, not to be confused with the vegetable – had studied in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and spoke pretty good Spanish. Adopting the When in Rome Bologna, do as the Bolognians do frame of mind, we followed Peppino and his friend Eliza to a swanky, low-lit supper club called Bravo Caffe, where we ordered a bottle of suave red from his hometown of Lecce and a platter of cured meats – mortadella, prosciutto, parma ham and pancetta. (Via Mascarella, 1. Bologna).

A woman took the stage as the lights dimmed, meaning we’d be eating with very little light. Our appetizer of squid with caramelized mushrooms arrived, opening the floodgates of my hunger. I had ordered potato gnocchi with pecorino cheese, smothered in parmesan, olive oil and fresh parsley, a staple on my Italian side of the family. Ignoring the music, the company and everything else that wasn’t on my plate, I popped potato ball after potato ball in my mouth. If there’s one thing that makes me a horrible guest, it’s the presence of good food in front of me – I don’t even remember what Kike ate!

After such a hearty meal, a grappa seemed to be in order, followed by a cocktail. The next morning’s alarm went off and I had to roll off the bed, thanks to a still-full stomach and a slight tequila hangover. We wouldn’t consume much more that day, sharing sandwiches on the plane ride and even skipping dinner.

Back at home, I purveyed my pantry: a new hunk of parmesan, marked with PARM REGG, three types of pasta, and all of the Dell’Alpe spices I’d hoarded from my family’s company. Not bad for a non-Mediterrean.

Like food posts? I also told you everything I ate while in La Rioja, Spain’s de-facto wine capital. Do you like Italian food (or food gluttony)?

Tapa Thursdays: The Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid

When I came to Spain to study, my first meal was far from memorable – a slop of mayonnaise, potatoes and nothing else discernable. I was convinced that I didn’t like Spanish food, nervous to move back and not whiddle away to nada.

Turns out, I like Spanish food, and a little too much.

I was invited on the Signature Tour of Madrid Food Tours, a relatively young business venture designed to showcase the Spanish capital’s culinary treats. Mercado de San Miguel was one of our locations along a route that included several stops and twice as many tapas.

The market was bustling, even at 11:30 in the morning. Stands ring the outside of the glass-plated hall, with high tables in the middle, making the market an idea place to mingle. Vendors sold everything from vermouth and Spanish wines, to pintxos and paellas that were ready to eat, to dried legumes and fresh seafood. A treat for both my eyes and my stomach, as we stopped to sample several foods along the way.

The market has a long history – from the times of Napoleon when it was an open-air market! The market then moved indoors, as an iron and glass structure was made to house it. In 2009, it reopened as a gastronomic capital, becoming popular with tourists who visit Madrid for its proximity to the historic center.

If you go: the Mercado de San Miguel is mere steps away from the Plaza Mayor and Calle Mayor in a square of the same name. From Sunday – Wednesday, vendors are open from 10am until midnight, with hours extended until 2am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Go with an empty stomach for nibbling!

I was invited as the gracious guest of Madrid Food Tour, but all opinions expressed are my own.

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