Wednesday, July 22, 2009

El camino (Part II)

Asturias. Gastronomic highlight of the camino. Perhaps you're wondering why I skimmed right over San Sebastián, which receives worldwide acclaim for its gastro-culture and culinary innovation. Why have I ignored such a potentially rich material for blogging? For one thing, the world already knows the reputation of the Basque city. Then there's the post-Marrakech debility of my stomach, no details necessary.

Not to worry - Asturias, land of cheese, sidra, and fabada, merits the special attention of this blogger. Luckily, I had two things in my favor. It was sunny during my 3-day stay, a rare occurence in the north of Spain, and I was well-accompanied by a friend and writer for Spain Gourmetour, who made sure I saw and tasted all of the necessary points of interest.

I started my tour through the principality of Asturias in its capital, Oviedo. It boasts the reputation of one of the most walkable cities in all of Spain, due to its lovely pedestrian streets, one of the reasons for which Woody Allen chose to shoot his recent bomb, Vicky something or other, in Oviedo. There is even a statue dedicated to the diminuitive director on one of the pleasant streets in the city center.

Founded in the 8th century A.D., the Cathedral of San Salvador is a mixture of architectural styles, incorporating Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque parts. Pictured below, a statue of a random traveler admiring the cathedral.

Church of San Miguel de Lillo on Mount Naranco, dating back to 848 A.D.

Another necessary stop in Asturias is a cider bar, or sidreria. The sidreria is to Asturias what the pub is to Dublin. However, whereas beer drinking has no standard for consumption, sidra-drinking is a ritual. "Escanciar" is the verb in Spanish that refers to the particular mode of serving sidra: pouring it from way up high and holding the glass low, to make it bubbly. Otherwise, the sidra is overly sour and undrinkable. If you are in a bar, the custom is to signal to the waiter that you would like a "culín" (literally "little bum") of sidra, and he or she pours a tiny bit in the bottom of a cup, which is to be drank immediately, leaving only the tiniest sip that is then thrown to the floor in order to clean the cup for the next drinker. In Asturian tradition one cup is shared by all drinkers.

An Asturiano "escanciando" sidra

During my stay I visited my friend's country home, nestled at the bottom of gorgeous green mountains and a 10 minute walk from countless virgin beaches. Here I was invited to a very Asturian lunch: cheeses from the caves of Asturias, made with milk of Asturian cows (les vaques in Asturian dialect), sidra, and fa-ba-da. Fabada is a stew-like dish made with fava beans, lacón (pork shoulder), tocino (bacon), chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood pudding), and spiced with saffron. The meat is stewed for a while, so that when the dish is served, the flavors mix together nicely. I'm a fan of bean-y stews, so I really enjoyed this dish, especially with a little Rioja wine. However, it is not light, summery fare, and advisable to leave yourself some siesta time before any physical activity, excepting for sidra escanciando.


3/4 kg Fava beans
1/2 kg pork shoulder
100 g bacon
2 Chorizo sausages
2 Morcillas (Blood pudding)
White onion
Olive Oil

Preparation: If you buy dried fava beans, you can begin the night before you plan to make your fabada, soaking them in water for at least 12 hours. Place the beans, pork, bacon, chorizo, morcilla, onion (cut into 2 halves), chopped garlic, whole parsley, in a covered casserole with a few glugs of olive oil. Cover all ingredients in cold water, and place over high flame. When water begins to boil, lower heat and partially uncover. While the mixture is cooking, add saffron. Once the meat is cooked, add salt to taste, then let it cook for another half hour. Remove onion and parsley, and serve with meat cut into pieces.

Monday, July 20, 2009

El camino (Part I)

As stated earlier, I decided to embark on one final voyage around and about the Iberian peninsula before returning to the states. I had planned to go to Marrakech, Burgos, and San Sebastián with my brother and sister, but from there I had no clear idea of where I would wander in the 3 weeks before my flight from Madrid to JFK. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to make it to Santiago de Compostela, the final destination in the famous Camino de Santiago. Originally a religious pilgrimage, this is a path that traverses the northern coast of Spain, through the lush, green (rainy!) regions of Basque country, Asturias and Galicia, and culminates in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The result of minimal planning and paying heed to impulsive whims was an adventure from Morocco to Burgos to San Sebastián to Biarritz (Fr) to Bilbao to Oviedo to Santiago to Barcelona, and finally, back to Madrid. And despite a couple bumps in the road, like the weeklong aftermath of Moroccan cuisine, and some rainy days up north, it was an incredible way to round off my two-years in Europe.



Jake lazing away a hot afternoon on the terrace of Riad Amiris

Mint tea and fresh baked brioche served to us by the lovely French couple that owned the Riad

In short, Marrakech was intense. We stayed in the medina, a short walk to the marketplace- a giant labyrnth covered by straw to block out the north african sun, where one can easily get swallowed up for hours on end. Our riad was the perfect, tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle outside.

Biarritz, France

Biarritz is in the south of France in the Basque region ... equal parts charming French city, surfer enclive. Perfect for a day at the beach or at a café with le journal.

Bilbao, Spain

I finally got around to visiting the Guggenheim museum. I found it an impressive, almost aggressive structure. I recently learned there is another Frank Gehry project at the Marqués de Riscal bodega in La Rioja. Funny. I just imagine a mini-guggenheim in the middle of the vineyards in Spain.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Home sweet

Back in the Catskills in upstate NY, reveling in the quiet and the crisp country air. Preparing to tell you all about my Camino de Santiago. Meanwhile, a snap I took yesterday by my grandparents' lake.