Baguettes and no macaroons left behind in Paris

Unlike London, I had several expectations for my first trip to Paris. Many of them are no longer possible, but I did have a few snapshots in mind, including spreading pate onto a baguette at one of the millions of cafe tables along a busy Paris street. That didn’t happen either. As a college student visiting Paris in a group of six or seven, you are very limited in what you can eat, do, and see. While we definitely saw pretty much every monumental sight in Paris, I definitely did not eat the way I wanted to eat, and I am still getting used to that. Example: Our first dinner was at “The Carousel” (not even in French), that seemed more like a coffee shop than a restaurant and whose menu came in several languages…even Japanese. 

I really did try to keep my nose out of the air and out of my food, but my friends could feel my disappointment. Living and traveling with so many acquaintances has reiterated a few things I already know, like that I am terribly unfit and that I have a very unique relationship with food that can be exhausting and ridiculous at times. I know this.

But a positive about this relationship is the satisfaction that comes from those moments I do find a great bite, something that can actually make a trip for me. Thankfully, I had two of these in Paris.

After stopping by the Eiffel and Les Invalides, my friends’ itinerary took us to Rue Cler, one of the best food market streets in Paris. Suddenly my eyes lit up at cheese shops, patisseries, and boulangeries. I know zero French, so all I could do was jut my finger at the baguette that I wanted. While I don’t think smoked salmon is particularly French in any way, it was the most gorgeous baguette in the case. As I sat at a tiny table in the sun on Rue Cler, I bit into my salmon baguette topped with aoili, roasted tomatoes, and lettuce and remembered once again why I am exactly the way I am. 

I can’t conclude this post without admitting something. I found Laduree in Paris, took a bunch of pics of its mint green exterior, and embarrassingly ordered only two macaroons (one lemon and one orange blossom at 1.50 Euro a pop). As I tried taking photos of my little macaroons and balancing them on my knee on a bench outside, I dropped one. And I picked it right back up of the Parisian street and ate it! At that price, I have no regrets, and I guess I will always have the grime and grace of Paris with me.

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Borough market and Indian in London Town

I could really go to a food market every weekend in a different city for the rest of my life. Last weekend, after speed watching What a Girl Wants, I headed to London with my entire program for a crazy weekend of sight seeing, pub crawling, and of course, eating.

My favorite thing about London was the Borough Market, a market near the Globe filled with stands of every kind of food. While I think Barcelona’s market dazzled me more with its bright fruits and juices, Borough Market had free samples at almost every vendor. Need I say more? Then I got a serious case of market shock, which is a phrase I’ve coined for the dizzying, euphoric anxiety I experience when entering a quality market. I’m unsure if others get market shock, but it goes a little like this: Oh my god, where am I? This is amazing. Too many foods, so many foods – how will I try them all? I can’t possibly try them all. Should I get – wait that looks good – but, ooh that, definitely that. This internal dialogue occurs most of the visit, until I finally decide on a meal and I take that first bite. Then, I’m either completely euphoric or unsure if I should get something else to go with it. At the Borough Market, I ended up at the exotic meat stand, and ordered an ostrich steak baguette. It was delicious! It tasted like Thanksgiving, ostrich, and bread all together. The baguette was spread with coarse dark mustard, cranberry sauce, caramelized onions, and topped with ostrich. After my first bite, I found the closest wall, leaned back and enjoyed my sandwich…and then raced to any and every free sample I could find.

The other main foodie event was an Indian dinner with my friend Andrew. I had heard that London was possibly the best place to get Indian food outside of India, and it was all I could think about the entire trip. But of course, of a group of 80 Americans thrown together on a trip, only two of us were interested. Their loss. Andrew and I went to a place called Ganges close to our hotel in Paddington where we devoured Samosas, Chicken Tikka, rice, and Naan. Although I obviously can’t let Ganges speak for the entirety of London’s Indian food, or my favorite place in D.C. for all of America, I did find this Indian food less sweet and not as thick. And if I’ve been taught anything about American stereotypes, it’s that we add sugar to everything.

As is I sit in my wine class while I write this, I’m missing that Indian and prepping for a weekend of crepes and pate in Paris. I don’t want this to ever end!

20140327-133626.jpgBorough Market

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My ostrich steak baguette20140327-134124.jpgLook at the color of that Tikka!

 

 

Cheetah Girls fantasies and boquerones in Barcelona

Last weekend I booked a trip to see one of my best friends from high school in Barcelona. She’s currently studying in London, and went to Barcelona for spring break with her abroad friends. When my trip to Barcelona didn’t work out two weekends ago, I jumped at this chance to see her and the city.

I’m not ashamed to admit that my first encounter with Barcelona was from watching Cheetah Girls 2. In my pre-teens, Disney Channel Original Movies were one of my favorite past times. I used to sit in a little blue chair at my grandparent’s house on afternoons after school and snack on peanuts and pickles and dance around the room to them.

I would’ve never thought that less than a decade later I would be landing on a Ryanair flight by myself in Barcelona, Spain to see a best friend from home. It was Cheetah-Girl-dance-around-the-room exciting. Every once in a while on the trip Emily and I would squeeze hands, and say something like “we’re here, we’re here” and then break out into a cheetah song. As much as I tried to make those moments real and memorable, they are still such a blur. But I made sure to take as many mental snap shots as possible – especially as I ate boquerones with a tiny fork and sat on the beach of the Mediterranean with my best friend. That was definitely one of my favorite moments abroad.

And another was our trip to the Sant Josep market in the center of the city. I knew I would fall in love with this market the minute I saw it and I was right. I had no idea where to start, but slowly ate my way around the market. In total, I had a fresh strawberry and mango smoothie, a large cup of fruit, a chicken and vegetable empañada, a fried cob kebab, and boquerones for the road. I definitely did not stay long enough, and believe that only a trip a day for the rest of my life would suffice. While I enjoyed being with my friend and her friends at the market, I think this was something I would have loved to have experienced completely alone or completely in love (which is how I feel about many of these trips I’ve been taking). So, that only leaves me one option, to return!

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Mouthfuls of Morocco

This weekend I went to Morocco. In less than a few hours, after I had seen Gibraltar and left Spain on a ferry, I was bouncing up and down on a camel in Africa along the shore line. It was surreal, at best.

With all that is happening so quickly and often here in Spain, I didn’t have time to meditate or anticipate anything about Morocco or Africa. And contrary to my typical ways, I think that was the best way to go. I took every city, bus ride, and Moroccan as they were without too many preconceived notions. Of course I had thought about what places like Ghana and Kenya must be like and how it would be if I were to go there, but never Morocco.

However, on one of the many long bus rides from city to city, I did get to sit back and listen to our Moroccan tour guide Mohammed explain Moroccan food and culture in an almost comedic sketch.

He said many funny things but my favorite went like this: “In Morocco, we don’t use silverware. It makes no sense. As Moroccans, we share one large plate of food. If we tried using forks and knives or talking while we ate, we would go to bed hungry. I don’t know why, but this is how it is.” For a second I was puzzled at this relatively modern man using his hands to eat every food – even couscous. As I pictured him shoveling semolina into his mouth, he refuted the spoon as a way to eat soup: “Why use a spoon? I can not think of a slower way to eat anything. Grab the cup in your hands and slurp it down to show your wife it is good.”

As I laughed and slightly winced at his very gendered remarks, I remembered once again that food is intrinsically linked to all cultures and all people and reflects every aspect of their world view. And as he explained that a fat wife meant a happy life, I sat back and took him and the landscape all in again.

And that night, when I downed mouthfuls of couscous from a shared plate, I thought of Mohammed and began to understand.

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Warm, spicy couscous with chicken and vegetables

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Fruit from a vendor in Tetuan

Sunday dinner at Las Golondrinas

The day I learned that Sundays were my host mother’s day off, I started planning Sunday dinners all around Sevilla. Contrary to popular belief, classes in Spain are really just like classes back home, and they can carry on for what seems like forever. After I’ve listened for several minutes and definitively nodded at my teacher a couple times (Yes, I am listening), I scroll Eater, and then pull out my restaurant list. It’s torn out of a notebook, folded haphazardly, and filled with Spanish scribbles. 

My method is simple: divide and conquer. I’ve decided to try the best Spanish tapas bar in each neighborhood of Sevilla, and hopefully try some of the best food Sevilla can offer. This Sunday, my friends were troupers and walked with me in the drizzling rain to a tapas bar called Las Golondrinas in Triana. Triana is my favorite neighborhood in Seville so far. It is much more lively then where I live in Los Remedios, and less touristy then El Centro. It has that local color I’ve been looking for, or “local cul-ah” as a New Orleanian would say. We walked in and it was just what I ordered, tiny, quaint, and filled with colorful tiles.

We ordered a ración of chipirones (a new favorite since Cádiz) and punto de Solomillo. The punto was supposed to be a local favorite at Las Golondrinas, but for me it was simply a slice of sirloin on toasted bread. The squid was pretty tasty, and was served in a green sauce over lettuce and olive oil. I enjoyed my food at Las Golondrinas, but I was left feeling like I was missing something, as I often am in Sevilla. As I wrote in a previous post, where is the food that screams Sevilla? 

I was talking with my dad on the phone about my bad luck, and he said something along the lines of this: “When I went to Europe I didn’t go for the food. Food in Europe is good, but we’re from New Orleans. That makes things all together different.” Being in a city across the Atlantic can have an effect on your memory, in that you are so surrounded by another culture that you forget your own, and it even made me forget my hometown for a minute. I briefly forgot that I am from the food town of all food towns, a place where soul is in every bite and Italian and Creole food can be on the same menu, and where you can taste the music as much as you can hear it at a Sunday Jazz Brunch.

New Orleans is loud, and what I’m coming to find out is that Spanish food is not. Spanish food is cured ham, crushed tomatoes on bread, and olive oil dripped on seafood. It has always been good, and always will be good and on a whole it does not try to combine its flavors with other cultures or be anything it is not. And that is something I am growing to appreciate, and even be proud of experiencing. Of course, I have not been to Barcelona or the Basque Country, where I am sure they are doing innovative foodie things every minute. But this is Andalucia, and Andalucia is purely traditional, and purely Spanish. 

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Las Golondrinas

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Chipirones

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Punto de Solomillo

 

 

Fresh fried fish in Càdiz

This Friday I went to Càdiz with my program, and saw the Mediterranean sea for the first time. I was in awe. I have studied and seen it in so many photos, but seeing it in person was surreal. The water was indescribably blue, and staring at it seemed to wash away everything but my awareness at being alive and warm all over. But the warmth most likely had to do with the vitamin D I had been desperately missing in Seville recently.

After seeing this view, what else could I do but eat fresh baby squid caught from that very place? In my research, I found out that fried fish and beer was one of the favorites for lunch in Càdiz and that Freiduria Las Flores was a good option for lunch.

Ah, the satisfaction of Googling a top local spot, actually finding it in a foreign city, and sitting down! A group of us ordered plates of fresh fried food, including chipirones (Spanish dish of baby squid), fried shrimp, empañadas, and fried fish balls. Most of it tasted like fresh fried seafood tastes, but the chipirones were really special. After my lamb brain soufflé, it was neat to have a plate of whole fried squids set in front of me and not flinch in the slightest. The squid put all calamari in the States to shame, and its purple ink was really flavorful.

After staring at the Med for so long, I almost wished I had studied in Càdiz, but I already feel a growing loyalty to Sevilla.

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My first cooking class in Spain

I’m really excited to be taking a literature and cooking class in Spain this semester, because, what could be better?

The class is divided into two portions, one where we read food lit in class and the other where we actually get to cook Spanish cuisine. But so far, the lit portion has been somewhat dissapointing. Maybe it’s this way because we are mapping food lit in Spain from the beginning, or perhaps I’m getting tired of circling every time “pan” or “cerveza” are cited in the Epic of Gilgamesh. I think it will get more exciting and relatable as we move through the centuries.

Because of all this, I was excited to attend the first cooking class – not only because I’m in Spain, but because it would be my first cooking class ever.

I’ve written on here before about my regrets at not cooking anything substantial so far in my lifetime on my own. Until I stepped into that kitchen, I don’t think I realized that this would be the chance I needed, away from my dad’s delicious meals and my friends. In this kitchen it would be me, some strangers, and a whole lot of onions. I was excited…if frying an egg and plopping it on a ciabatta roll got me gleeful, something really intense may happen here.

And intense is exactly what I recieved. As the class stood around the island, the chef unveiled what we would be preparing. And there, before me next to a few onions sat an entire lamb skull – tongue, eyeballs, and all. My first reaction…distrust. Did they really feel the need to shock us eager Americans? Couldn’t we start with something like tortilla española? After the vegetarians left the room, I realized our instructor wasn’t attempting a lesson in shock or lamb anatomy. She simply wanted to show us how close Spaniards are to their food. I could see the pride in her face as she unhinged the skull and pulled out the lamb’s brains.

At that moment I really got into it (and by that I mean I mainly watched everyone else tend to the cooking). I did attempt to slice some bread, which I was told was cut very haphazard. Oh well.

We got to eat the meal in the end, but as I looked around I realized I was one of the only few eating the lamb brain soufflé. And that was the moment when my confidence finally peeked around the corner. Maybe I couldn’t cook just yet, but I am a taster, after all. Seconds, anyone?

20140217-211620.jpg The soufflé looking innocent enough

20140217-211718.jpgFish we cut and cleaned and lightly fried and tossed in a pickled sauce (probably one of the freshest things I’ve ever eaten).