Tag Archives: food & drink

Costas and Cuisine: Enjoying a Holiday in Spain

With comfortable weather, nap-inducing beaches and a culture steeped in history and tradition, it’s no wonder people from all over the world travel to Spain for holidays. Whether you’re looking for world renowned sites, a palate inspiring dish or just a beautiful place to relax, this Mediterranean country has it all. For those thinking about visiting this beautiful country, here are some of the best sights and eats it has to offer.

Best places to visit

This list could go on for days, but two popular areas in Spain that stick out are the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava and there are plenty of flights to Spain that will take you there. Literally translating as ‘Coast of the Sun’, Costa del Sol consists of the communities that dot along the coastline of the Province of Malaga, in the south of Spain. Here you’ll find a variety of landscapes, from seaside cliffs, bays and, of course, the golden sand of the beaches.

Costa Brava, a 160 kilometre stretch of coast along the north east corner of Spain, is more of a mix between high rising tourist resorts and sleepy village towns. You have small fishing ports like Cadaqués, where Salvador Dali resided for many years, and the beautiful town of Blanes, where you can spend days getting lost in the mesmerising botanical gardens.

Eating best

Source:  Poncho Equihua, used under Creative Commons licence
Source: Poncho Equihua, used under Creative Commons licence

The variety of dishes in Spain is mind blowing, with each region having its own speciality and different take on the same dish. There are a number of foods that most Spaniards prepare, with two that are a must try if you are visiting. The first is paella, one of the most popular dishes in the whole of Spain. Yellow rice is combined with onions, peas, tomatoes, shellfish, clams, squid and other regional specific ingredients, which are cooked over an open fire with olive oil (like everything else) and salt. The result is a delectable, stomach-filling treat.

A visit to Spain in the summer wouldn’t be complete without a bowl of gazpacho. Originating in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, this cold tomato soup, with its onions, garlic, and bell peppers, is a refreshing treat when the temperatures soar.

In Spain you have fantastic cuisine, dainty towns and picturesque ports. What are you waiting for? That gazpacho isn’t going to slurp itself.

10 Things to Know About Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Back home in Britain we tend to use olive oil rather sparingly; just a drizzle or a drop, no more, to prevent stuff from sticking to the pan. In Spain it’s not at all unusual to be served a plate of patatas a lo pobre (literally- ‘poor man’s potatoes’) or chorizo infierno (er, ‘chorizo hell) drowning in the stuff. In fact, it’s frowned upon if it isn’t.

‘Good grief!’ you would exclaim, ‘that is obscene!’, you might add. Plentiful, yes, obscene, no. That’s just how it goes in Spain; olive oil, or more specifically extra virgin olive oil, is king of the kitchen, and quite rightly so. This infographic, thoughtfully cobbled together by the good folks over at EATAPAS, explains why, along with a few interesting facts about Spain’s famously greasy export that you may not have ever realised…

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Oil be ‘appy to answer any comments you may ‘ave in the comments section below… 😉

Málaga Just Keeps Getting Better

Some of the most popular points of interest for Málaga visitors include the year-round warm temperature and the beaches of Costa del Sol. While the climate and beautiful scenery are certainly a draw, these days more people are flocking to the area for an entirely different reason.

In the last few years, Málaga’s fine food scene has exploded, rivaling some of the most iconic food destinations and attracting self-proclaimed foodies from all over the world.

The Guardian featured an article last year describing Málaga’s budding reputation and just how quickly the area has gained notoriety for being the “food hub” of southern Spain when it comes to produce and dining.

el campo, malaga, andalucia, vineyard, viñedo
El Campo, Malaga (Source FlickrCC: Cayetano)

As Fernando Rueda, sociologist and food historian, explained to Guardian writer Chris Moss, “Málaga has fantastic sardine and boquerón [anchovy], amazing shellfish, tropical fruits like mango and avocado. It has the last cane honey [molasses] to be produced in Europe. It’s the second most mountainous area in Spain and has all the climates and conditions you need for every kind of produce.”

As explained by British Airways, farmers in Málaga are able to take advantage of tropical growing conditions in some areas, as well as more temperate climates in others. This allows them to raise a variety of vegetation and livestock. In fact, some of the most important goat-breeders in Europe even call the area home. Over 95 percent of their goats’ milk is used for cheeses across Europe. It’s also one of the biggest contributors to the worlds supply of olive oil, over half of which is produced in within Andalucía’s boarders.

boquerones, andalucia, spanish food
Boquerones (Source FlickrCC: Boca Dorada)

It wasn’t always the food hotspot is to today though. According to Rueda, it wasn’t until recently that Andalucíans started to talk about their cuisine and offer it to visitors with pride. He noted that in the past, restaurants were more eager to please tourists by offering only a few regional dishes, because they were “associated with the past, and with being poor.” That’s completely changed, however, thanks in part “the return to democracy,” and it’s led to the realisation that the “cuisine is part of Andalucía’s identity, its culture and the landscape its people see every day.”

Nowadays, Andalucía embraces its local cuisine, and visiting food lovers couldn’t be happier. Authentic dishes celebrate the area’s mix of Spanish and international gastronomy, such as Gazpacho (a cold tomato, garlic and onion based soup with varieties including Porra Antequerana, Salmorejo, and Ajoblanco among others), Boquerones (fried anchovies), and Gachas Malagueñas (a dessert of fried bread served with a sweet syrup mixture).

gazpacho, spanish food, andalucia
Gazpacho (Source FlickrCC: Chip Harlan)

If you’re lucky enough to visit one of Málaga’s beautiful beaches and treat yourself to a mouthwatering order of Gachas Malagueñas, do yourself a favour and savour every mouthful with a glass of sweet wine. Málaga’s sweet white wines are known the world over for being some of the most indulgent dessert varieties around.

malaga, white wine
Sweet Malagueño Vino (Source FlickrCC: MG Spain)

Málaga certainly shouldn’t be considered as just a quick stopover before your flight home. The food on offer is proof enough of that.

El Deseo, Granada. You couldn’t wish for more.

Restaurant reviews aren’t normally my thing, but when I was invited to sample a selection of new fare available at one of Granada’s top eateries, how could I resist?

Restaurante El Deseo, located in the charming Plaza La Romanilla to the left of the city’s grand cathedral, is hardly in dire need of customers. Before my dining experience there, I had often noted how popular the place was, yet, such is my fondness for tapas bars, I’d never gone to see what all the fuss was about.

We are warmly welcomed by co-owner Sergio, who instructs us to sit back, relax and wait for the gastronomic goodies, which, according to the menu, promise ‘a surprising fusion of Italian and Granadino culinary cultures’.

First out, along with the beers, is a delightful tuna steak tidbit to whet the appetite. This is free tapa country after all.

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian

The first course arrives soon after that: Cartuchito Andaluz, a paper cone spilling out fried, tender calamari rings with green and red sweet potato fries, and the Delrio de ‘Ricotta’, a three-variety tomato salad with chunks of ricotta cheese, soaked in a rich olive-oil pesto dressing.

The freshness of the salad offsets the saltiness of the calamari perfectly, and it is certainly the first time either of us have tried green, sweet potato fries. Both are promptly devoured.

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian
Cartuchito Andaluz y Delrio de ‘Ricotta’

Then we are served what turns out to be our favourite and indeed most surprising dish of the day: Gambas Planchadas.

‘Plancha’, in Spanish, means ‘iron’. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Pescado a la Plancha on a Spanish menu, my fledgling mind conjuring up images of a chef somewhere in the kitchen flattening fish with an iron before serving them up on a plate. I soon discovered it also meant ‘grilled’, which, I imagine, is what those of you who speak Spanish are probably envisaging with these gambas (prawns), bizarre as that may sound. Yet it’s actually a lot more bizarre than that; you see, Deseo’s head chef actually does iron his prawns, between two pieces of greased paper, resulting in one, large 3-4mm thick layer of, well, prawn. Topped off with a garlic dressing and a handful of spinach, it goes down brilliantly. How about that for innovation?

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian
Gambas Planchadas

Next out are two more divine contraptions: Risotto de Moda, a millanese, saffron and mushroom blend, which, given its namesake, is presumably all the rage right now, and Huevos Rotos, fries topped with  an egg and black truffle fondue sauce and diced jamón de recebo.

The risotto, sprinkled with tuna flakes, is thick, rich and creamy but, in spite of our determination, we cannot do it justice by seeing it off. The huevos rotos, which had actually been reduced in size so as to make more room, is equally as gratifying yet ultimately as overwhelming too.

We are, as the Spanish say, ‘hincho‘.


But there is always room for dessert, and ours, brought to us by a smiling Sergio, looks heavenly. The Mojito del Deseo is sublime; a honey-glazed strawberry and melon salad form the bulk of the dish, but the refreshing, mojito-flavoured sorbet that sits on top is the tastiest thing we’ve had all day. All year, actually.

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian
Mojito del Deseo

For expats and travellers on a budget, of which there are many in Granada, a cheap tapas bar will do the job, but occasionally it’s nice to splurge.

And El Deseo is definitely the place to do that.

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian

Make mine a Rioja! A glance at Spain’s top wine region

Rioja wine is undoubtedly one of Spain’s most recognised exports; when ordering a glass at any Spanish bar, chances are it will come from the northern wine-making region. There hundreds to choose from, many with their own distinct shades and flavours, typical of the area from which they are from. Rioja, having spent centuries producing wine of the finest quality, is a region dedicated to its wine-making. Officially, La Rioja is divided into three regions: Rioja, Rioja Alavesa (the Basque Country) and an area in Rioja, east of Logrono, which belongs to Navarre.

However, the Rioja wine producing region has its own frontiers, containing the three sub-regions Rioja Alavesa (belonging to the Spanish Basque Country), Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.

This piece will focus on the  first of these regions: Rioja Alavesa. This is the wine production area in Rioja that lies to the north of the River Ebro– the second longest in Spain. As is normally the case in large wine-producing areas, there is always a river nearby. The vineyards to the north of the Ebro are part of Rioja Alavesa, which is sheltered by the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range. These imposing masses of granite limit the negative influence of the cold northern winds, allowing the grapes to flourish. Similarly, the level of rain in the Alaves region is also curbed by the close proximity of the mountain range; the clouds tend to thin out a bit before entering Rioja Alavesa (take a look at both sides on Goggle Maps to understand where it really rains!), which is good for the wine, since too much rain would mean less exposure to the sun which is needed for the grapes to ripen.

sierra cantabria, rioja, wine, wine-making, spain, spanish wine
La Sierra Cantabria

If you plan a trip to Rioja it is vital that you explore the entire region, and that you are not limited by the official frontiers we have described. A casual observer might not notice the difference between one region and the next, but closer inspection would bring to light some fascinating contrasts in architecture and wines to taste within the three regions. The architecture of the houses in Rioja Alavase, for instance, are more reminiscent of the typical buildings of the Basque Country, and there are, of course, tangible differences in the accent and dialect of each region’s people. Gastronomy in this part of the Basque country is made up of a rich mixture between Basque and Riojan styles. Most restaurants deliver excellent value for money and mouthwatering menus, which– unlike much of the rest of Spain –are often favourable for vegetarians.

As for the wines, there are palpable differences between the wines of Rioja Alavesa and the wines of Rioja Alta. The larger wineries can be found in the Rioja Alta region, where vineyards typically extend across different villages or towns and the best known brands of Rioja are often produced. In the case of Rioja Alavesa, production is often more limited in quantity and wineries are not so well-known (despite some very important exceptions). The Alavesa region is, however, renowned for its carbonic maceration wines. These are very fresh wines, which are made using the same process for alcoholic fermentation as the wines in Beaujolai in France. When these wines are young they offer all the character of the local grapes (most typically trempranillo for these wines).

sierra cantabria, rioja, wine, wine-making, spain, spanish wine
A typical scene in the Rioja Alavesa region

Wine sampling aside, there are many wonderful places to visit in Rioja Alavesa. Many small, isolated villages can be found in the high hills, which historically served as defensive barriers against enemies. From these villages, which can be seen on the horizon from afar, you can get fantastic panoramic views of the vineyard lansdcape. On the road from Haro to Logrono (north of the Ebro) you will be able to spot several of these villages, such as Laguardia or Labastida. Laguardia, which contains an underground labyrinth of wine cellars, is unique in that cars are not permitted to pass above, so as to ensure that these cellars do not suffer from vibration. Other towns of interest are Elciego, Villabuena de Alava or Lapuebla de la Barca, which is so-called thanks to the boat service that maintained communication between both sides of the river in the past.

sierra cantabria, rioja, wine, wine-making, spain, spanish wine, laguardia, wine cellar
A passageway to the underground maze of wine cellars in the Alavesa region’s Laguardia

A trip to this part of Spain brings us to a land where vineyards are quite simply everywhere. Life here is entwined with wine (pun intended) and the locals tend not to talk about much else other than the harvest and the quality of Rioja’s grapes. And to be perfectly honest, they’ve every right to: Spanish wine simply does not come any better.

This article is a guest post by Winetourismspain, a Madrid based travel agency specialising in wine tours in the Rioja region of Spain. I love wine and I love travel, particularly within Spain, so I am more than happy to publish guest posts like this. If you represent a brand that you feel would be a good fit for Spain For Pleasure then please get in touch via my contact page.

Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig-based Tapas

To be a pig in Spain would be akin to being Mr. Bean vs. Vinnie Jones in a celebrity death match, or a plankton being sucked into the gaping jaws of a blue whale. In other words, not a chance in hell; up shit creek without a paddle; absolutely screwed. You get the idea.

The Spanish love their jamón – that is a well-known fact – but pork-based dishes, unfortunately for pigs, extend far beyond thatI’m talking balls, brains, bladders and dried blood sausages; dishes that will leave fussy eaters and vegetarians gasping for air. And a salad.

In Granada I have occasionally come across such offerings, and while I have had only the guts to try one of them, they have inevitably stuck in my mind. Here, in absolutely no order of preference, are five of Spain’s most bizarre pig-based dishes:

Tortilla del Sacromonte

tortilla del sacromonte, pig's brai, pig's testicles, strange tapas, weird tapas
Tortilla del Sacromonte. Chewy.

If you’re unsure of what to do in Granada after visiting The Alhambra, why not head over to the neighbouring barrio of Sacromonte and dine on a delightful medley of pigs’ brain and testicles? This variation of the classic Spanish dish frequently causes tourists to scrunch up their faces as though they’ve just necked a litre of tequila, but don’t worry– it comes in cow and sheep flavour too. The locals love it.

Manitas de Cerdo

manitas de cerdo, pig's trotters, spain tapas, strange tapas, weird tapas
Manitas de Cerdo (Source: Javier Lastras FlickrCC)

Del cerdo, se come hasta los andares” – ‘of the pig, one eats to the trotters’ – or so the saying goes. Whether there is a saying or not, people still eat pig’s feet in Spain, that’s for sure.  Historically, manitas de cerdo was allegedly a poor man’s food, given as leftovers as payment for helping out in the killing of the pig. These days it’s not uncommon to find a set of pig’s trotters laid out among fillets and thighs in a local butchers, usually sold for the purpose of adding flavour to stocks and soups, but it is also often served with chorizo.

Oreja de Cerdo

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Oreja de Cerdo. It’s all ears.

The term ‘pig’s ear’ is used to refer to a mess or a job badly done in English. In Spain this couldn’t be any further from the truth; Oreja de Cerdo is a very popular dish, when cooked right. And just in case you were imagining pronging your fork into a great big flapping ear, it is not served whole, rather, cut into small pieces, cooked with sweet peppers, parsley and garlic, and fried until crispy. Not too bad, I’m told.


morcilla, tapas de morcilla, spanish food
Morcilla de Burgos (Source: Jonathan Pincas FlickrCC)

Many of you will be familiar with the famous English black pudding – a blend of pork fat, onions, oatmeal and pig’s blood – but Spain’s version, Morcilla, comes wrapped in the rind of pig’s intestine and exists in many varieties. La Morcilla Andaluza, for example, is filled with belly pork, dewlap, bacon, blood, garlic, salt and a mix of spices such as oregano and cumin. This is the only dish on this list that I have had the cojones to try– an incident which took place at a local tapas bar that specialises in the dish here in Granada, much to the amusement of my accompanying students and the bar staff. If you want to come and try it for yourself then there is plenty of affordable accommodation around town.

Criadillas de Cerdo

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Delicious, no?

I do wonder who first had the urge to chop off a pig bollock and pop it in his mouth. Times must have been hard. Nevertheless, it clearly went down well and subsequently caught on in Spain, as we are now able to stroll in to our local butchers and place an order for a whole sack of them, if we’ve the balls to do it. Unlike in the Tortilla del Sacromonte, they usually come plain solo in this version, save for a watery,  garlic and vinegar sauce and a few hunks of bread to mop up with. I once stumbled upon it in the rural Andalucían town of Piñar and had to politely decline. The locals, however, went nuts for it.

Ham sandwich anyone?