Food Journey Through Madrid, San Sebastian, and Paris

Memories never fade, but just in case I forget any of the amazing details… I got this little video to take me back to my adventures through Spain & France!

We started off wandering the historic streets of Madrid and exploring its historic bullrings and museums. Of course we could not miss a traditional lunch of bull tail stew before hopping on a train that would takes us on a fairytale journey to the majestic medieval castle walls of Avila, Spain.

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Bulltail Stew for lunch in Madrid

After a rich history lesson and some “cochinillo asado” and “caldo Madrileño” (Avila staples), we headed north towards the self-described gastronomic capital of the world, San Sebastian.

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caldo Madrileño near the castle wall – rich beef broth with chorizo bits, poached egg, and day old baguette.

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Cochinillo Asado – roasted suckling pig with patatas (potatoes of course)

I will never have such an exquisitely braised pig ear with sherry & butter sauce like the one I had that day in “La Cuchara de San Telmo” ….We also sampled a creative dish of seared goat cheese stuffed with roasted veggies and drizzled with a fucking delicious sauce (yes!) and finally sprinkled with sesame seeds for some unexpected crunch, Freshly caught cod fish was a memorable choice as well! All of the food was exclusively basque and painstakingly prepared by passionate chefs whose one mission in life is to showcase the culinary wonders of the Basque region.

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Seared & stuffed goat cheese @ La Cuchara de San Telmo

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Me in front of San Sebastian’s culinary jewel!

From San Sebastian we took a night train to Paris where we were greeted with a dynamic hustling and bustling city of lights!  A trip to the enchanting “Le Marche des Enfants Rouges”  fulfilled my Parisian fantasy of walking through the market stalls as I sampled fromage, charcuterie, and duck pate. Here, the “Bonjours” were always followed with a genuine smile!  The highlight of our stay was the charming “Le Petit Canard” where we partook in an unforgettable dimly lit romantic dinner for two to celebrate that moment in time, far away from home. It was perfection. After a day’s journey on foot through the most picturesque of Parisian neighborhoods, we came upon a lively yellow building with a small entrance and and inviting scene of happy diners begging us to come inside. The Escargot with garlic butter, duck confit, French onion soup, and cassoulet were just some of the classics offered in this quaint corner of the classical Parisian culinary world! The food was unforgettable, but the hospitality received in Paris was incomparable to anything else I have ever experienced. The restaurant owner at Le Petit Canard personally greeted us and kindly led us to our table. Language barriers aside, we talked about the origin of the organic ducks used in the menu and of his journey to Mexico and the food he encountered. The conversation always gravitated towards people and food. The food people eat and the food they share with others.

If there is one thing I noticed in my journey through Paris, Madrid, and San Sebastian, was that the people are eager to share their food with us, and through that sharing they taught us a little about their history, way of life, and culture.

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French onion soup @ Le Petit Canard

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Le Petit Canard

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Escargot is not to be missed

 

Eating Barcelona Pt. 2 – Mosquito

Close your eyes and imagine the remnants of a dark, rainy night. The rain is falling slower and slower with every passing minute until there is nothing left but some sporadic shallow puddles and the smell of wet dirt in the air. Rain is not something Barcelona is known for, but when the winter arrives and the drizzle settles in, it can be unforgiving for the unsuspecting traveler. On this particular night of cold rain, we ventured out into the miedeival labyrinth we had become so familiar with already, El Born. We wandered around with the high hopes of finding a bowl of something to warm up our mood!

As we turned onto one of the many winding paths of “El Born”, something hit us! It was the subtle aroma of lemongrass and thai basil dancing a slow dance towards us. We followed the smell towards a small crowd that had begun to converge around a glass door leading into “Mosquito“, Barcelona’s go to place for Asian inspired tapas.

A bowl of wonton soup never figured into our dinner plans before that moment. To travel thousands of miles for Asian food in Spain, when our very authentic Vietnamese community plays it big in the culinary world in Orlando, seemed unthinkable…… But the tantalizing aroma kept pushing and tugging at us. Wait time was an hour but well worth it.

Eat here for a savory wonton soup and unforgettably delicious duck dumplings with a tangy dipping sauce (my personal favorites, but you must try the entire menu). The craft beer selection is diverse with many to chose from (not so common in Barcelona).
There is no doubt that Mosquito’s vibrant and modern atmosphere was a nice break from days and days of Spanish tapas. The food itself was a window into another aspect of Barcelona that before that moment I had failed to observe, its diversity of cultures.

“A traveler sees what he sees. A tourist sees what he has come to see”. – Gilbert K. Chesterton
At the end of the night, this quote resonated in my mind. Why? Its easy to set out into the beautiful city of Barcelona with a list of its many heavily promoted tourist attractions – Gaudi, tapas along the ramblas, and more Gaudi. And while these are an outstanding reflection of the artistic talents that inspire the city, many tourists fail to look deeper towards the people that make up the fabric of the city.

On this particular night, Mosquito offered us a taste of the Barcelona that you will not  often see in tourist guides. Rather, we saw what we saw and broke away from our Spanish tapas routine to  experience just how diverse this glowing city had become!

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Courtesy of YELP. Craft beer inside Mosquito.

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Courtesy of YELP – Inside looking out.

Eating Barcelona – Part 1

Not too long ago I found myself exploring the medieval streets of “El Born”  in Barcelona. This is a magical corner of the world that is full of local charm and mystery, but it is also starkly juxtaposed with the permanent presence of mass tourism and its effects on locals.  In an effort to stray off the beaten path as much as possible, we went in search of local restaurants serving up traditional & exceptional catalan food. The city of Barcelona is widespread and diverse, and although the touristy districts tend to be overrun by overpriced food establishments,  the city has so much to offer for those who venture outside of these areas.

These are some of our favorite spots in the city where freshly caught seafood took center stage, traditional cuisine thrived alongside the exotic and new, and local ingredients always remained king!

Can Majo – Paella Marinera 

Carrer l’Almirall Aixada, 23
08003 Barcelona
Spain

I could not imagine a visit to Barcelona without the chance to savor its fresh caught seafood. After an exhaustive research process that included talking to several strangers (allegedly locals) randomly selected from the streets, we opted for this little jewel in the heart of Barceloneta, a thriving seaside neighborhood facing the Mediterranean.  This charming restaurant sits next to the boardwalk and offers a million dollar view for those who opt to dine outside. But we came here for the food, so the view was the least of our worries….

Like any other Spanish restaurant, we were greeted with a bottle of red table wine and plenty of olives to pick through while we perused the menu. This didn’t take long since we had our eye on the prize: Paella Marinera. There is one thing you must know about paella in Barcelona. Rumor has it that there are some restaurants unwilling to go through the effort of making this time consuming dish. As a result, they serve up pre-frozen paella with the push of a microwave oven button. We were warned about this and were told to always pay close attention to the time it takes for the paella to get to your table. If it takes 30 minutes or more, you are more than likely eating freshly cooked paella. Can Majo passed this test when our server warned us of the long wait time. No problem, we were under the spell of the crunchy pan con tomate!

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Red Wine, Olives, and Pan con Tomate in the Background

Our paella arrived pipping hot and with a trail of dancing steam swirling above the casserole. Heaps of seasoned rice and symmetrically placed langoustines greeted us with welcoming warmth as our spoons scooped out what  seemed like enough food for a hungry army onto our white plates.  We were instantly in love at first bite as the sweet & subtly salty squid confirmed the seafood freshness. Beads of endless al dente rice flowed into our bellies until not a single one was left. We washed it down with an espresso for a perfect ending to the ideal Barcelona meal. It was like something out of a fairytale really – magical. We triumphantly walked back to our apartments, ready for a good night sleep. For that moment, life was perfect.

Paella Marinera for two

Bar La Plata – Tapas + wine

Carrer de la Mercè, 28
08002 Barcelona
Spain

Dining out every night in Barcelona can get pretty expensive, specially with the service percentage tacked on to any full service restaurant. For those nights when you realize you still have more European cities to explore and very very very limited funds, Bar La Plata is a delicious and cheap option. I used Yelp Barcelona to find this bar tucked away in a corner of the old town section of Barcelona ( Barri Gòtic). Reviews raved about the tapas offered here and the photos were inviting so we walked in on a cold rainy night.
The space was packed but the wine kept flowing and the service was quick. There were two barrels of wine, white and red… Easy enough. We walked up to the bar, asked for wine and a tapa. I’m not really sure that there was any menu to speak of, in fact, I don’t even know how much I paid for my food, but it is delicious and filling and that always make for a great investment. Bar La Plata has been around for 70 years, and judging by the proximity to Picasso’s old studio (found only steps away based on clues gathered during a visit to the nearby Picasso museum), we suspect this might have been a hang out place for the artist…..although that is pure speculation on our part.

Our first tapa consisted of fried Boquerones, finger fun sized fish very similar to sardines. They were crispy to perfection, crunchy and addicting. And yes, you do eat the whole fish, head included. The eyes are pretty tasty.

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Fried boquerones with red wine

The fun did not stop there! We were ready for round two, meaning; more wine and time to try another tapa! We asked for  the famed Catalunyan  sausage “butifarra” because of course they had sausage! Restaurants here don’t have an option not to have sausage! We learned that very early on in the trip!  The wine flowed into our bellies and the sausage arrived sizzling on top of a toasted slice of fresh baguette. Who knew? Alcohol, pork, and carbs are a wonderful combination!

Coming up next: We found the most exotic of tapas in “Mosquito“. A jewel of a restaurant offering a fusion of tapas and Asian cuisine in the heart of Barcelona!

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Butifarra on baguette and the last few drops of wine.