Giveaway: Win a Paella Pack+Sangria from Retaste Spain!

 

Update: Giveaway has been extended until Friday, July 19th!  

paella

 Paella. Arguably, Spain’s most famous dish, is worth the hype–if it’s done well, that is. And no paella is better than that made by Spanish amigos at a paellada: a gathering of friends over a big, home-cooked paella. 

Unfortunately, if you’re visiting Spain, bringing back the tastes of this wonderful country home are difficult: finding the same products and the right cooking utensils (paella requires a special pan!) can be a challenge.

That’s where Retaste Spain comes in; they’re a company dedicated to allowing travelers to Spain to bring back the flavors of Spain.

Retaste Spain is giving away one of their Paella Packs, which includes a paella pan, wooden spoon, chicken broth and the special rice that’s the key ingredient to making any paella authentic.

To enter to win follow the link through to Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 The contest is only open to readers within the European Union and ends on Friday, July 19th.

Feature photo  by fred_v  on Flickr.

Madrid Food Tour: A Must-Do in Spain’s Capital

Madrid-Center

Beautiful Madrid!

When I first met my friend Lauren last year in Madrid, she told me how she was considering starting a food tour business in Madrid. For her, it was the perfect way to combine her passion for food with her budding entrepreneurship skills. A year later, the Madrid Food Tour is nearing its 1-Year Anniversary–and also happens to be ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for Things to Do in Madrid! I’m so proud of Lauren and how her business has grown, and couldn’t wait to try out one of her tours myself. So, when she invited me to check out her Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, I enthusiastically agreed!

Churros with Chocolate

Chocolateria-San-Gines

The famous Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid

We met Lauren on a day uncharacteristic of June in Madrid: rain showers taunted us throughout the tour, but we lucked out–most of the rain fell while we were indoors sampling Madrid’s epicurean delights! Our morning started off with a Spanish classic: Churros with Chocolate. While I tend to favor cinnamon-sugar Mexican churros, Spanish churros are delicious too; especially after a long night out. Lauren took us to Madrid’s most famous spot for churros: Chocolatería San Ginés. It’s been open since 1894 and is a Madrid churro institution. I was surprised to learn they’re open 24 hours a day–that’s a rare sight even in big Spanish cities like Madrid!

The chocolate itself needs its own mention, as I remember it intriguing me when I first tried it: it’s not like the hot chocolate we’re used to drinking with marshmallows in the wintertime. Instead, it’s thick–and perfect for dunking the churros into. 

Churros with Chocolate

Piping hot churros with chocolate!

 After we’d woken up our appetite with hot churros and chocolate, we moved on to see what else Madrid could offer, as Lauren gave us a fun Madrid history lesson. This girl knows her stuff–while the Madrid Food Tour focuses on showing guests the capital’s culinary scene, it’s also a great way to see the center of the city, and learn about its interesting past. 

A Modern Spanish Market

Our next stop was at a market that I had stepped into on a prior visit to Madrid, but had never actually eaten in. Lauren gave us a full tour of the market with stops for vermouth, stuffed olives, pintxos and more! Here’s a peek at some of the goodies we sampled:

Mercado-de-San-Miguel

The market’s interior

stuffed-olives

Delicious, stuffed olives!

Spanish-Vermouth

Vermouth

While I’ve had olives marinated in vermouth, I’ve never tried a full glass of it. Lauren described it as a fortified wine that’s flavored with herbs, spices and other botanicals and that it is super-trendy in Madrid to go out for a glass of vermú. El País, one of the nation’s biggest publications dedicated an article to the drink, shining the spotlight on its popularity. 

Pintxos & Tapas

What Lauren really emphasizes on her tours is how Madrid’s cuisine is distinct, while still embracing other Spanish regional cuisine. I was pleased to see a stop for pintxos and bacalao (traditional in Basque Country) included in her tour! I skipped the pintxos and savored a bowl of Salmorejo instead–one of my Andalusian favorites!

Bacalao

Bacalao bites

Pintxos-Madrid

Pintxos in Madrid? Yes!

Salmorejo

Salmorejo and Pintxos

Olive Oil and More Olives

Our next stop was my favorite of the tour: an olive oil tasting! We went to a specialty shop that sells Spain’s highest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to consumers. We were given four varieties to choose from, ranging in olive oil’s three positive attributes: fruitiness  pungency and bitterness. Lauren explained that olive oil that can be described as fruity will have a freshly-cut grass aroma, while more pungent oils can have peppery kick to them that can tickle your throat and make you cough. She also explained that in a traditional tasting you’ll have a small blue glass, similar to a votive that you’ll rub in your palm to warm up the oil, and release the aromas, prior to tasting. 

Spanish-olives

Spanish olives: the best of the best!

Next, we downed some Spanish olives–always a tasty treat. I never really liked olives until I came to Spain, but Spanish olives have the tendency to turn people into olive-worshippers!

Jamón y Queso 

I’ve proclaimed my love for Spanish ham many times on this blog, and Lauren’s tours give you a full lesson on the distinguishing characteristics between each type of ham, the pig’s diets, and the various curing periods. We sampled slices from Jamón Serrano to the ultimate: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. The butcher also gave us samples of creamy Tetilla cheese from Galicia, and bubbly Cava to wash it all down. Mmm, ¡qué rico!

Carnicería-Spain

A Carnicería tucked inside a Madrileño market.

A Lunch Full of Spanish Classics

The tour included a sit-down lunch in a restaurant famous for its organ meats and fried pig’s ears. Thankfully, the group wasn’t too adventurous, and opted for some classic choices like patatas bravas, pimientos de padrón and tintos de verano.

patatas-bravas

Patatas Bravas+ Ali-Oli

Tinto de Verano

Tinto de Verano with a splash of vermouth.

 The Grand Finale: Spanish Pastries!

Lauren ended our wonderful tour on a sweet note; with Spanish pastries! She took us to an iconic pastelería that was bustling with customers in search of a sweet treat.

Spanish pastries

Spanish pastries

Lauren’s tour was wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. After living here for 3+ years, I’ve learned a good amount about Spanish cuisine, but still came away from the tour with new bits of knowledge! I think a food tour is one of the best ways to not only learn about the city you’re in, but also to get an authentic feeling for the culture you’re in. Most tourists don’t venture into markets, or lack the language to get by, and joining in on a food tour is the perfect way to feel like a local! As I mentioned above, it’s not just a way to learn about food, it’s also the perfect way to get a sense of where you’re staying, and Lauren’s tours include a good amount of history and fun facts about Madrid as well.

Mil gracias to Lauren at Madrid Food Tour for the complimentary tour. All opinions are my own, and I can’t recommend this tour enough! It’s truly the perfect way to see (and devour!) the city.

[box type=”info”] To learn more about Madrid Food Tour, check out their website at http://www.madridfoodtour.com. [/box]

Txikifest: Txakolí & Basque Pride in NYC

I'm so pleased to welcome Julia Golden to the blog today! Julia was so gracious to cover the Txikifest event in New York City that happened a couple of weekends ago and indulge in a little bit of Basque culture (and wine!) for me. She writes over at Nowhere to Go But Everywhere about her travels and I love her passion for all things Spain. 

The heat in New York is oppressive and unforgiving. Men wipe their foreheads with handkerchiefs as ladies fan themselves with painted abanicos, unable to speak of anything but the sweat dripping down their backs. The line wraps around the block and is beginning to move slowly. The conversation shifts from complaints about the summer’s first heat wave to excited chattering all around, a musical mix of English, Spanish and Euskara. As the crowd finally shifts, we turn the corner and are greeted by smiling faces and the smell of sizzling food.

Txikifest New York City

“Welcome to Txikifest 2013,” drawls a volunteer in an accent I can’t quite pinpoint, handing us each a glass and shuffling us towards the seemingly endless sea of green bottles. This is my kind of place.

Txakoli bottles

Each year, Alex Raij and Eder Montero, owners of Chelsea’s Txikito and El Quinto Pino and Greenpoint’s La Vara, partner with Basque wineries as well as local chefs to put on Txikifest. A celebration of the culture and pride of Euskadi, the festival highlights the Basque wine,txakolí, from fifteen different wineries by offering generous samples paired with dishes from all over the world. An avid fan of wine in any form, I decided to grab a friend and head down to Chelsea last Sunday to join the fun and sample txakolí for the first time.

Txikifest Volunteers

Txikifest 2013: A Review

The festival is set up like a street fair of sorts with three tented stations, offering an escape from the sun that seems millions of miles closer in the heat of the afternoon. Each station plays host to txakolí from five distinct wineries, all chosen to pair with the dishes being cooked up on the other side of the tent.

Txakoli brand names

Poured from high above like cider to allow it to aerate, generous samples of txakolí fill our glasses and everyone in the thirsty crowd sips it eagerly. I am pleasantly surprised by the taste: light, crisp, refreshing and perfect for a summer day. It goes down so easily, in fact, that I have to hand my glass over for the next wine before I even get a chance to check out the food selection. Luckily txakolí has a lower alcohol content than most wines, or I may not have made it past the first tent!

The Food: Drool-worthy

Bottles of txakoli

Properly hydrated with a few glasses of the sparkling drink, our bellies give a little rumble and we follow our noses to the first table of food. The guys from The Hurricane Club are serving up their version of chili lobster rolls: a fresh take on lobster salad infused with sweet chili peppers, and sandwiched between two slices of buttery bread. I think this is what heaven is like.

lobster sandwich

We savor the tiny sandwiches until they disappear into crumbs, washing them down with the latter part of the five-glass flight. The dryness of the txakolí perfectly compliments the fresh lobster, and for a moment I can picture myself on the beach in San Sebastián enjoying this sigh-inducing combination.

I realize my glass is empty and snap back to reality. On to the next tent! We are treated to a rosé txakolí, a slightly fuller-bodied version of the wine we’ve been enjoying. Taking a cue from our slightly fuzzy vision, we decide to help ourselves to a plate of food before polishing off another glass and turn to find txistorra and fresh bread sizzling away on the grill. The chefs from Txikito tend to the grill, making sure the Basque cured sausage is cooked perfectly.

how to cook txistorra

The sausage is savory, spicy and slightly sweet all at the same time. Paired with the rosé, it is succulent enough to reassure this reformed vegan that meat is, in fact, the way. We mop up the juices with the warm bread as our glasses are filled yet again.

txistorra

The afternoon continues on a loop like this; a cycle of wine, finger-licking-good food, and more wine. Our favorite dish is unanimous, selecting a rice noodle crepe with pork Bolognese, so creamy and delicious that we ignore our protesting bellies and split another. Honorable mentions include the pineapple-rubbed pork tacos from La Palapa, and the veal meatball sandwich created by the kind people at Sullivan Street Bakery. Each dish has its own distinct flavors, playing with spices from every corner of the world, but somehow all work extremely well with the light flavor of the txakolí.

The Txakolí Winner

txikifest 2013

As far as the wineries go, our favorites hail from the Bizkaia province, though choosing favorites is nearly impossible. Nothing we try is anything but fantastic, with the Berroia coming out on top. It is the smoothest, most refreshing, and pairs amazingly with savory treats.

basque food

The afternoon is closed with cucumber-lime popsicles from La Newyorkina and a txalaparta performance. Traditionally played in celebration of wine or cider making, the Basque instrument is made of wood, is played with wooden sticks and accompanied by an ox horn. The pride was palpable in the players’ wide smiles and cheerful shouts, “Que siempre viva Euskadi! Viva, viva!”

txalaparta

We wander down Ninth Avenue in a txakolí-induced dream state, forgetting the heat for the first time in days. Out of the hundreds of food and wine festivals in New York, this is certainly the most unique. By pairing a little-known light sparkling wine from a little-known land with local eats, Txikifest celebrates the distinctiveness that the Basque region thrives on in a country famous for flamenco and bullfighting. Raij and Montero have found the perfect stage in Chelsea, a neighborhood that celebrates uniqueness above all else, and succeed in proving that Basque culture and cuisine is well on its way to taking over hearts and palates around the world.

For more information on Txikifest and the txakolís that were featured, check out www.txikifest.com. If you’re in New York and looking for excellent pintxos and txakolí, stop by Txikito or El Quinto Pino!

Julia is a world traveler whose heart belongs to Spain. She is trading in her life in New York for a new one in Madrid come September, following her wanderlust in pursuit of the best wine, music and stories the peninsula has to offer. A sociologist and linguist at heart, she is passionate about immersing herself in new cultures and chronicles her adventures on her blog Nowhere To Go But Everywhere. Be sure to follow here on Twitter and Instagram for real-time updates!