As many of you know, I spent the last two weeks of December and the start of January traveling abroad in Spain. It was INCREDIBLE. The food, the culture, the people. There’s something in the air there — it’s like a sense of soul or that genuine “cool” factor that is so desirable, drawing you in. Each city I visited had its own quirks, but all were so spirited and filled with history and passion.
Spaniards are people who like to see and be seen. They are always dressing to the nines and seeking adventure. They truly live life to the fullest.
As much as I’d like to recap every waking moment of my trip for you all, I figure it would be best to document my top food-related adventures, but don’t worry, I will post a handful of my travel photos at the end, so you can see a bit of what I saw on my trip.
Hope you enjoy, and more importantly consider traveling to Spain ASAP!!!
Barcelona – La Boqueria
If there was one thing that I was the most excited about seeing when I was overseas, it would definitely be the fresh, open air markets. You know the ones you see in movies, like Under The Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love, or more fitting Vicki Christina Barcelona.
It’s a chef and foodie’s dream come true. All of the fresh produce, cuts of meat, spices, herbs, and oils your heart desires. The best part — it’s not overpriced like the Farmer’s Markets we have here in the states. Price-wise, It’s comparable to (in many cases less than) what you’d find in the supermarket, AND 100X better quality.
La Mercat De Sant Josep de la Boqueria is in the heart of La Rambla in Barcelona. It’s one of the largest and oldest fresh markets in the country let alone that region of Europe. It is filled with more that 200 stalls of food vendors.
It was filled with any and everything you could have ever hoped for. When I was there, I sampled some jamon iberico. If you haven’t heard of this stuff – it is the most expensive cut of meat I have ever come across. Some boneless cuts sell for $400 per lb!
I also bought Spanish saffron, so I could make paella in the comfort of my own home.
The hot ticket item of the market was the marzipan. The handmade, intricately designed goodies were gorgeous (and pricey at 75 euros a lb). They were shaped like various fruit, cartoon characters, slices of pizza and burgers. It was amazing — especially knowing they were made by hand that day!
If you visit Barcelona and you like food — so every human on earth — you must visit the Boqueria. I’d recommend it for lunch or a late afternoon / early evening snack, since Spaniards eat their dinner around 8-10pm.
Madrid – New Years Eve
So, one of the main reasons I decided to book a trip overseas in the first place, was to avoid celebrating my birthday. If you didn’t know this about me before, I’m not a big drinker. I’ll occasionally have a glass of wine at dinner, and every now and then, once in a blue moon, I’ll go out to drink with the crazies back home – but on most days, I’d rather not.
So naturally my birthday is coincidentally on the worst day of the year for people who don’t enjoy overdrinking — New Year’s Eve. As you can imagine, I hate my birthday. So to celebrate 25, I sought it best to make plans outside of the $100 all-you-can-eat/drink bar packages and travel overseas — aka to Spain.
Spaniards have several interesting traditions that they all partake in on NYE. You see, they are fairly superstitious. So much so that they have a few rituals they must perform in order to have good luck in the coming new year.
At the stroke of midnight, the bells of the clocks toll 12 times. So, Spaniards eat exactly one grape as each bells toll to note that time of the evening (12 total on each ring). Mind you they do all of this while wearing bright red underwear.
Similar to what we have in the states, all of the people gather around their televisions with their families and watch the ball drop — not in Times Square — but in Madrid.
So what better place to be in on NYE than Madrid right?
I have never seen so many people in one place in my life. It was crazy, but so lively and fun!
On the big day, a group of us went and got a 5-course meal for dinner at a family-owned restaurant in Madrid. Of course as soon as we sat down, my friends informed our host that it was my birthday which led the whole restaurant to start singing “Happy Birthday” to me in spanish. They even presented me with two gluten free cupcakes (one chocolate and the other red velvet). It made my whole night.
I also have to tell you that eating the grapes was challenging.
First off, these grapes have seeds. So you either swallow the seeds or try to pit them in the matter of a few seconds before the next bell tolls. What made life more challenging is that my hand could barely fit the in the bag pictured above.
I was a hot mess who managed to eat all twelve grapes but sufficed to say I definitely swallowed a few seeds and poured the remaining three grapes out of my bag directly into my mouth at the 12th and final stroke of the clock. You gotta do what you gotta do sometimes.
At least I wasn’t the guy who had 11 grapes in his bag. Let’s hope his 2018 isn’t too terrible!
Sevilla – Paella
So aside from devouring olives, jamon, and seafood, I ate a heck of a lot of paella on my trip to Spain. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to spend time in Valencia – the birthplace of the traditional rice dish made up of rabbit, chicken, and snails – but I did have some incredible dishes. (It just means I need to go back!)
I sampled at least a little bit in every city I visited on my trip. So, after visiting – Barcelona, Tossa De Mar, Costa Brava, Figueres, Madrid, Consuegra, Sevilla, Osuna, Italica, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, and Alfarnatejo — my favorite paella was in Sevilla.
This paella was a seafood and choizo dish. It was filled with the traditional shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, and loads of veggies and rice. I only got a tapa of it, so thinking back I wish I would have gotten the whole serving – oh well, you live and learn right. Here’s a pic:
The second paella pictured was the first paella I had in Spain when I was in Barcelona. Also delicious, especially because the restaurant brought me warm gluten free bread and a few tapas that were celiac safe. Including jumbo shrimp and a small side salad with olives (pictured below).
Regardless of where you go to get it, don’t be afraid to be adventurous, and try new things. I’d have killed to try the rabbit dish, but the seafood was still just as yummy! I also had a paella with just vegetables (so totally a solid option for vegetarians out there) and a chicken paella as well.
I may not have had the rabbit, but I did eat eel. In Madrid, I had a huge salad that was loaded with eel, tuna, cucumber, tomatoes, and topped with a little oil and vinegar. It was that much better because the restaurant featured a portrait of some fabulous people in this gay bar I went to. I couldn’t resist but take a photo of it.
(Can you tell who they all are? Name them in the comments below . . .)
Alfarnatejo – Olive Oil
By far the best part of my trip was going to this little village of 164 people in Alfarnatejo to make my own olive oil and eat lunch with one of the village abuelitas. In the very south of Spain, we made our way up to the Mountains of Gibraltar to spend the day.
As we climbed the mountain, we kept an eye our for wild goats and boar the roamed the windy streets. Luckily, we didn’t see any. We only saw a handful of dogs and a few puppies that greeted us upon our arrival to the destination.
On our way up the mountain, we made a quick stop to see the oldest producing olive tree in he world. Take a guess how old you think it is? 100 years? 200?
Try 1,450+ year old tree that is actively producing olives for olive oil that we all eat every single day. Crazy, right?
Now, contrary to what you might think Spain is actually the leading producer of olives and olive oil in the world — not Italy.
As the leading producer, Spain also has the most olive trees (more than 300 million), and house about 5.2 million acres of olive groves — primarily located in Andalusia.
So when we made our way to the factory, we naturally handpicked our own olives before witnessing the processing live in action.
Here’s a glimpse of what the olives go through before being bottled. Fun fact, no bottle in all of the world is allowed to be aged more than one year. If possible, it is actually supposed to be bottled immediately according to law, in order to level the playing field. The grade of the oil actually is priced based on the variety of olive and by the number of olives it takes to produce one bottle.
When we were producing the oil, we natually got to taste it, right out of the refinery. They bought loaves of freshly baked bread and dipped it in oil for us to try.
Naturally – because gluten and cross contamination – I didn’t partake.
The workers felt so bad that they bought me a huge bar of chocolate and gave me a bag of locally grown salted almonds. It was so sweet! I insisted it wasn’t a big deal, but shoot sometimes it pays to have celiacs (am i right?)
Post olive oil it was off to Grandmother’s house we go! Virginia (our Abuelita for the day) is a painter and makes one hell of a good meal. Though she didn’t have much, you could tell she tried to pull out all of the stops for us, which made my heart swell with gratitude.
I was the only fluent speaker in my group, and since Virginia didn’t speak any English, I was the translator for the afternoon. She wouldn’t accept my help, insisting this was her treat, and that she truly enjoyed our company.
She served us a salad and a tapa with meat and cheese to start. We then had some lentil soup before our main course of a pork, carrot, and pea stew. It was the best meal I had in all of Spain. I guarantee it was because it was made with such great love.
She gave me the recipe for each dish – but I’m sure it won’t taste as good as hers.
Didn’t get enough? Here’s a glimpse of some more of the fun you have to look forward to when you visit Spain . . .