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Tapas – AKA Toast

With the tales of tapas built by the hipster bars spotting the streets of Toronto promising authentic tapas and sangria, there was a certain image of what tapas included. Imagine, for a moment, piles of roasted ham stabbed by a toothpick just to stay upright, little portions of the main offerings of the menu as taster previews, and stuffed olives fit to burst.

This is the image I, and certainly my mother, had when eating tapas in Madrid. Surely we’d be sitting there eating “authentic” tapas with the ability to return to Toronto and sneer at the Toronto tapas bars run by men with oiled mustaches and tattoos of geometric shapes. ‘This isn’t tapas you uncultured swines‘, we’d sneer haughtily with all the pompousness of a well travelled asshole, ‘I’ve been to Madrid and tasted real tapas!’ Then we would throw in a few random Spanish words for credibility.

Sadly this dream may be down the toilet because for the grandeur that tapas back home had, the tapas here are… well… toast.

I think maybe part of the appeal to the locals is how low brow it is, though I can only assume since I’ve yet to ask because of my appalling Spanish. I kind of get it, and I kind of don’t (the appeal, not the Spanish). In our first tapas meal, although I use the word “tapas” lightly since montadito is a sort of sub-genre of tapas, my mother and I arrived at 100 Montaditos hungry, jet-lagged, and just looking for something that resembled food after the scary pasta on Air Canada. At this point we had no idea what “montadito” even meant but hell it didn’t matter.

100 Montaditos seemed perfect. Young couples speaking Spanish were pouring out with tinto de verano in their hands, and you ordered on pieces of paper. Unpretentious, and oh look there were pictures of nice big sandwiches!

Except they weren’t. I think we should have noticed that no sandwich should cost 1euro and be expected to be large… but we were naive and ordered one each and a third to split because we were feeling positively gluttonous.

They instead were micro-sandwiches. 

What is this? A sandwich for ants?

What is this? A sandwich for ants?

Mind you, despite the size of sandwich, they were pretty good! Especially the one with potato tortilla and garlic mayo. My mother was less impressed, but she also called it the “McDonalds of tapas”. (This one week with her has been filled with so many exasperated sighs that I’m afraid I’ll lose the ability to speak English all together and adopt exasperation as my mother tongue instead.) The tinto de verano may have also just beat sangria…. but just by a fraction.

After a long day of shopping to fit in and no longer look like hideous, Birkenstock wearing tourists, we stopped off at Taberna La Descubierta on calle de Barcelona at the recommendation of Paula, the young Venezuelan ex-pat working the desk at Hostal Gala Madrid.

Alright, real tapas at last. Bring on the undeserved foodie ego. The place had bright colours filling in where there lacked bricks and the bar was lined with local wines. It was dark, cozy, and all locals to the point after my mother successfully pronounced “caipirinha” the man stopped part way through giving us the one and only English menu and instead gave us the Spanish. We were not tourists, no, we were tapas experts with (Toronto) tapa experience, no English menu for us!

We ordered ourself some calamares a la romana along with a table tapas. I was (am) still having a hard time breaking my vegetarianism, especially with the Jamón ibérico leg sitting with a hoof pointed out straight like a ballet dancer right at my head, but regardless I looked on with some interest at the real tapas experience.

We ate the calamari with lemon and then waited as the tapas arrived. Except when our waitress laid them down on the wooden table I could see the moment my mother’s face fell in disappointment.

Toast. More bread.

Each and every tapas sat on a piece of baguette toasted with olive oil. Even the ham and cheese were spread out extremely thinly. The cheese was semi-hard, sharp and delicious, and sure, even I appreciated how smooth the chorizo was but god damn so much bread.

Atkins would hate this plate of tapas.

Atkins would hate this plate of tapas.

“How do they even stay thin here?” My mother asked as she munched on another piece of bread. “It’s all bread! There’s not a vegetable in sight and they are all skinny.”

It must be all the walking?

Now full of carbs, we walked back through Puerta del Sol, past the immigrants illegally selling knock-offs and pulling the strings of their stores into bags to run from the police, and the chirps of the men selling LED twirling copters. We bought alright lemon gelato from Palazzo along the road and walked back both a little disappointed.

This is not tapas everywhere, and I’m almost certain this is just two coincidences and that tapas in Madrid are different elsewhere. Or maybe that is just how “real” tapas are and I’m truly the uncultured swine who knows no better (this is admittedly most likely). Either way, I don’t want to eat another piece of bread for a few weeks. The sight of a freshly baked loaf alone makes me feel bloated.

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Body-Slamming Spanish Cuisine

Countdown to lift-off: 131 days

I’m not yet close enough to my departure for Madrid to be focusing on packing, getting visas, or any of that other boring and mandatory crap. Instead I get to do what I always love to do: over prepare to the point of insanity.

When the first Hunger Games movie came out in theatres in true mimesis form my friends and I—a bunch of then 18-year-olds—went around the parking lot after the movie pretending to impale each with arrows and ranting about how long we’d live. It came down to my friend Matt living the longest because of his bloodlust and ability to disappear for months at a time. Where did I rank and how does this have to do with travelling? Hush sweet reader, for I shall get there soon. For myself I loudly proclaimed I, with my ambition, patience and inflated sense of self worth, would surely get to the final four. “Oh no”, they claimed, “Christ, you wouldn’t even make it out of the cornucopia.” I demanded an explanation only to be told, “You’d rush right into the cornucopia and proceed to try and pack everything into your bag until you were gutted. You’d totally be like “wait, I may need these five different throwing daggers, this camp stove, maybe a spear—no wait, I totally will need two spears incase one gets lost”.”

On evaluation it was scarily accurate.

I’m sure there are many other people out there who have a similar problem and would be helicopter lifted out of the cornucopia along with me. As a previous entry mentioned, this really does bleed into my style of travelling and pre-travel planning.

So with Spain finally in my vision I am currently at the cornucopia of knowledge, shoving every fact I can into my hideous metaphorical fanny pack. My current unhealthy obsession is…

GIVE ME BOOKS ON CHEESE, GIVE ME WEBPAGES ON COOKING SCHOOLS IN MADRID, PLEASE SPANISH FOOD GODS LET ME DEVOUR EVERY PIECE OF KNOWLEDGE ON SPANISH CUISINE. I WANT TO DEVOUR SO MUCH PAELLA MY STOMACH SPLITS OPEN, I MUST DINE IN BOTIN, FEED ME JAMÓN AND PULPO A LA GALLEGA.

Ahem.

I’m pretty fucking stoked to be able to write about the food while I’m there, but in the meantime I’m going to mention some of the resources I’ve been ploughing through recently in preparation for the Spanish portion of my eight months abroad (Italy and Germany will be next on my hit list).

The first book I bought, which is applicable to all of my stops, is the “Food Lovers Guide To The World” by Lonely Planet. It is a fantastic resource with recipes, recommended culinary pitstops, where to find the best of the best along with food-related festivals in each of the areas it reviews.

Here is the introduction page for Spain, giving an idea of the super pretty pictures and information. (As a note, I will probably be including a few recipes from these books in a later post!)

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets... I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets… I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

The next thing I slit open my wallet and shook it’s near empty contents onto a counter for was “Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Costal Waters of Andalucía” by Jeff Koehler.

 

The photos in this book are incredible and while it may not have the level of information that the Food Lovers book does, it has so, so many recipes.

Look how colourful and pretty!

Look how colourful and pretty!

This is of course on top of web resources like About.com and Spain’s Official Tourism Website. I also bought “Cheese for Dummies” and have been studying up on different Spanish cheeses (who can believe that there is more than just manchego!?). If you have any other awesome books on Spanish cuisine of any kind, please do tell! This of course is on top of struggling, emphasis on struggling, to learn Spanish through Duolingo¿El perro come un niño? I fear for when I’ll ever need to use this sentence.

Pretty much in the past few weeks since I finished my huge chunk of exams I have been trying to really learn as much as I can about Spain, with a giant emphasis on its food. The only downside is the more I learn about their food, the more I begin to hate Canada and our lack of a cultural cuisine presence. Sure Madrid isn’t as fancy with their cocino and stews but it sure as hell beats poutine, maple syrup and ketchup chips (shhh, I’m so sorry poutine I don’t mean any of it). Then again, perhaps it is all about perspective. Having worked with many ESL students at my past job it’s surprising to hear about people studying up on so-called “Canadian cuisine” before coming here with the same fervour as I am currently studying Spanish cuisine. Maybe… just maybe… if I spent this much time learning about my own country I could learn about all the great foods that Canada has to offer….

Nah.

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Eat The Rude: Cooking your way through fandom

“Grilled snake, blood wine, Adiago mixed teas… this is the hobby I choose to love.” – Me 

First of all, what do I mean by cooking through fandom? With the introduction of Game of Thrones styled dinner parties this concept isn’t exactly new. The concept is to take either pre-existing dishes in shows, movies, games, books or whatever else you enjoy or creating new dishes based off themes in the show and cooking them up.

So if the concept of cooking or fandom causes your skin to chafe and get rashes please ignore the following post until next time.

Are the dubious gone? …. Sweet. Alright, then let’s resume!

This is a hobby I’ve had for around two years or so, or since I started to take cooking seriously and as something other than a chore my no doubt sadistic working parents forced on me as a child. As my obsession with Game of Thrones grew I started to learn about dinner parties people were throwing filled with all these incredible dishes from the books. This was how I came across The Inn at the Crossroads, a blog/recipe site dedicated to the dishes in and inspired by the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. As I started to read it I suddenly realized—

Holy shit. This is it. This is the pinnacle of nerdiness that I have yet been able to achieve. This is the final tipping point that will cause my parents to disown me.

So of course I went out and bought their book. While the formatting could use some work, the recipes themselves are fantastic. I had never made bread before in my life but their recipes on how to make that symbolic bread and salt (that couldn’t save the Starks from the Red Wedding) has inspired a sick bread fetish that my roommates can attest to.

One of my favourite, simplest, recipes is the apple salad. I was able to impress my family with this all while cackling darkly in the kitchen as they consumed my nerdiness and praised it. As with all their recipes it usually gives the “medieval” and “modern” version and is prefaced by the line from the books that inspired it. In the case of the apple salad it states:

“Cersei set a tasty table, that could not be denied. They started with a creamy chestnut soup, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts.” -A Clash of Kings

My apple cutting skills were not up to snuff. Ramsay Bolton would flay my hands for that.

I’ve never found a recipe from the book I haven’t enjoyed, but there are some I just wouldn’t touch. Grilled snake, pigeon pie, locusts… while I appreciate the authenticity I will admit that I have shied away from the more adventurous recipes (or at least until I can find out where to find locusts in a Canadian mennonite town).

First attempt at braided bread, sans salt.

First attempt at braided bread, sans salt and locusts.

With the pages of my new cookbook splattered with the blood of my enemies and having been tested at viewing get-togethers with my friends I turned my attention to my other obsessions.

This wasn’t just a Game of Thrones thing. No, now that I was getting deeper into this world I understood just how deep this rabbit hole went. Suddenly I wanted to stick all my other obsessions in my stomach. In a weird, visceral sense I was literally trying to eat the things I loved. The next thing I knew I wasn’t just making Game of Thrones cookies but making Sherlock and John shaped cookies for the BBC Sherlock premiere. I was watching my highschool friend Jen staring in abject horror as myself and five other friends sat there eating cookies in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s faces. My ability to be part of normal, functioning society was slowly slipping away from me.

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From this…

Source: https://i1.wp.com/media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/c3/82/4f/c3824ff9688123fcd30ee940c10cc1d9.jpg

… to this.

I didn’t want mugs with my sigil, or t-shirts with my fandom on it, I wanted to cook the very essence up into a beautiful dish and stick it on my plate.  This ironically brings us to Hannibal.

It started innocently enough, or at least as innocently as a show revolving around cannibalism can be. I started to hoard Adiago fandom teas and had recently purchased the earthy, almost mushroom flavoured tea for Hannibal. I had made the habbit of consuming the tea whenever I sat down to watch it (excluding the time my friends and I watched Hannibal on an abandoned road).

Soon I’ll be able to open up my own fandom-themed coffeeshop. Stay tuned!

When the new season came I had gone through half my tea and had been following Feeding Hannibal, the blog by Janice Poon the food stylist of Hannibal, I realized this was more than just a Game of Thrones thing. Janice’s blog is spectacular. She talks about how they created and designed the deliciously disturbing dishes of Hannibal, discusses the hardships of being a foodstylist (like her fiasco of trying to get sea urchins out of season), and gives recipes for some of the meals seen in the show.

God, I wanted to “eat the rude” too! Watching Hannibal let out clever cannibalism puns while preparing these succulent and absolutely morally horrifying dishes would confuse anyone’s moral compass. I ordered silicone brain molds all with the intention of making panacotta brains for the season finale (which will happen, so help me God by the power of Thomas Harris).

Source: 1FineCookie

It was all spiralling out of control! I was planning dinner parties with friends, figuring out how I could get venison out of season, despite being a pescatarian, for authenticity. I was researching where to buy naturally dropped deer antlers to style my dishes like Janice does and enlisting friends in the hopes of designing invitation cards. I was like some awful version of dinner party addicts who force people into awkward conversation at their suburban houses sharing elbow space with people they barely know, but instead I was fantasizing of forcing my friends into fancy outfits where we would open origami paper containers containing braised tongue whilst talking about the newest episode.

It is an incurable disease, and once you are infected by the bug it only gets worse. With the fourth season of Game of Thrones coming up quickly and the finale of Hannibal in my future, my outlook has never looked bleaker… or more delicious.

I encourage anyone who is looking for something different and nerdy to try it out at least once. Make a party out of it, invite your friends, indulge in some of Sansa’s favourite lemon cakes or if you are like me and are usually existing in isolation, read up on an incredible example of food styling.

Overall, it’s an incredibly strange hobby but it is one I hold dear.