Saturday, January 24, 2009

2nd Course

NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of articles concerning my Europe trip. See below for links to the previous articles:


More Barcelona

2nd Course: Some light snacks: Zaragoza
My winter break was a marathon

Training started early: Thanksgiving. I tried to cram as much food in there as I could. Pies, turkey, cheese- I did it all. Then I went back to school.

The period before my trip was one of intense, last minute training to my digestive system: I had to be able to handle multiple rich meals a day. I trained on a rigorous diet of LA’s ethnic food: Mexican, Chinese, Japanese. I did it all, and then boarded a plane to Europe.

Barcelona was like the start of a race: I was a little disoriented and lacked discipline. I didn’t quite know what to do. In Zaragoza, I started to hit my stride. I tried to identify cute and interesting little local eateries. I gauged the climate of cafes before entering, dissected the exterior menus with a more practiced eye. At bakeries, I only went for the most exotic or delicious looking, trying to avoid the mundane or ordinary.

This is an activity one can only indulge in a city packed with restaurants, cafes and bakeries. Fortunately, Zaragoza is just that. MOD_5061.JPG

Above: Some more of that delicious foccacia pizza, which I bought for the train trip to Zaragoza from Barcelona. I forgot to tweak my camera settings back to normal for this picture, which is why it looks so vivid. It was actually a much more normal color.


Above: The tremendously large train station at Zaragoza. It was also quite cold, and tremendously empty.


Above: Some totally awesome street lamps in El Tubo.
My friends and I stayed in the heart of “el tubo”, a compact warren of small streets and alleys that plays host to most of the action in Zaragoza. It abuts the river on one side, with a gorgeous square dominated by two magnificent cathedrals, which cast a shadow (literally) over the entire area. When I hit the ground out of the train at 11, I wasted no time.

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Above: One of the magnificent cathedrals.

I dropped my bags off at my very cute (and very family run) hotel and went to find lunch for my friends and me. We stopped at an OK little café with a prix fixe menu. It was relatively mediocre, but had a desert that was unique in my experience, called cuajada. It was essentially unsweetened panna cotta, served in a very narrow bowl, with some honey on top. When I took a spoonful, I got a little honey and a little desert. The honey then slid slightly into the indentation, making the bites subsequently less and less sweet until you were left with only the desert. While very cool, and definitely unique to me, I was not thrilled with it, or with the meal as a whole.


Above: The cuajada. You can see the honey on top.

However, my afternoon snack at Leonidas was more in keeping with my idea of a desert. It was located on the main pedestrian thoroughfare that bisects el tubo into two halves, and commanded prime real estate next to the square with the cathedrals. I entered to find stands lined with all sorts of amazing chocolate creations, but I had eyes for only one thing: waffles.


Above: The aforementioned pedestrian thoroughfare in Zaragoza. One could walk down it, and at the end see the imposing mass of the cathedral. It was filled with really cool shops of all stripes, as well as alleys that led, ever so enticingly, to food.

I should explain that a properly made gaufre (as they are called in France) is a European art that I have not seen replicated in the States. The waffle is rough, undisciplined around the edges: they do not worry about using the entire waffle maker, which gives it this incredible abstract shape. In addition, the texture is much thicker, much doughier, and the outside is very crispy. I would not be surprised if they dusted the waffle maker with sugar before pouring in the batter.


Above: Nutella Waffle. As you can see, the edges are browned. They are not in fact burned- that it actually caramelized deliciousness!

My Leonidas “street waffle” as I referred to it was topped in the only way known to civilized men: with nutella. It was incredible. Hot off the waffle maker, the nutella was slathered on haphazardly, and melted into the crisp indentations of the waffle. Delectable.

That night was Tapas night.

Tapas, for those of you who don’t know, are unique to Spain. They are small portions of food, usually either ready or very quick to cook, that one eats at bars. In cities such as Zaragoza, one hops from bar to bar, nibbling and drinking until you are both drunk and full of delicious food. I love tapas.

This was probably my favorite night of the trip.

I started off, accompanied, as always by T Dog and K Spitz, in a fairly normal bar, where I had three standards. The first was just some really good shrimp in a beer batter, hot out of the fryer. The second was cuesco de cabra: goat cheese that had been baked. Both of these were very good. I consumed these with some Spanish beer, the name of which I forget. For the rest of the night, I opted to instead go for wine, which was a good call- much more delicious.

The first two were very good: the shrimp was searingly hot, and very juicy- not at all overcooked. The cuesco de cabra was delicious, but I do love goat cheese, so it was a bit of a gimme. My next tapa, however, shined. It was a montadilla, a sub-genre of tapas which means that it is something on toast. In this case, it was a montadilla de bacalao: salted cod on toast. It was stellar- the toasted baguette was hot and crunchy, while the (fried) cod was thick, and covered in a very thick, creamy cheese that made it taste like a gratin on toast. The thing was nearly too large to fit into my mouth, which would be a theme with montadillas. I bit through, and first encounter the creamy cheese, then the crunch of the toasted baguette, and then finally the soft, creamy center of bacalao. That was really when the night started.

I ended with two more tapas: one order of jamon con choreras and a montadilla del alfochas. The first was a hard boiled egg, which had then been wrapped in jamon Serrano, dunked in batter and then deep-fried. My readers should note that I had no idea of this when I ordered- I literally simply saw a row of batter covered things, and pointed at them with no knowledge of what they contained. The moment of realization would only come after the first bite, as the taste hit my tongue and I was able to peet inside the mysterious tapa.

The second tapa- the aforementioned montadilla de alfochas- was incredible. A deep fried artichoke heart, filled with mushrooms, balanced precariously on top of toast. At this point, I was on my third glass of wine. In a later post, I will detail the rest of the night- maybe even in full multimedia splendor (movies!). Stay tuned! Suffice it to say, the rest of the night was legen-(wait for it)-dary!

The next morning, early, we left for San Sebastian. Let me just say this: you have not heard the last of tapas!

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