Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hasta luego Spain...finally

Apologies for the delay in subsequent postings. I can imagine you’ve all been hanging on the edge of your seats wondering what in Allah’s name horchata is, not to mention how appetising something called a farton could be. Well you can all exhale now, for this is to be a bumper edition where I cover off Spain in one fell posting.

We first came across street vendors pouring ‘horxata’ out of refrigerated vats at all the popular tourist destinations in Valencia. It looked like a mix between chocolate milk and an iced coffee, and was really quite affordable. Mr Von Strudel and I vowed we would try it and notch it up to ‘cultural experience’, regardless of what exactly horxata was, we would try it.

Well, it so happened that this traditional southern-Spanish drink was explained to us the next day on (another!) free walking tour. Our Scottish guide pulled us over the side of a main square next to not one but TWO horchatarias. He then pulled out a bag of what looked like dried chickpeas, or garbanzos, that the Spanish are fond of eating. He told us each to take a nut and try it. What we’d been offered were not garbanzos, but tiger nuts, or chufas (not tiger testicles as an animal-loving American once mistakenly thought). The nut itself was quite sweet, and slightly bitter. The outside was quite rough and striped, which is, I suppose, how the nut came to be named.

He then explained the following which I have stolen from Wikipedia:

“The horchata (in Valencia, orxata of xufa) is a refreshing drink (including dessert), prepared with water, sugar and tiger nuts”


“It is served ice cold as a natural refreshment in the summer. Tigernut horchata is also used in place of milk by the lactose intolerant.” This should be very good news to a certain friend back home *HIII FAITHHHH*.

Served with horchata was some sort of pastry that dunked in the liquid and slurped down. At that stage, we hadn’t quite caught the name.

The next day, we returned to the same location and sat down to order our horchata and pastries. Not knowing the name of the pastry, we made a dunking motion and out came our pastries with our milky-looking concoctions.

I took one sip of my horchata...and nearly spat it out. Expecting something pleasantly sweet like the nut I had tasted yesterday, I wasn’t quite prepared for the chalky texture of the drink and the bitter, almost sour taste of the beige liquid. Bracing myself for round two, I hoped that dipping the pastry in the drink would magically make things better. Sadly not. The pastry itself was nice, much like a plain éclair or the like and obviously fresh. Pity about the name.

I guess I can notch the experience up to, well experience. But never again.

Tapas gratis in Granada

We arrived in Granada late evening, and the place was alive. Streets were busy and the temperature in the early twenties. We asked the guy at reception (who we dubbed Ernie, as in Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street due to the uncanny resemblance) if there was a guest kitchen so we could do the budget traveller thing and cook ourselves an affordable yet nutritious meal. Ernie fairly laughed at us and fired at us in Spanish (never tell the Spanish you can speak or understand Spanish if you’re at a beginner or intermediate level) that haha, there was no need for a kitchen when you have free tapas.

Really? Free? If there’s one thing a budget traveller loves more than a guest kitchen, it’s free stuff.

Not quite sure of the whole ‘free tapas’ thing, we keep wondering what the hitch was. We walked through the buzzing laneways of Granada, seeing people sitting outside enjoying little plates of food, drinks, and children running amok at 11:30pm on a Thursday night. Oh Spain.

Too chicken on the first night, by the second day, we had steeled ourselves and went to a gorgeous outside restaurant and ordered a pitcher of Sangria. Out came the pitcher...but no food. We looked at each other and thought that perhaps we had to order the tapas. Before we could make that silly mistake, out came a waitress with a little pan of paella. She placed it in front of us and left. “This is for us?” Our smiles grew wide and we tucked into the saffron-yellow rice. Next round, we received deliciously garlicky potatoes. We couldn’t believe we were being fed simply because we were drinking.

The day continued, we got wise and started ordering the smallest beers we could, and received plate after plate: fish croquettes, jamon and melon, bread and meatballs, olives, salad. We went to bed that night without dinner, having spent the day eating and eating.

Although the free tapas rule doesn’t just apply to alcoholic drinks, as we found out at lunch-time the following day. Escaping the sweltering heat outside, we went to our local sandwicheria and ordered two lemonades and our sandwiches. Out came the drinks...and some fries and jamon on bread. Score! Free entree.

Some restaurants obviously do better tapas than others, and I would hazard a guess that there’s a correlation between price of drinks and quality of tapas. In any case, one can really ‘eat for free’ in Granada – although just be careful about the cumulative cost of drinks. If you want to be a super cheap back packer, order your drinks one at a time and see just how much free food you can squeeze out of people!

NEXT: Potugal, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland...maybe all in one posting

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