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Barcelona – Gaudi Town

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I feel like calling it the City of Angels, maybe because there is so much Gaudi and his spell is cast over the whole city? If there was no Gaudi would as many people visit Barcelona as they do today? It does have nice beaches, great food and an interesting history, but so many European cities do. What makes it so different? Gaudi……this coming from an Architect so maybe I am biased.

We arrived to Barcelona on a hot Summer’s day, our hotel located in the Gothic area and ‘Old Town’ near the port.The hotel seemed luxurious as it had air conditioning, something our friends in Valencia were lacking, and knew a good night sleep was awaiting us that evening. It was still early though, plenty of time to explore. First the roof top bar overlooking Barcelona.

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We could see Gaudi’s mark on the city from way up here. Next walking through the small back streets of this gothic area seemed like a maze. Tall buildings seemed to encompass us with only small flickers of sun making it through the narrow distance between them.

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Hunger hits. Not a problem, there are so many little bars that sell pinxtos small appetizer/tapas foods served on bread. So we stoped and loaded our plates.

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It seems to be a continual occurrence that whatever place we decide to eat at suddenly gets extremely busy after we arrive. Needless to say that paying our bill was a struggle. Others came in, ate and then also waited to pay, I would say 30 minutes is a conservative estimate. We did finally make it out of there during daylight though and decided to walk to the beach. Our map actually cut off before it hit the water so we thought keep walking that way and we should reach it. WRONG. What we reached was an exact copy, or should I say that Darling Harbour is an exact copy of this port. Aquarium, Imax, Shopping mall, Food vendors, little trains. Tourist town to the max. We needed to get out of there quick smart.

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So we did a loop, did not see any beach and walked back to the small alleys to get lost some more before finally making it t the hotel, tired, hot and wanting showers.

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I looked up restaurants for that evening and we decided on a bar called “Bar del Pla”. Remember it. Write it down somewhere and go. Go early or be prepared to wait. We went at around 8pm (on a weeknight) and nabbed the last table available, again. People walked in and then back out the front door disappointed, a good sign that we are in a good place.

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First up are tomato bread and roast chicken croquettes. Ok. BEST CROQUETTES IN SPAIN. You saw it here first. BBQ chicken, roasted, oven, cooked flavours are all here inside creamy, crunchy goodness that is a croquette. No chicken chunks, the whole filling is chicken mixture and the crumb is evenly cooked, not soggy, not falling apart. Perfection. Smiles all round. Tomato bread next. Wow. The vibrant red was not lying when that flavour hit our tongues. This is what a real tomato tastes like, but better as it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. What could be a better combination. Again, you saw it here. BEST PAN CON TOMATE.

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We are living it up tonight. The next two dishes we had to take recommendations from the helpful staff. Smashed eggs with Chorizo is like fried eggs smashed but they must be cooked over a low heat as they are soft and have no crispy sides at all. The chorizo was super super strong and did need the eggs to balance the flavour hit. Together smeared on bread. Heaven.

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Last savory dish the scallops with green sauce and pine nuts. Scallops are just a hard ingredient to work with. They over cook at the blink of an eye, cool down rapidly and can taste bland if not cooked well. These chefs know how to cook up some scallop. These gigantic mummas were soft as butter and melted in our mouths. The dill sauce just enhanced the creaminess of the scallops, which were hot I might add.

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Ahhhh with perfection comes food comas, naturally. Did I mention we had ‘a refreshing salad’ too? It didn’t matter as Chris HAD to order dessert. I just HAD to eat some too. Gelato. Simplest dish of the night. Chocolate, vanilla and Lemon and mint sorbet. They were all incredible but the lemon mint was so interesting and like a cocktail in our gelato. Refreshing in more ways than one and when mixed with vanilla brought back childhood memories of summertime spiders.

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Chris can we come back tomorrow? He said yes. It was like a marriage that should last forever. Us and Bar del Pla.

Day 2 started off with a walking tour of Gaudi. The first building we visited was Casa Batllo in the ‘ritzy’ part of town. No teeny tiny alleys but instead wide roads where light is only hidden by trees and shops galore, especially the further away from the Port you get. Near Casa Batllo the road is boasting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Jimmy Choo.

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The beauty and uniqueness of this monument adds colour and breaks up the rigidity and repetition that the street possesses. Gaudi was the first to embrace the natural forms in more than just a handrail and ornaments.

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The detail inside and leaves me in awe and wanting to replicate these mosaics in my house, but no time to dwell on that we are ushered onto the next building, Casa Mila. Unfortunately this one was under repair and the whole façade was boarded up. Finally, the last building on our tour, the grand Sagrada Familia.

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What a structure it was. Unfortunately it is also under heavy construction which is forecast to be finished in approximately 15 years. We were so glad that we had a local guide to tell us all about the differing facades. Firstly the façade that was finished just after Gaudi’s death and one that only he had designed. It is the passion façade which is dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the Angels telling Mary of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus in many different scenes. The sculptures are all very organic with flowers and leaves an integral part of every scene. The reason for this is that in the time of Gaudi people thought that with the fast paced life post WWII that people will loose nature and forget what it was like, and this is why it was integrated into the architecture to remind us what it was like.

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The second façade is the passion façade and symbolizing lead up and death of Jesus from soliders coming to arrest him, then Jesus carrying the crucifix to him being crucified. Although Gaudi did leave detailed information of what each scene should have, it was the interpretation of a new sculptor who had the job to finish this façade. The sculptures are much more rigid with their hard edges and are lacking life. Although it is very cold it is also beautiful.

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We decided to save the interior tour to another day when our stomachs weren’t commanding so much from us. Off we went walking the few kilometers back to the old town and to the food markets. After Madrid we were inspired to try as many in Spain as possible. The Mercado de Santa Caterina was a very different experience to that in Spain. Although it is a building I have studied in Architecture classes, seen many photos of due to its interesting roof, it is not what we expected. A market for the people is the best was I can put it. Fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. No cafes, tables, bars to get some take away food or sit down at for a glass of wine. There was one or two nice restaurants on the edge of the markets but not cheap options at all. We ended up at a simple café just out of the markets for a sandwich and salad. Lunch and the afternoon were quite non eventful other than some shopping and more wine at a wine bar.

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Day 3 was the day we had booked in a wedding photo shoot through the streets of Barcelona and also another of Gaudi’s amazing site, Park Guell. Our morning was simple hitting up our local coffee joint which is probably the only boutique roaster in Barcelona and was like finding gold. No longer did we have to worry about having bad coffee every day, now we could go and order our Americano and Cortado (long black and piccolo) and enjoy…We then stood in line to see the Picasso Museum which thankfully is in the Gothic area so we did not need to walk far. If you go please do me a favour and get the Audio Tour, you learn so much more about Picasso and also his artworks which adds to the appreciation of the tour. Lunch was a simple sandwhich and salad again, we were saving room for a nice dinner at Bar Mut.

So while I got hair and make up done for the shoot Chris went off for some beer, wine, CROQUETTES at Bar Del Pla and a Vodka, but he came back empty handed with nothing for me.

The photo shoot was great, hot but great. Our photographer, Gabby from Enroute Photography was helpful and told us exactly what to do, and what not to do! After nearly two hours in the gothic area we headed up to Park Guell where ‘the shot’ I wanted was waiting. Park Guell reminds me of Gaudi meets Willi Wonka as the park looks like it has edible gingerbread houses and candy everywhere. People had started to clear out as we were there right before it closed, waiting for that sunset shot. Well here are some of the shots we got. Worth it? I think so.

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Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

Barcelona Wedding Shoot

After the shoot we got back to the hotel and stripped just to cool down, but not for long, redress in more comfortable clothes for dinner. Bar Mut is not a restaurant you can find a lot of information on, its website only has a weird 25 minute long video which is more about the characters and their stories than the food. We got there and were sat up at the bar.

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The menu was a board which were hard to decipher as it was in Catalan and not Castellano, which is more familiar to Chris and I. We were told some specials but just let the waiter recommend as we really did not know where to start. First came out croquettes which we were sure were to be pulpo but actually tasted plain. Definitely not pulpo in there, just crispy goodness and creamy filling. Well enjoyable nonetheless but nowhere near Bar del Pla.

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Next was carpaccio of egg or a very runny yolky thin omelette with prawns and crispy noodles. YUM. We were instructed to mix it all together so it would be a plate full of crunchy, creamy seafood goodness. There was no point plating it up between us, I ate straight off the plate.

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Fullness was kicking in right here, mind you I did eat the majority of that egg dish. I just love eggs! We had a break before our whole fish was displayed to us, cooked in a copper dish, prior to being filleted. It was enormous. The fish was emitting aromas of white wine, butter, herbs and garlic and those potatoes might just looked like cooked potatoes but they had soaked up all of those delicious juices.We ate and ate and ate until we could ‘ate’ no more. This was one of those times where you have used up your dessert stomach for mains and therefore dessert was not an option.

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We found it incredible that large tables were coming in to dine at 11:30pm, but in Europe this is so normal. I will admit that when their main came out, the Chateaubriand we had serious food envy as we had not had a good steak in quite a while and wish we had ordered the meat. C’est la vie. We were full, satisfied and ready for a nice long sleep.

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Day 4 we went for a long long walk. This walk started with us looking for breakfast, since we slept in and missed the hotel buffet. I remembered seeing a nice bakery but when we walked and walked and walked and still could not find it we gave in and just sat down at any regular bar for ‘brunch’ as it was now midday. I watched the waiter make us coffee. My long black was over extracted then the button was pressed for another extraction on with the same coffee. I was cringing everytime I glanced that way and wished we were back at the boutique roaster. To my complete surprise it was not bitter and it was drinkable but probably knowing how it was done made me not enjoy it.

We decided to find the beach so at least we could say we saw it. If we thought it was hot on our wedding shoot this was another level of heat. We walked and walked trying to hide in the shade of trees, which in the central gardens were not plenty.

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We also could not exit the gardens how we had hoped as the Zoo blocked us out so we walked around the zoo then the Parliament blocked us out and geez look where we ended up, right back where we entered, wasting time and energy. So we walked AROUND the gardens now and looked out for public transport to the beach. Nothing, so we walked a bit further. We were ecstatic when we saw the light rail as the light rail in Valencia took us right to the beach so we hoped for a similar situation. Nope. It would take us 200m down the road to the final stop. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with real sand and not pebbles.

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We were kicking ourselves we did not bring our costumes with us. When we set out in the morning we did not know where we would end up. The heat made us think silly things like ‘let’s go in the water in our clothes’. Easy for Chris who had already stripped his shirt off and could easily jump in in his shorts. We walked along the beach back towards the centre until I realized I was getting a shorts tan. AHHH isn’t that something men only get? I had to get in the shade asap. Now we were done with the beach and on our way back but were on the look out for a 95 bus which would go near our hotel. Many buses past us and when the 95 did we ran to the next bus stop only for the bus to leave 3 seconds to early. Nooooooo. We walked back stopping for lunch and coffee then collapsed in our air conditioned hotel room for a quick rest then were up again to go to see the insides of Sagrada Familia which we were booked in for at 5pm. The plan was to do the church then go get dinner and watch the Spain vs Holland game.

Sagrada Familia is an incredible church not only for the sheer size of it but Gaudi’s mind and creation is just brilliance. Every single piece of glass, every column has a meaning and a need. I cannot even try to explain why things were done but here are a few photos which will try to show you the generous that is Gaudi.

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When considering where to watch the game that evening we needed a large screen and dinner so we could get a good spot early on in the night in front of the screen. The place I went a few nights before was okay, not great but worth a try. We were definitely early as it was not terribly busy yet. We ordered our meals, both hungry for hamburgers after walking for miles earlier that day. Our hamberguesas came out and were not what we expected. A hamburger patty with two fried eggs and hot chips. Well not quite what we expected but we were hungry and devoured the plates. Well the bar did get packed and then we were glad we did not go to the Irish pub up the road as you could hardly see the screen there were that many people. We were comfortable at our table enjoying wine right in front of the screen.

There is nothing to say except Spain are terrible and the locals were walking out of the Bar at half time. Not quite the experience we wanted watching Spain play in Spain.

Our last night was a let down but we weren’t finishes with Barcelona quite yet.

The next day we went to pick up our hire car we would have for the next 10 days. Today we were driving it to Granollers, only half an hour outside of Barcelona to watch the Moto GP.

Picking up the car was ok, although it was not the car we had booked, it was much larger and also not manual like requested but automatic with the stop start at the traffic lights. The integrated GPS was a bit delayed when in a busy city so it took us at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona city and onto a highway. Once we did the GPS was fine and directing us like it should. Well. Granollers is not a sight for sore eyes. A small town which gets busy once or twice a year for the Moto GP and maybe the F1 too. Our hotel would have been close to the race track but a lot of roads had been closed so that traffic was directed in and out of the race track on only a few roads. We raced to see the qualifiers but as we were walking in after parking we could hear the crown go wild as it had just finished. If roads had not been closed and our GPS not so confused we would have made it. What can you do. We watched the Moto3 qualifiers then walked around to see the merchandise.

So if we thought that getting out of Barcelona was bad, getting out of the race track was probably 20x worse. We were not moving. Our hotel was a 10 minute drive away. It took us an hour to just get on the highway, then another 5 to the hotel. By this time we were hungry so drove straight into the town for dinner. It was 6:30pm at this stage. We went to the main square, found a restaurant and sat down. Unfortunately we were told that dinner does not start until 8pm so we only had the small bar menu to order off. It didn’t look to appetizing when I went up to have a look a the options. I ordered a few things including chorizo, potatoes and tortilla. Chorizo was served in a pool of oil, the potatoes were ok but the tortilla was still raw. We nibbled then went to the bar next door for a wine. The bar also happened to have a tv and world cup games on, so we stayed there all night and had simple snacks to get us by. Not a gastronomic experience at all.

Race day we were up early to get a good park and watch warm ups. We were also worried about the traffic getting there. No problem, it took 10 minutes and we got a good park as the car park was not full yet. The effects of this wouldn’t hit us until later in the afternoon.

moto1The Moto3 and Moto2 races were a bit boring as one or two people were leading for the whole time, there were no interesting fights for first.

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The Moto GP however was full of excitement. Valentino Rossi lead for the first half then Marquez came to first and Pedrosa in second. After this is was like musical chairs and they kept changing but the local Marc Marquez won in his home town and the crown went wild. We did not stay to listen to the interviews post race as we did not want to be in a long line driving home.

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Well I think it was inevitable. We were at the back of the car park and actually did not even leave the car park for at least an hour. In hindsight we should have done the shifty like everyone else and push in on the side. The whole drive took us an hour and a half to get out and into town. A lot of people were driving back to Barcelona so we were happy we were going back into the small town.

We were experienced today so went for a pre dinner drink and waited until a nice restaurant opened at 8:30pm. Finally we had a proper dinner of steak and slow cooked lamb and we enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately my stomach did not appreciate the sudden change to super rich food and I was not feeling too well that night!

Thankfully the next morning I was better ahead of our 5hr drive to Saint Sebastian……but that is another story.

Valencia – home to the best Paella

Valencia was hot when we arrived, hot at night and hot when we left, perfect weather for beaching and post dinner strolls. We got off the Train from Madrid, map in tow, and walked up this corner, around that one. Stop. Where are we? Back to that corner. Wow half an hour has passed in this heat. Oh we are there! Ok this is the street. I can see the hotel! Finalllllly. Of course we arrived hungry so after dropping our bags we went on the search for food. We really did not want to walk further than a block, lucky it was a big block, and after walking around ¾ of it we found a bakery. It had a huge selection of pastries, emapanadas, sandwiches, pizzas, sweets and Coffee! We had a jamon y queso sandwich each and suddenly felt so satisfied. Simple and delicious. Now that we could think we had to plan for dinner. So back to the hotel to do a little research and not long after I found what I thought would be the perfect restaurant. It looked funky, new and ‘gastronomic’ but not pretentious and posh. Dressed up and starving again we set off with the help of our dear friend, google maps. It was not a leisurely walk as one might think. When I am hungry I am on a mission and basically power walked my way to that restaurant, poor Chris trailing behind. I blame my Dad when we were little kids. Can you imagine a 6’4” man with two little kids holding his hand, each as tall as his knee, running just to keep up with him. As I grew my pace slowed but now I have developed a comfortable and fast power walk in addition to a pet hate of slow walkers in the street who block my path. So. Vuelve Carolina. If this restaurant was in Sydney it would have a very good chance of actually staying open. Great central location. Tick. Fresh décor consisting of light timbers, Mini plant wall and contemporary lighting. Tick tick. Bookable. Ding ding ding. Winner. Did I mention the interesting dishware?

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The menu is set out to share so we chose 4 dishes to start with so we could suss out the food descriptions. Papeles – Papel & steak. Worth a try……WOW served ON newspaper, paper thin steak with what tasted like a hamburger on top, just deconstructed. Memories of cheeseburgers as a child flooded back without feeling guilty about going to McDonalds. If this is the first dish we are onto a winner!

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Next Huevo a baja temperature (eggs cooked over low temperature) that secretly hid roasted shrooms, although you did not need to see that, the flavour permeated through the whole dish, even with the creamy yolk blended through. Ravioli gyoza? Not quite.

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A layer of what I could only guess is solidified beef stock was the ‘pastry’ above a ‘san choy bow’ with prawns. Again we were left licking the plate wanting more. We could not leave without trying the Mini Burger Carolina served with fried and wrapped in newspaper. Mini is correct, small enough to fit in even my big mouth, no. How do I attack this?

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Like Chris I suppose, open as wide as possible and shove it in. mmmmmmmmmmmmm Juicy meat, pickles, sauce, soft bun. Do we have another burger? We could still eat more but thought we had better try something new. Our one mistake. We did order the sesame chicken cooked in paper, thinking there might be a dipping sauce. No the skewers of chicken were cooked in paper so nice and smokey in flavour but the sesame part was quite boring, not like our journey so far. Sigh.

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Hopefully dessert would pick us up. White chocolate cream, mango and passion fruit looked promising and fresh. It was exactly what it sounded like, white chocolate cream in a passionfruit soup with noodles of mango sorbet.

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Needless to say we were fighting spoons for the rest of the course trying to get as much as possible. I think being in constant need of walks after dinner will be how we spend our whole honeymoon. Our eyes are bigger than our stomach and the food is too good to say no to. So walk we did tonight through the main square up to the fake Colosseum to watch a random 16km Marathon being held at 11pm on a Saturday night in Valencia.

running There were hoards of people lined up the streets cheering on friends and a batucada group drumming away to motivate the runners, some of whom really needed it.We watched for half an hour until the group of runners died down then went back to our hotel and attempt to sleep in the heat.

Our second day in Valencia we were determined to hit up the beach since we had not been seaside for quite some time. Valencia is known for its long and large beaches so it was definitely something we had to tick off the list. A metro and light rail ride later we were there. The beach spanned as far as we could see down the coast and was at least 50m deep till we reached sea from the pavement. Huge is probably an understatement.

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We found a spot and tanned for a few hours until our stomach were telling us to stop. All along the beach there were cafes with Menus of the Day. We walked up and down and found one of the cheaper menus to try. Well probably an indication of what was to come, slow service, not so great food. To cheer us up we walked up the beach to find ice cream but settled for a calippo, probably a better option too. To be honest I did buy a maxibon first but after a few bites of the cheap creamy ice cream I had to throw it out and enjoy icey cool lemoney calippo.

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We continued walking along and after too much sun went back to shower off . Dinner we decided to wing it and walk around the town to find a little bar. We found a bar in a back street that was full and with not too many English speakers around so we thought it was worth a try. No. Crap croquettes, mini frozen prawns attempting to be garlic prawns and a not so fresh salad. Today was not a good food day, let’s just leave it at that.

The next day we went had booked in to go to the Aquarium which is part of the Culture Park of Valencia. It has a number of buildings and bridges designed by the world famous architect Calatrava. They were magnificent and just incredible to admire.

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The scale, the geometry and just concepts were not like anything I have seen before in person. The aquarium had so many little ‘worlds’ including tropical, Mediterranean, Artic, Antartic, Shark, wetlands and a dolphin show. It kicks the Sydney aquarium in the butt.

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On the walk back I decided to try and find a hairdresser to get my hair done, try being the key word since it was siesta time. It was not easy as many were closing at 4pm for the afternoon. I feel that Valencia is a lot more relaxed than Madrid and adhere to siesta times. I had told Chris that I would be back by 6pm at the latest. Well I found a hairdresser, waited for an hour, then it took 2hrs for her to do my roots, I was one of 3 clients in the salon. I must admit it was probably the best colour I have had but the fact that I confirmed it would be LESS than 50 euros before I started, then we enjoyed some chit chat where the hairdresser learnt that I was Australian and a little about me gave her the right to charge me 52.50 euros for a simple roots dye. In Sydney I pay $30 for this, so basically she ripped me off, but what can you do? I was not going to start arguing in the little Spanish I know about 20 euros. At least we got a good restaurant recommendation for that evening! Marisqueria los tres Mares. The restaurant specialised in seafood and it was time to try what we had come to Spain to try, paella. A dear friend of mine Panayiota has always told me that she had the best ever lobster paella in Spain, although it was from Barcelona I thought it was worth a try in Valencia. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though entrée first. Garlic prawns? Surely anything could have been better than last night’s attempt. Well the giant king prawns served in a fresh garlic oil with potatoes was 1000% better.

pall1 We gulped it up quick smart. Amateur mistake. Had we even noticed the size of the paellas? We were not expecting what came out. A HUGE 50cm diameter paella dish at least with two half shells of lobster resting on top. This was for two. Um how was I supposed to finish that? Simple. It tasted so good with the little squid, prawn, octopus and other seafood pieces, saffron rice and of course crunchy crust that we just had to force ourselves to finish it as it would be a crime to leave any on the plate.

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We did try but just could not eat any more. The equivalent of how full we were can be likened to the fullness you have after your grandmother keeps telling you that you have not eaten anything then puts another plate of food in front of you that you feel bad not to eat. That full. Not wanting to disrespect full. Well almost that full, there was room for lemon sorbet to help digestion. That 52.50 euro hairdye just paid for itself with the satisfaction we both had. Needless to say we did a long walk back to the hotel. The next morning we packed up our things ready to catch the train to Barcelona. We had come to know the streets of Valencia much better than when we had arrived. Luckily we did not get lost on the way to the station as we boarded our train as soon as we arrived. Sit down, relax, it’s 3hrs till we reach Barcelona.

Madrid – an affair to remember

Ah Spain, how lovely our first meeting was. I loved so much arriving in sunny Madrid to a nice hotel, H10 in the centre of town with big large windows overlooking the old style apartments across the street.

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I was so hungry after getting off the plane though that we needed to feed me straight away. Lucky you had a plethora of bars along our street that we were able to enjoy some tapas and a bottle of wine at 4pm, and OMG what great tapas they were. If the flavours from this first manchego and jamon iberico plate is anything to go by, we will do just fine together.

…..and it was sooo fine!

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The rest of our first day we spent walking through the large central park, contemplating whether to hire a row boat in the middle of the lake (although it was now so balmy and almost uncomfortable in the sun).

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We decided to find shelter in the streets near our hotel which, I was so happy to discover, were full of shops. No shopping yet I was told. Another thing we discovered was a gluten free bakery. A WHOLE BAKERY dedicated to the gluten intolerant. It was called Celicioso – Like Delicioso and Coeliac (well Spanish spelling). Closed now but definitely a place we were to return the next day.

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We rested in the afternoon and ended up napping for 3 hrs due to the jet lag flying from Peru to Spain and the 7hr time difference we had to make up. Dinner was just there to cure our cravings of meat since we had not had much ‘steak’ in Peru. So it was a boring steak place, but we promised ourselves we would be m ore authentic going forward.
What did surprise us though was that Madrid was always buzzing. When we left the restaurant at midnight people were still walking the street, eating, drinking, walking their dogs. It is almost a city that does not sleep. I was falling in love already. I kind of imagine this to be a mini New York if you add lots and lots of European culture and super old buildings, Maybe???

Our first/and last full day in Madrid (we only had a short 2 nights together) we decided to hit up the gluten free bakery first to have coffee and I had a nutella alfajore (shortbread normally with dulce de leche inside but instead nutella). AMAZING, does not crumble at the slightest touch + coffee = a happy Trish. Not wanting to spoil my appetite for the food markets I restrained myself and we left. We walked the streets towards the food markets and as Chris pulled me along I was writing a mental list of shops I wanted to visit.

The food markets are called Mercado de San Miguel and are near the central Plaza. On the way there we stopped at the Museo de Jamon “Museum of Ham”. Wow red red red everywhere. Jamons hanging left, right and centre. The bar in the centre had queues lining up just of people wanting to have a small tapas plate or a jamon bocadillo “sandwich” from this institution.

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We kept walking remembering the prize at the markets, a much larger selection of foods and highly recommended by my food mentor Andrew, so if Andrew said it was good, it was GOOD. He did not disappoint. MY eyes were like I was seeing 100 shooting stars. I could not control where I was looking as there was too much to see, too much to smell, where do I start????

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This was mainly for the tourists due to the expensive prices but also sold fresh seafood, meat and vegetables for the locals who wanted to spend a little bit more. It reminds me of what David Jones food hall is but much more interactive with the people and just better (full stop).

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We settled on more jamon iberico, aged manchego, wine and chicken croquettes. The jamon was strong and oily full of flavour rich fat; the manchego brittle, dark and nutty; the croquettes creamy, crunchy and ‘taste like chicken’. Sad but true we were full from jam and cheese, again, but still have weeks left to discover more dishes, plus I had just spotted mini ice cream cones that I found room for, and a flavour I had never seen before lemon sorbet with shards of chocolate through it. Someone in Sydney should be making this as it is perfect for all those people who feel like chocolate but need something refreshing instead and cannot decide.

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We then walked through the city, past the parliament, main church and back to the hotel with a little bit of shopping included. Well rested we set off to another recommendation “El Tempranillo” a little bar close to the food markets on the other side of the main plaza. We walked through peak hour of people on the streets and after a few wrong turns, dress ups and seeing a naked man on a hotel balcony, we made it to El Tempranillo lucky to nab the last table. All of a sudden groups arrived wanting tables with none available for a while and we thanked our lucky stars we had timed it right.

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The service was interesting as the waiter did not seem to care if we were sitting there or not. After a while we got some chunky cured chorizo as an appetiser. The globules of fat burst in your mouth and woke our tastebuds which were screaming for more….well more would have to wait a bit as the waiter had not even come back to take our order. So we ordered 5 different tapas with the waiter’s recommendations and after some more waiting, they arrived. Maybe us two Sydneyciders are just impatient people but the Spanish seem content everywhere we go, this must show the restaurateurs that fast service does not matter if you have a quality product. It is probably the same theory used when people wait in lines for long periods of time to buy bread, gelato or a pork roll sandwich. Well let me tell you we were not complaining once we took our first bites. We ordered:
– Fried egg, asparagus and chives;
– Grilled vegetables, goats cheese and olive oil;
– Smeared tomato and jamon iberico;
– Foie gras and pear;
– And we forgot the last one but it was just as good as the rest.

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All simple flavours but just done so well. We did not know how to order and probably should have had some larger dishes, but we were so content after this, and 1.5 bottles of wine, no more food was required.
Looking around you could not see the bar any more as it was packed in here like sardines. We decided to leave and give someone else a table, but our dear friend the waiter did not care that we wanted to pay. I must admit for the amount of people in there perhaps more than one waiter should have been on. Well it worked for them, they were turning people away and the crowd was happy so I suppose it probably does not matter to them.

Walking the streets we could not help ourselves when we stumbled upon a churreria “churros house”. Like amateurs we ordered 2 hot chocolates and churros but our neighbours were sharing the one hot chocolate between them. Smart, very smart. We probably had 1/5 of the hot chocolate each as it was the richest little cup of warm chocolate ganache I had ever tasted. Unlike Peru’s first picarones disaster our first churros were not a disaster at all. So so crunchy and with the slight salty flavour it paired so well with our cup of brown glop (I’m sorry chocoholics but it was just that rich I nearly could not have it).

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And this my friends brought Madrid to a halting end, but the “meet-cute” we shared would be the start of my desire to return, and to enjoy a nice affair with one day.

Peru – Part 2

Day 11. We survived Cusco. That story needs to be explained in person for effect! Back in Lima we had planned to go with Tia Rosa to the Incan Markets in Miraflores which have a lot of crafts and souvenirs, but first lunch. On my hit list was ‘eat at a Cevicheria’ or house of Ceviche and since we have previously had such great experiences at Gaston’s restaurants Panchita, Tanta and La Barra, why not add another to the list, so off to La Mar we went. Taxi’s in Peru are another interesting and new experience for me. They firstly do not have a GPS or even a street directory, nor do they actually need to know where to go BUT the benefit is that you negotiate the price before you go, so regardless of the traffic the price is what was agreed. This is actually good for Lima since the traffic is horrendous. So on this particular day the driver said yes yes yes, but then took a wrong turn. A half an hour journey turned into an hour and with four people stuffed in the back seat, my comfort levels were not very high. We arrived and all I wanted was to sit down at the table, no chance, a table was a 40 minute wait, so wait we did. At least we scored two bar seats after 15 minutes and chowed down on canchita (air dried corn seasoned with salt) and had a few drinks.

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The wait was well worth it! I ordered a plain ceviche with mixed seafood, Chris had ceviche with chicharron, Chris’ sister actually hates all seafood except tuna so she ordered causa, a potato and tuna stack with egg, and then Chris’ mum and Tia Rosa shared a mixed plate of goodies which we all tried to finish without success, it was huge!

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Although we were sufficiently stuffed there would always be room for dessert and it would not be right if we did not order Picarones. I was already disheartened after the last Gaston effort but had to give it the benefit of the doubt that this would be better. It was, they tasted as good and as crunchy as they look.

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So after the diverted taxi ride and long wait I can say that this cevicheria experience was just as flavoursome, colourful and enjoyable as I had hoped, well I finished with a coffee, that may have helped too.

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Absolutely full we hit up the markets buying handicrafts, more blankets, Chris even got some ‘alpaca’ slippers, lets see if they are as good as Aussie UGG once we get back.

A well overdue siesta was necessary before Brisas that evening, a dance performance that showcased many of the traditional dances and costumes from Peru. As most of you know I am an early bird and struggle to stay awake, well God help me, the show started at 10pm and we did not get home until 3:30am! Good effort I think, although the table was looking like a nice bed from about midnight. The dances were incredible as were the costumes. So much colour, detail and varieties for the different regions and styles of dance, most of which I have already forgotten the names.

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Once all the performances were finished it was our turn to get up and dance. I was being taught the Huayno dance which is a stamping dance from the country, looks easy but is so NOT easy. One leg stamps once then the other stamps twice alternatively. After realising that you should not lift your legs too far off the ground I was able to get a bit of rhythm and by the end of the night I got it for about 20 seconds until my legs got tired! Its incredible to see people doing it for countless numbers of songs. Their legs would be getting the best workout, no Gym needed here.

Sleep that night was not to be as I was cooking Sunday lunch for the family. I thought to myself “What is a good Greek dish that is different souvlaki or pita?”. Then it hit me, I could make a Pastitsiou, which is a typical Greek Lasagne, and who best to ask for the recipe than the Queen Pastitsiou maker, my Thea Betty. I have only ever made it once before as I have never needed to, Thea Betty always does. After receiving her recipe I went to the markets in the morning to buy ingredients and start cooking as lunch needed to be ready by 12pm sharp! Papa Raul expects lunch at 12 and I would not want to leave a bad impression.

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Unable to find good rigatoni or tubular pasta, I settled on a fat round pasta that will have to do. The meat was easy although I did not cook with onions as I was going to use some of the meat for a mini gluten free, onion free version for myself. The hard part is definitely the béchamel sauce. Basically you cannot leave the stove until it is done, that is how much you need to stir, stir, stir. Funnily enough I am not a patient person at all, but I am patient with food. I am happy to cook pasta from scratch for 2hrs or prepare bread over 4hrs as I know how good it will be and how happy it makes people. This patience comes from enjoying the process rather than just wanting the finished product. The béchamel needs to be done slowly with only small amounts of milk and egg added each time to allow for a smooth texture and to ensure that all lumps are whisked out of sight. My béchamel might have taken at least 30 minutes to prepare but it tasted heavenly. It’s lucky I am lactose intolerant otherwise I would have eaten far too much from the pot. I assembled the pastitsiou and was ready to bake it in the gas oven.

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I was told earlier that morning when I went to heat the oven that they do not know if it works, Papa Raul and Mama Celes have not used it as long as they can remember, if ever. Eeeek. Well worth the try in my eyes, I still remember the taste that a gas oven gave my Yiayia Eleni’s baked potatoes, there is nothing that ever compared or even reached the level of flavour they had. If this is the effect the gas gave my grandmother, then maybe I would be lucky and my Pastitsiou for Chris’ family would turn out perfect.

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An hour later the top was certainly browned and the edges nice and crispy, and with 15 minutes to spare as the clock ticked 11:45am. I set the table, called the troups and plated up. Sorry, I forgot to get the Inka Kola for the table.

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As I sat there with my gluten free pasta and onion free meat I envied the family who were about to eat the creamy and delectable pastitsiou recipe I prepared, thanks to Thea Betty (although I can say that as I did taste test a small piece and OMG crispy edged , creamy top and rich meaty sauce were heavinly). The response from the family? Well I think Papa Raul summed it up well, he asked me to give him the recipe so Mama Celes could make it for him. We all laughed, I was immensely satisfied and grateful it turned out so well. What better for a Sunday lunch than family, traditional dishes and laughter.

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Day 13 and the cooking classes did not stop as I was lucky enough to learn a dish called Papa Rellena from someone Chris holds dear to his heart, Della. Della used to help out the Alzamora family when they lived in a suburb only around the corner from where they live now called Matute. Christopher lived in Matute when he was 9 years old on his 4 month visit to Peru. He showed me around the ‘residential village’ that was his playground for those months, where he roamed free until the early hours of the morning when he would return and Della would make sure he was washed off before he went to bed. Now Della has a family of her own and lives in that same flat that the Alzamora family used to live in, so my cooking class would take place where Mama Celes used to cook for the family which was a nice feeling.

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I felt so terrible that Della was up since 4am preparing for this dish, which is understandable when we saw how many she was preparing as there were at least 40 large Papa Rellenas (enough for 20 people), some prepared and some waiting for me to practice on.

Basically a Papa Rellena is soft potato stuffed with a meat mixture, almost like an empanada but instead of pastry there is potato. Suits me just fine and for all those out there who are gluten intolerant. So the base is the same as for gnocchi, you boil the potatoes then mash, although Della has mashed each potato into individual balls so they are evenly portioned out. The meat mixture has the standard Peruvian base of garlic, cumin and aji (and for everyone else onion too). Then the side dishes are prepared – sliced boiled egg, olives and raisins, if you like them inside. Once ready to make you flatten a ball of potato in the hand, put two tablespoons of mince inside then add on top some egg, olive and raisin before closing the potato around the filling to form an egg shape.

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Before you fry you lightly cover the outside of the potato with flour then add an egg wash. Fry away until browned evenly and enjoy.

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MMMM so so so good. I cannot wait to make these at home and try new combinations. I am already thinking waygu bolognaise with mozzarella would be one of the first things I would do. YUM. I had to finish both balls but unlike most Peruvians who eat double carbs at every meal, I was fine without rice to accompany my papa rellena, I wanted to enjoy every mouthful without interruptions in my mouth. Plus I needed to leave room for dinner at La Rosa Nautica. Thanking Della we waked home, out of Matute and farewelling many new memories.

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Siesta complete we all got dolled up to go out for dinner. We were lucky that Tio Pedro who works at La Rosa Nautica was to join us for dinner as he is able to get a 50% discount. The prices once converted into Australian dollars is still very cheap but who wouldn’t pass up that offer.

We arrived just at sunset and took photos of the surfers enjoying some ‘colour’ in the sky.

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Once we sat down, the city lit up. Oh no wait, that is just the constantly bad traffic jams.

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Once we started to relax a large BANG that sit the building, a wave, and a common occurrence and the reason Tio Pedro’s wife, Herlinda, did not want to join us as she is too scared of the waves. Chris’ sister and I ordered main dishes – Lomo Saltado and Salmon with aji potatoes respectively – and Chris’ Mum, Tio Pedro and Chris shared a mixed platter of seafood, however that was only entrée for them. For main Tio Pedro had organised a hot seafood plate which included fillets of snapper, squid, prawns scallops and potato.

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I ordered a Malbec from Argentina which we all loved, but too bad, it was the last bottle. Then we moved over to Rioja in Spain and had a Temprinillo which in fact was even better! Chris’ Mum ordered a Chicha cocktail just to be different, and as we can see she enjoyed it very very much!

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How could we pass up dessert? I certainly could not, especially after polishing off every morsel on my plate. Us young gals ordered the chocolate fondant, although one each was probably an oversight, sharing would have been smarter. Chris’ Mum ordered the Lucuma dish expecting ice cream but a tart came out. Tio Pedro had to help her finish it, and also finish Chris’ Apple tart

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I must say that I was sooo impressed with the food and will make the huge statement that it was the best meal I had in Peru, better than all of the Gaston restaurants and better than the food in Cusco. The dishes were simple, not fancy and overdone, but had flavours that jumped out with every bite. I have not finished entire plates of a main and dessert in a very long time, lucky I was wearing black and my top was loose!

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Our last full day in Peru we spent visiting the city centre, something I am told we cannot leave Lima without doing. To be honest the temperature had dropped this day and the sky was still gloomy so I was not thrilled about leaving the nice, cozy, warm house of Mama Celes, but I did not want to regret staying home. The centre reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, touristy, old and once you have seen a bit, you have seen it all. We decided to take a tourist bus to do a loop of the city so that we can see everything the centre has to offer.

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The only problem was we decided to go on the bus at 5pm when the roads were in grid lock, more than normal due to peak hour, and the temperature had dropped due to the sunset, so our outdoor seats were not looking so good. The one hour tour took an hour and a half. We could not get away from the bus quick enough and into a taxi to go and get dinner. What better send off meal than BBQ chicken with the family in a warm restaurant only a short Micro bus ride away from home. Perfect!

Here we said a final goodbye to Tia Rosa. I will miss her smiley face and I know she will miss me trying to translate words into Spanish. For example, she kept joking around one lunch and I tried to say she was ‘cheeky’ which is a harmless playful English word. My dictionary told me to tell her she was ‘descarado’, or even better I wanted to say that she was ‘rude’, but again in a playful way as English would allow. Nope, my dictionary told me to say ‘indecente’. The laughter amongst the family was so loud, I wanted to crawl into a hole for trying, but it was all in good humour. The final miscommunication was when I asked Tia Rosa before dinner whether “Tienes hombre?” Do you have a man?   but what I meant to say was “Tienes hambre” Are you hungry. She replies “No tengo homre o hambre” I don’t have a man and I am not hungry. I know these phrases are going to be joked about with the family for a loooong time to come. At least I got one right as we were saying goodbye “Eres decente” You are a proper and lovely person, a big hug and we were off on the Micro back to Mama Celes’ house.

The day of our flight we packed, had a simple lunch and said our goodbyes. It was so sad as I know that Mama Celes and Papa Raul cherished the visit, cherished the blessing we had at their church and appreciated us coming to celebrate the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. Chris’ Mum was also crying as we would not see her and the rest of the family until Christmas, so it was a sad time for all.

To say I was disappointed to leave is not correct. I was very much looking forward to our travels through Europe, coffee being available at every corner, carrying my camera around my neck to take endless photos and also have alone time with Chris, as we have been busy with family from the time we stepped off the flight at 2am to the time we were to board at 5pm. What I will miss are the people, the generosity, the love and the hospitality. Experiences like this cannot be bought as I was lucky enough to see many different sides of Peru and was able to put on my ‘tourist’ hat in addition to my ‘I’m part of the family’ hat, even ‘hablo terrible espanol’ hat, but I tried. I opened my eyes and saw a part of the world I had never seen before and for that I appreciate my life and how lucky I am so much more.

Now off to spain!

Peru – Part 1

Peru, a place unlike any other I have been before, a place full of extremities and little in between, but a place full of many unique and beautiful experiences.
From when we arrive the love and hospitality was evident. Our plane was an hour late so we flew in at 1:30am, that did not deter Mama Celes who at 87 insisted to meet us at the airport, flowers and hugs ready for our first meeting. The joy on her face spoke the emotions I am sure she had, seeing her Grandson and new wife for the first time after their wedding. The last time Chris had seen Mama Celes was in 2010, but that four year gap was insignificant as he picked up right where he left off.  Papa Raoul waited patiently at home for us to return, again with the same excitement and arms wide open.

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Lots of sleep was necessary due to the large time difference, 15 hours behind Sydney! Day 1 we spend locally,walking around the  suburb, markets and of course to change money from the guy standing on the corner of the intersection with a calculator, I am told this is the completely normal. A simple lunch with the family of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice showcased how flavoursome the ingredients are in Peru, something we are not so exposed to in Sydney with an array of bland flavoured produce. Dinner was test one for me, will I like the infamous Jamon del pais sandwich from the Japanese guy from around the corner. Waiting patiently in line we watched as he used his chopsticks to assemble the roll. Soft white bread rolls are filled with a smear of mustard, chunks of specially cooked pork, a mound of Spanish onions which are almost pickled in lime (lemon) juice, then to finish a slice of fresh aji (chilli). Due to the fact that I cannot eat onions I think there is no point even trying the sandwich as the onions are such a huge component of this sandwich, they add crunch and also the liquidy juices of lime break down the rich meat. I added some more aji verde paste when we got back to the house so that MY sandwich was not as dry and boring……..the verdict, its OK. Chris was horrified as we now cannot share one of his true loves. Test one, fail.

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After our local dinner we decided to head off for a drink and try one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, Panchita. So from one extreme of walking around the local suburb at night, without handbags or cameras just in case we got mugged, we set of for Miraflores, the Double Bay of Lima where a different class of people live. Fancy cars zoomed past, jewellery was out for show and handbags were hanging off all the women. The restaurant was full of chatter, full of laughter and it is obvious that jokes are welcome. We sat up at the bar to have ‘a drink’ and ended up consuming a mixed platter and picarones, how could we not. I did need to try as many traditional Peruvian foods as possible so the mixed plate went without question as it featured Tamale verde, Papa rellena, Chicharron, Choclo y Papates con huancaina, Causa and Anticuchos. Tick, tick, tick, my list instantly got a lot smaller, then add Picarones and I am almost ready to leave after day one. Unfortunately the picarones, which are rinds of sweet potato donut were slightly undercooked. This Greek girl knows a thing of two about donut cooking after cooking many locomathes (greek donuts) in my time. Disappointing but that is ok, I kept dreaming about the tamale verde which were stuffed with cheese that had melted through th already rich corn surroundings. Test two for me was Chicha morada, purple corn juice which in Australia you can really only get in the form of a cordial. Freshly made it normally has a twist of lime (lemon) in it to lift the strong flavour. OH noooo, yuck, eeek not to my taste at all. Chris’  Sister looked on unable to comprehend how I did not enjoy it. Test two, fail.

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We retired that night for to catch up on our sleep until 5am when the phone rang right next to my head, prank calls apparently were common, not a welcome start to my morning. After breakfast we headed over to Lince to visit one of my Mother in law’s friends. Since we did not have a car we decided to catch a micro today, as opposed to a taxi. A micro is a vehicle of any sort like a small van, mini bus, old school bus etc, that locals have painted a route on, drive around without any concern for rules, actually PARDON there are no road rules in Peru at all, and even if there were, no one follows them. These micros are private and basically do not have a timetable. They just race each other around the place to pick up people and fares, so you need to be prepared to jump on and off very quickly so you don’t slow them down. Well we arrived in Lince in one piece but had to be weary on the streets as it is not the safest suburb. People were on the street fighting, many homeless people were trying to sell the little items they could to raise some money too. Suburbs like this do however have their little glimmers of beauty. The apartment we were going to was in an old Spanish building made out of mud brick and still had the original timber staircase up to the first floor. Due to the tremors in Lima the staircase had sunk into the floor so that the treads were no longer at a 90 degree angle, but rather sloping down like mini ramps. As an architect you can admire buildings like this, especially standing on the solid timber balcony overlooking the streets. I wish I had photos but this was a no handbag, no camera type of place. It was even a place that I was nudged to remind me ‘no english’ as we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.

Lunch was a la Mama Celes, Quinoa and queso, a delicious and simple meal with the trio of Peruvian ingredients, garlic, aji and cumin. Tio Augus came to visit and took us to Jockey Plaza for coffee and a sneaky shop. I must say for me this was a little bit of a sanctuary, a place I was comfortable with after being exposed to ‘the reality of Peru’ as Chris’ Mother puts it. It had Zara, which I did enjoy some retail therapy in, and we had a coffee, my first since arriving, and what joy it brought coffee addicted me. Chris ordered Lucuma Ice Cream, another favourite of his. Test number 3. Bah-bow. No go. This was disguising. It was like a rough melon cream that had an odd tart flavour too…..well things aren’t really going to plan to enjoy Peru like Chris does when I dislike every ‘memory food’ he gives me.

Siesta tick, now time to eat again. Dinner was Pollo a la brasa (BBQ Chicken) which is a favourite of Chris and mine, a la Lebanese from Charcoal Kingdom back home, so this was something I was very much looking forward to comparing. The chicken was delicious, skin crispy as required, but what makes the dish is the generally the sauce, today we had yellow spicy aji sauce. Like toum which I can eat by the tubful, this aji sauce would be a welcomed permanent condiment to my fridge, but of course it is very hard to find these sauces in Australia unless you make it yourself with dried aji or aji paste, probably not the same. As you can see from the photo, no one drinks water except me. It is almost as if water is not required in your body, but instead your body cannot survive without Inka Kola. I am so astounded at the amount of sugar Peruvians consume on a daily basis and surprised more do not have diabetes.

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After dinner I met the lovely Tia Rosa who took us to the central park where there is a nightly water and lights show. The light show is projected off water fountains and showcased different cultural dances, all of which I was to see at Brissas, the local dance show. We ran around like kids, playing with the water, ooing and aahing at the colours and tried not to get wet as we followed the processions under the arch of water. What a contrast to suburban streets only two blocks away. Going to the bathroom is an interesting experience too. You pay 50c and get given a wad of toilet paper  to use, and you even get a receipt!

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Day 3 we had a private tour around the city, first stop the statue of The Unknown Soldier which is one of the highest points of Lima perfect for a 360 degree look. It only strengthened the idea of extremities being just streets away. In a suburb called Chorillos there is a hill where people just find space and build a small house. It looks almost like favelas of Brazil and if you move your head slightly to the left we have San Borja which is like the ‘old spanish town’ and a very touristy and pretty area to visit, not a slum at all.

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We then visited the Parke de Amor which is dedicated to love. Love is all around and I think it is impossible to miss the point with a giant statue of two people kissing and an organic wall with seats fully mosaicked in love quotes and names. It is a very beautiful park and adds some colour into the grim and sombre colours of Lima. It occurred to me that there is never sunlight in Lima due to a layer of smog above the city that cannot make it over the Andes. This smog acts like permanent cloud cover and is what I think London looks like for most of the year, grey and dismal.

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Our last stop was La Rosa Nautica, an iconic restaurant that overlooks the sea and I would call it that signature restaurant every city has with the best view in town. It was lucky for us that one of the family’s uncles, Tio Pedro worked there so we went past to say hello, and of course have a drink and snack. The bar has around 48 different piscos and does all kinds of variations on the classic pisco sour. Since we were looking out at the sea we decided to try a small ceviche, another tick off my list. It was perfect in my eyes, fresh and soft fish with the perfect balance of acidity from the lime (lemon) juice and strong chilli. I enjoyed the leche de tigre very much without the need to order it as a separate item off the menu.

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We were picked up for lunch by Tio Augus who due to the culture of long lunches was able to take us out for a couple of hours to try Cuy (guinea pig), another tick off my list. The restaurant/eatery we went to specialised in food from Arequipa which is a country region from the south. The cuy was deep fried and served with choclo, fried potatoes and onion salad, obviously to break down the large proportion of fat in the meat. Once we cut off the head it was not unlike other small animals we are accustomed to such as quail or wild hare, slightly gamey, but some might just say “tastes like chicken”. We then went on a hunt for a café so I could enjoy a coffee after my meal. For a coffee lover like me I am blown away that in a region that contributes so much to the coffee scene of Australia with high quality beans, there is not more café’s or a coffee scene at all, I actually started looking up Starbucks to add to the list of destinations we had daily as I knew there would at least be quality control and would satisfy my needs. I realise this is sad but what do you do when you are used to drinking two long blacks a day?

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Dinner was another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Tanta. A bit more casual than Panchita but no less impressive, and yes we still have to line up for half an hour for a seat. I had a bit of a food coma all afternoon due to so much frita frita frita. Everything is fried here too, so chicken salad for me went down very well! The others of course had to try the Lomo Saltado, as they do in nearly every restaurant, clearly a favourite, unfortunately I cannot have it as it is made with onions and soy sauce and it really would not be possible without these key ingredients, so I get a pass from this test. We were all so full after dinner we had to walk to digest so we walked down to Larco Mar, the big shopping centre on the water in Ritzy Mira Flores. It was funny watching the young line up to enter the night clubs, and it is not an unfamiliar scene to Sydney with girls barely wearing anything, having to change out of ‘normal’ clothes in the bathrooms into their outfits packed in backpacks. Ahhh how glad I am to be married and not go through such a scene.

Day 4 we visited Gamarra, a large central markets which yes was an experience, not all good though. Basically if I knew it was going to be that chaotic, that crazy, that scattered I would have said no, please take me to the shopping centre where people are calm, things are easy to find and there is no chance of getting mugged. For an outsider or someone who is not used to things like that, it is not all fun, especially when my hand was getting squeezed and I was getting nudged left, right and centre as a reminder not to speak English. Yes things were cheap and yes we needed to buy some items ahead of Cusco, but at the end of the day I would be happy to pay more for sanity than go back there and fight the crowds. For those who have not seen it, I would liken it to walking through Town Hall at 11am on Boxing Day to go to the sales in Sydney…. A nightmare.

By the end of the day we planned to get our hair done ahead of the big family lunch tomorrow, but as we arrived at the hairdresser, which you cannot book, we were advised that there were people waiting ahead of us. An hour later we left, another example for me of un-organization, something I am told Peruvians are not famous for, and as a Project Manager, something that is foreign to me.

Day 5 we rose bright an early to prepare for our wedding blessing and lunch with the family. This included doing my own hair and make up as shops do not open until quite late in the morning. Family rolled in from 8am we greeted and took photos with then left for the church around the corner.

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The ceremony was lovely and our blessing I know was appreciated by all that were there. Back at the house Chris and I even did a first dance and then continued to dance with many family members, like a mini reception. The day was not only for us, it was also the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. We seemed to do things in reverse as we cut a cake at the house then left for lunch at Gaston’s new restaurant La Barra at Casa Moreyra. The restaurant itself, Casa Moreyra is an old Spanish style house which was to be sold only to Gaston or not sold at all, we are told. La Barra or The Bar is like an semi indoor/outdoor space with plenty of natural light and a casual atmosphere about it.

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There was nothing casual about the service though, they were on top of every request we could possibly have had, none more annoying I am sure than the kitchen preparing an individual menu for me without gluten, onion or lactose. I had my own bread which was delicious, stretchy (i.e. did not fall apart like normal gluten free bread) and was actually soft and fresh (not frozen). I also had an individual portion of every dish of the menu as I know the others did not want to share my intolerances with me. Here is the food that we enjoyed on the day.

  LA BIENVENIDA (The Welcome)
Aceitunas olivar de San Isidro, maní acaramelado con curry, aceite de oliva, pan campesino, pan chapla, pan para Celiacos

San Isidro olives, caramelized peanuts with curry powder, olive oil with an assortment of breads

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DEL MAR (From the Sea)
ALMEJAS, chalaca, semillas de tomate confitadas, flores de cilantro

Clams with corn, tomato seeds and coriander flowers

CAUSA, bonito ahumado, aceite de escabeche, mostaza y piel de limón

Causa with cured tuna, pickled olive, mustard and lemon peel

TIRADITO, salsa nikkei, nabo, frejol chino, sésamo blanco, ají limo

Tiradito with salsa Nikkei, turnip, chinese beans, white sesame and lime chilli

CEBICHE, pesca del día, leche de tigre al rocoto, chicharrón de calamari

food 2

DEL CAMPO (From the Country)

SALTADO DE QUINUA, langostinos cristal, verduras crujientes, naranja

Sautee of quinoa, lobster, green vegetable crudités and orange

ALCACHOFAS FRITAS, arvejas, jamón, huevo frito, hojas de menta

Fried artichoke with peas, ham, fried poached egg and mint leaves

food 3.1

DE LA CIUDAD (From the City)

YUCAS ESCABECHE, jamón del país, alcaparras, cebolla, aji y hierba buena

Pickled yuccas with roasted pork, capers, onion and herbed chilli

AEROPUERTO, de pulpo y papada, pecanas, fideos fritos, huevo, frejolito

Stir fry with octopus, pecans, fried noodles and egg

food 3.5

LAS FUENTES DEL DIA  (Large dishes of the Day)


LOMO SALTADO,

Stir fry of beef with fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes


POLLO ENRROLLADO, de hongos y hierbas, papa huamantanga con crema acida y ajíes dulces

Rolled Chicken with mushrooms, herbs, potatoes with cream and sweet chilli

food 4food 4.5

POSTRES DEL DIA (Desserts of the Day)


TORTA DE LÚCUMA

Lucuma cake, one without gluten or lactose (I am boring, but I was the only one who had a piece so at least everyone else got to taste the real cake, which I was told was delicious. Surprisingly my not so fun cake was soft, flavoursome and also ‘ricisimo’)

 

goof 5

We were all so full before we even got to the large plates that we had to take home quite a few doggy bags which we shared around with some of the guests. It was such a great lunch, not only due to the relaxing atmosphere, live music and sunlight streaming in but the great company. For me restaurants like this are quite the norm but for a lot of these people they would not dream to dine like we did. You could see how appreciative and just excited they were. Their faces beamed when we met Astrid, one of the owners of Astrid & Gaston and Casa Moreyra. A lot of the guests raced towards her hoping for a photo which she was more than happy to pose for. She gave us her time and best wishes and was such a pleasure to talk to. Like many of the guests meeting Astrid made my day too.

food 6

We left all with food babies, probably twins, and retired for the rest of the afternoon…..but our rest was short lived as we had to pack for our next adventure, Cusco, which we were to leave bright and early the following day. That is a whole other story!

 

Cherry Frangipane Tart

Dinner with my partners extended family. I had only met his Tia and Tio once and I was still trying to make a good impression so I thought what could I take over as a thank you? Their Grandmother lives with the family and is from Uruguay so I was certain dinner was going to be fabulous and I am sure she would have all bases covered, therefore I felt there might be room to impress with dessert, plus I hadn’t baked something worth wild in a couple of weeks.
I did not want to take something too rich or chocolatey, it needed to be simple and delicious without being over the top. I thought fruit was a good place to start and I remember a couple of years ago baking a nectarine frangipane tart which was fantastic. Unfortunately it is the middle of winter now and all the good fruits are out of season. What could I be left with – apples, pears or cherries. The first two are boring and not packed with flavour. Apple is better in a crumble, pear is better with a chocolate frangipane, which is a good mix, but not something I wanted to recreate for this occasion, so by deduction Cherries it was to be.

I was surprised the cherries out, although $15/kilo, were so large, juicy and bursting with flavour, I thought to myself even from the get go this was going to be good. The frangipane itself was surprisingly easy to make, even though once someone commented that good frangipane had to be made a day ahead and left to rest for 24 hours before using it, I think people who believe this have no life and personally I think it would not make any difference as the tart I made turned out fabulous.

I had to make a few little tarts for my Mother who always wants to try my creations, but I had so much mixture that the mini tarts were basically overflowing with filling. One thing I was worried about once it was in the oven was the fruit burning but I was lucky that my oven did not decide to do its own thing and it baked evenly, did not burn and looked amazing. The only thing I forgot to do before I took it along to dinner was use some jam to make the cherries that little bit shiny and prettier, but I was confident they would like it none the less.

The result? THEY LOVED IT. I was soooo happy I have proved my baking abilities and impressed the relatives to be. Now I am sure they will have faith that I can take care of and cook for their beloved nephew. So that was one half of the satisfaction, but the other was my Mother’s reaction. Normally she always finds faults in my cooking, too dry, not enough stuffing, whatever, but her mini tarts were perfect. She could not stop complimenting them. PURE DELIGHT!

So the moral of the story is, this is the perfect tart to impress, serve with some ice cream, doucle cream or dab with some cognac when it comes out of the oven even for an adults only version, and you will be raved about for weeks to come.

Cherry Frangipane Tart
Pastry

25 cherries

115g butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla paste

1 1/4 cups almond meal

1. Prepare pastry and bake then leave to cool.

2. While cooling pit all the cherries and cut in halves (you don’t want to bite into seed).

2. Preheat oven at 180 degrees C.

3. Cream butter and sugar until light in colour. Add vanilla paste then eggs in one at a time and mix until well combined.

4. Take mixture off the paddles and stir in the almond meal with a wooden spoon.

5. Pour frangipane over cooled tart shell then arrange the cherries in a nice pattern, but make sure that they are pressed in so they don’t fall off once baked.

6. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Allow to cool.

7. Serve with vanilla ice cream, double cream or dab some cognac over the top (while still hot). Enjoy

Chocolate Pear Tart

For Christmas this year I was lucky enough to get a Mix Master from my family. It is amazing and I could not wait to christen it, but wanted to do something special. It was also close to the birthday of a very close friend, so I thought it would be nice to bake her a tart. Really what better reason to cook but for others to enjoy it.

What would I cook though? Well Francine is always happy and bubbly and I know she likes chocolate as all the kids in my family and hers used to love eating a rich chocolate mousse cake at her house since we were young. But now we are older and I thought something a little lighter might be appropriate. I have always loved the look of tarts in which whole fruits were pushed on the top and then baked but did not particularly want to make a marzipan filling as I am not so fond of them, and honestly, how much more boring are they to chocolate. So I found the tart I would make…..a chocolate pear tart (and it is a tart as I am completely in love with pastry and now find it so rewarding to make perfect pastry that is crisp and crumbly, but not overly, just right).

This tart however is different to my signature chocolate caramel tart in which you cook the pastry before adding the filling as you cook the filling to so it all cooks together. I was a bit skeptical at the beginning as I thought the pastry would not cook enough and would be soggy but the filling rose quite a lot and was light so the pastry was able to cook through and go hard.

It looked beautiful when it came out, although the pears weren’t perfectly placed, but it was a little difficult to cut as you would need a very sharp knife to cut through the pear so you don’t pull them out of the filling. I was not game enough as I was out at a restaurant, so decided to give Francine (birthday girl) a whole line of pears and me none. I actually preferred that as I just wanted chocolate. As we were at an Italian restaurant we also got some vanilla bean and hazelnut gelato to go with the tart and I must admit I preferred the latter (surely I am not biased as it is my favourite flavour) but I really do think it just added a little bit more to the whole tart.

There was about 7/8 left of the tart so I sent it home with Francine for her family to enjoy.

Happy Birthday Francine!!!

Chocolate Pear Tart

Perfect tart pastry

3 Pears (ripe and firm)
8 oz good semisweet chocolate
3/4 cups of heavy cream
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar for sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F
Peel, core and cut the pear into quarters. Cook it in a microwave until they are just about tender.
Take out and let it cool.
In a double broiler melt the chocolate with cream. Whisk thoroughly so that it all incorporates well.
Then add sugar to the chocolate and mix it till the sugar dissolves well.
Set it aside and let it cool.
Whisk egg and egg yolk in a mixer. Add vanilla beans or extract and mix it together.
Once the chocolate and cream mixture is cool enough pour it into the egg with mixer on medium low to combine everything together.
Take out the tart pan from the freezer. Arrange the pears and then pour the custard into the pan carefully not to pour on top of the pears but from the sides.
Place it into the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes but I start peeking after 40 minutes.
When the chocolate custard is puffed and set, its done. It should be a little firm to touch and slightly cracked from the edges.
Take it out and let it cool before serving, only if you can resist!