Saturday, April 30, 2011

When and what to eat in Spain

Hey everyone,

My name is Lauren Hook, and I’ll be singing Soprano for UGA’s Chamber Choir Tour. I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain, and I wanted to post a few blog entries about my experiences before we head out. I’d like to start things off with a special on Spanish food, as I consider myself an adamant foodie. All photos are my own.

One big difference you’ll notice when we get to Spain is how many meals they have each day. So, instead of having three meals as we typically do in the US, Spain has five. There are even specific verbs to use in reference to you eating at a specific time. Think of it this way, instead of going to lunch, the verb is simply to lunch. And you don’t eat dinner, you simply dinner.

1. Desayunar

To start the day off, we have desayuno (noun) or desayunar (verb) to refer to breakfast. Breakfast in Spain is lighter than what we have in the US. No IHOPs or anything of the sort. You’ll have desayuno specials that include several items for one price, typically 2-6 euro depending on where you are and what’s included.

Some examples could be: zumo de naranja (OJ, freshly squeezed), café con leche (espresso and milk), bollería (some type of pastry, maybe a croissant), or tostadas (toasted baguette with your choice of olive oil, tomato spread, ham, and cheese). Desayuno is in general a great deal. Consequently you’ll see the tables at the local cafes packed with customers in the morning.

2. Almorzar

The second meal is almuerzo and its respective noun is almorzar. In American Spanish classes, the literal translation is lunch, but in Spain at least, I found that misleading. Almuerzo is a mid morning snack between 11 and 12 before lunch. You’ll have a café con leche and some type of bolleria.

3. Comer

The most important meal of the day is lunch – it takes the longest and you eat the most. The main verb for “to eat” is the verb used for this meal – comer. Lunch is normally held during siesta hour between 2 and 4. If you show up any later, chances are you’ll be turned away for lack of space or time. It’s not common for Spanish restaurants to have a wait-to-be seated list, so if there are no tables open, best to come back another day.

During lunch hour, you’ll see restaurants with signs outside their doors detailing their respective menú del día, or menu of the day. This is a fixed menu. One price, normally around 10 euro, includes a drink (wine is a highly recommended option), two meal courses, and a choice of coffee or dessert.

But hey, if you’re on your feet all day sightseeing like crazy, try making a bocadillo, a sandwich on a baguette, with jamón serrano, chorizo, queso, or tortilla de patata, which is a Spanish omelette with potatoes and sometimes onion. Yum.

4. Merendar

Merienda is the next meal of the day (respective verb being merendar), and it’s similar to almuerzo because it’s a pre-meal snack. But in merienda’s case, we’re snacking between 5 and 7 before dinner. Have another coffee and pastry, or try one of my favorite foods in Spain: churros con chocolate.

When you think of churros you might imagine ridged, stiff, fried, cinnamon-sugar covered dough. Sure, these are great, but I’m talking about something else. Churros in Spain come in a thicker, larger varieties, sometimes referred to as porras. What you won’t see is the cinnamon. Instead, you ask for a steaming taza (cup) of hot chocolate. If you’ve never had it, Spanish hot chocolate will redefine hot chocolate for you. The Spanish version is closer in consistency to melted chocolate or pudding chocolate. It’s nothing like our watery Swiss Miss (sad if you ask me) attempts.

Just put a bit of sugar on your plate, dip a churro in the sugar, and then proceed to dip again in the chocolate. Enjoy. What’s even better is that these are normally available for breakfast too!

5. Cenar

Finally we’ve arrived to dinner. By now it’s most likely 9pm or later, and before proceeding to dance the night away (I’m not even kidding; see my next post), we should have a lighter meal, our cena (verb cenar). This is where tapas, or pinchos in the north, come in.

These dishes are small affairs – servings for individuals or a few people. Some bars insist you help yourself from what is already displayed on the bar; sometimes you can have tapas at a sit-down restaurant.

Pay 3 euro for a glass of vino tinto or vino blanco and order a few tapas to share with your friends. What’s fun about dinner is that it’s not uncommon to barhop. Get a drink and a few snacks at one place, talk for awhile, then find another lively place down the street. Continue as you see fit.

¡Qué aproveche! (Enjoy your meal)

I honestly can’t wait to taste Portugal’s culinary offerings. See you all in rehearsal!


If you want to see more photos from my travels in Spain, check out my Flickr.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Welcome to Spain!

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Its mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar; to the north by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the northwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal. Spanish territory also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast, and two autonomous cities in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, that border Morocco.
With an area of 504,030 km², Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union after France. Since January 1, 2010, Spain has held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Because of its location, the territory of Spain was subject to many external influences, often simultaneously, since prehistoric times and through the dawn of Spain as a country. Conversely, the country itself has been an important source of influence to other regions, chiefly during the Modern Era, when it became a global empire that has left a legacy of over 400 million Spanish speakers today - making it the world's second most spoken language by native speakers. Spain is a democracy organised in the form of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy. It is a developed country with the ninth or tenth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and very high living standards.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Your performance tour travel route through Portugal and Spain

Home away from home: Hotel Mayoral, Toledo, May 26, 27 and 28

The last three nights in Spain from May 26 until May 29, the UGA Chamber Choir will stay in the Hotel Mayoral in Toledo. In 2003, the hotel was fully renovated hotel and it is centrally located just outside of the historical city center. The 110 rooms  feature air conditioning, cable TV, mini bar, a private bathroom, hairdryer and wifi internet.

Home away from home: Hotel La Motilla, Sevilla, May 24 and May 25

The UGA Chamber Choir's first home in Spain is just outside of the town of Sevilla. Hotel La Motilla is located in the 'La Motilla' area, about 15 minutes drive from downtown. With a coffee shop, bar, pizzeria and a swimming pool  the hotel  also offers 24/7 front desk staff. The hotel has 101 large rooms, all decorated in different colour schemes and comfortably furnished with large beds, tables, air conditioning, cable TV, telephone, private bathroom with hairdryer, minibar and a safe deposit box.
Here is a little info on the town of Sevilla (known as Seville in English) from the website of the Spanish tourism officeSituated on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, Seville has a rich Moorish heritage, and used to be a prosperous port that carried out trade with the Americas.  The streets and squares in the historic quarter of the capital of Andalusia are lively and busy. They treasure many constructions that have the World Heritage designation, and many districts are full of traditional culture, like Triana and La Macarena. Seville is a prominent business and service centre in the south of Spain and has many hotels distributed all over the city which enable visitors to discover endless attractions. Museums and art centres, theme parks, cinemas, theatres and clubs are some of the many leisure options that a great city like Seville holds. Without forgetting, of course, the numerous terraces, inns and bars where visitors can practise one of the most deeply-rooted and tasty traditions in the city: "Going out for tapas"

Home away from home: Hotel Estalagem de San Gens, Serpa, May 23

The Hotel Estalagem de San Gens is situated in the elevated zone of Sao Gens, next to the Nossa Senhora da Guadalupe’s Chapel and the Spanish border. It has an excellent strategic location, a dazzling view over the village of Serpa and a natural landscape as far as the eye can see. In the bar and restaurant you can sample local cuisine, such as the famous Serpa cheese, sausages and wine. The hotel has 18 rooms that are uniquely furnished and it is said that the accommodations offer a beautiful view.
Now let's explore the cuisine of Alentejo a bit more - with this excerpt taken from The Alentejo was formerly a major grain producer. Whereas out among the Hispanic oaks and olive trees, large herds of pigs pastured on the open plain. Thus, bread, pork and olive oil form the bases of one of the best-developed regional cuisines of Portugal. Of particular note is the way herbs and spices are deployed to infuse countryside aromas. 
Soup represents a main dish and may be served cold, as in Alentejo gaspacho, or hot with bread an essential feature in game, cod or tomato and sausage soups. The wheat influence continues with the ‘migas’ breadcrumbs that are served with pork, or the stewed lamb bread dish ‘ensopado de borrego’ or in the stewed bread embodying the ‘açorda Alentejana’. Any of these specialities can be found in any self-respecting restaurant in Estremoz, Évora or Beja. Alternatively, opt for a plate of game, highly typical of the Alentejo’s gastronomy, and gain a great insight into quality rural cooking! Over by the coastline, the fish and shellfish come back into play to make their own particular culinary contribution. And the quality of the fish in south-west Alentejo is another high point to this region’s culinary heritage.