food

Hotel Posada del Valle in Asturias, Spain

Recently we went to Asturias, and we were looking for somewhere to stay. I found this hotel by happenstance, as someone tweeted a link to a New York Times article about it. They said it was like you were living in a cloud, and I thought, Okay. We’re going. I mean, who doesn’t want to live on a cloud?

We drove there from a nearby village, Ribadesella. At first I thought I had made some terrible mistake, as the roads were tortuous and there was a steep drop off to the valley far, far below. When we got there, it was nighttime, pitch black and with very little lights, as we were in the middle of nowhere. (Basically.) The driveway that lead down to the house was also a huge hill, and I was a bit apprehensive about driving down that hill, even if I wasn’t the one driving. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, and so we did.

This hotel, which cost a total of €60 for one night, was the loveliest place I’ve stayed in. Seriously. 100% the best place. It’s run by a British expat couple, who (I think) live nearby. It’s on an 18-acre organic farm with animals and such, including the sheep native to Asturias, the xalda sheep. They are interesting.

Oveja Xalda

 

The building was originally a priest’s farmhouse and was constructed in the 19th century. The owners bought it in 1995 and converted it into what it is today. Downstairs there’s a small bar area and a fireplace. The owners, Nigel and Joan, have written up walking routes that can take you all over the region, with varying levels of difficulty and time. They always point out the best place to get refreshments if need be!

The hotel has a restaurant, in which they serve local, organic food and wine. The menu changes daily. We chose to have dinner at the restaurant. On that day’s menu was a salad bar, a carrot-ginger soup, and a choice of a vegetarian or non-vegetarian entrée. I chose the vegetarian, which was a moussaka, and Mario got the roasted red peppers stuffed with hake (merluza). We ordered an organic white wine, and soon realized that the other two couples were British! It seems that this is a popular hotel choice for British people, which makes sense, as there aren’t as many English speakers deep in the heart of Asturias as there are in the big cities and on the coast.

After dinner, we relaxed with a copa on the terrace. Nigel set us up with a candle and offered us a blanket. It was wonderful to see the stars, as in Madrid the light pollution makes this impossible. There was very little going on, but it was the most peaceful night.

The next morning at breakfast was no different. In Spain, it’s common to have a pretty delicious breakfast spread. (Do not talk to me about U.S. hotels and their “continental” breakfasts.) Hotel Posada del Valle had the highest-quality breakfast I’ve had in Spain. There was the organic apple juice, made from apples picked nearby. We enjoyed two types of homemade bread with honey and butter. There was muffins made from various fruits, including kiwi, which I found delightful. And as we breakfasted, we saw the mist in the valley slowly rise to the mountaintop. The saying goes, “Niebla en el valle montañero a la calle; niebla en la cumbre montañero a la lumbre.” (Fog in the valley, mountaineer hit the road; fog at the summit, mountaineer stay at home by the fire.) It was a good day to be climbing! We had other plans, but we stopped to take some photos of the place.

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If you go to Asturias with a car, consider staying here, especially in the off season. You can’t beat the prices or the surroundings!

http://www.posadadelvalle.com/
HOTEL LA POSADA DEL VALLE
Collía, Arriondas, 33549 Asturias Spain
Telephone: 00 34 985 84 11 57

Ever been to Asturias? What was your favorite place?

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What American Tapas Restaurants Get Wrong

The other day, while reading my mother’s copy of Reader’s Digest, I stumbled along a “funny” quote:

What the ...?

What the …?

This shouldn’t have enraged me … but it did. Okay, perhaps “enraged” is the wrong word to use, but I was rather miffed after reading this. I even Tweeted about how this person clearly didn’t get tapas. But then I thought about it some more. This person did get tapas, except he had only had tapas in American restaurants, meaning his experience was worlds away from what real tapas are like. I guess I couldn’t blame him, though I did blame Reader’s Digest for publishing his inane comment.

The real question is—What do American restaurants do wrong when it comes to tapas? Is it even possible for them to do it right?

American restaurants serve tapas at raciones price.

In Spain there are usually a few different categories of dishes on the menu, including tapas and raciones. Tapa are individual sizes, whereas raciones are meant to be shared among 3–4 friends. In the U.S., the restaurants make you pay much more for smaller-than-raciones sizes, meaning the guy in my picture is, um, right.

Whole Foods refers to tapas as “tiny treasures of Spain.”

American restaurants hardly ever give you anything for free.

Don’t you love getting something “for free”? It’s not really free, but in many Spanish restaurants (outside of certain areas), you’ll get a free tapa when you order a drink (a beer, a glass of wine, or a soft drink). I’ve never been to a tapas restaurant in the U.S. that does this.

There is no tapeo experience.

The true Spanish tapeo experience involves walking from bar to bar to get the best thing at each particular bar. In Zamora, for example, we know the best place to get a pincho moruno (pork kabob), calamares (fried squid), and a sandwich made with pork loin and Cabrales cheese.

You go from bar to bar with a group of friends. Ponéis todos un bote, meaning you all pool your money for a kitty—you then use this money to pay at each bar instead of everyone paying for their own drinks at each place. (You must put someone in charge of this. Choose wisely.) At the end of the night, if there’s money left over, we usually just save it “for the next one.” In Spain, there is never the last round; it’s always la penúltima (next to last).

The drinks are expensive.

When I come back from Spain, I can never believe how much wine is here. You want me to pay $10 for one glass of mediocre wine?! And you’re going to serve it to me room temperature? And you’re going to fill the glass up? I know it’s not like that in nicer places, but so many places just don’t know how to serve wine. At all. In Spain, you can get a good glass of wine for €3–€4 in Madrid, and in Zamora, we pay for €1.30 for a really decent glass of Toro wine.

Beer in Spain, if not usually good, is at least cheap. There are more and more places to get craft brews, but those tend not to be your traditional tapas bars.

And stop it with all the sangría, okay? Spaniards do drink it—sometimes—but most will likely opt for a beer, wine, or even vermouth.

Paella.

I know not even to get a Valencian started on paella, so I won’t go too into too much detail. But stop with the paella crimes, okay? Just stop!

So what do American tapas restaurants actually do right?

In my opinion, not a lot. They push things like sangría, they mix up Spanish with South American, and they charge way too much for way too little. However, I can say one thing: The taste of the food is good, even if there’s too little of it to really appreciate.

What’s your experience with tapas restaurants in the U.S. or other countries besides Spain?

What to Eat in Munich

With regards to food, I had no idea what to expect in Munich. Usually I do a bit of research, try to read up on the cities I visit beforehand. This time, however, I relaxed and let myself be guided by my personal tour guide: Mario. You see, Mario lived in Munich for a year around 2005–2006, and he knew his way around—geographically and culinarily. I mean, I had heard of Munich’s beer scene, though. And believe me, I was excited to drink some decent beer. No more Mahou or Cruzcampo for me! (Sorry for those of you who actually like that stuff, but ugh. Just no.)

Thus, I set out blind, not knowing what delights awaited me! Here’s what we ate and drank in Munich.

Weißwurst

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Let’s Link—Week 6

Ah, vacation. Isn’t it great? I never choose to spend my Christmas holidays traveling, as many do, but instead I venture home every year in order to spend time with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and many more. (Mario stays in Spain to be with his family work.) This means I think less about blogging and more about baking Christmas cookies, watching IU basketball, and hanging out with my parents. Yeah, I’m that cool. Fortunately for me, I’ve had the opportunity to reunite with some close friends from high school. I haven’t laughed like that in a long time! It’s great to be with people who you really identify with. I’m beginning to see why I’m okay with not wanting to live in Spain forever.

Anyway, all that to say: let’s link! Are you ready for some thought-provoking bits of information? Of course you are!

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I really enjoy reading Janet Mendel’s blog. She writes about her kitchen and culinary adventures in southern Spain. Like me, she is a Midwesterner. She wrote about a traditional Spanish Christmas food I’d never heard of—the cardoon.

Cat wrote about her favorite Spanish Christmas traditions, which include Sevilla’s beautiful Christmas lights.

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