Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lo que no mata engorda: Eating our way through the Costa Brava (part I)

Lo que no mata engorda...what doesn't kill you only makes you fatter. Which can only mean one thing, since I am still here blogging, the scales are tipping! Mmmm...but Spain is such a lovely way to gain weight...

Here are some of the gartronomic highlights of our road trip up the Costa Brava...the rugged and beautiful coast of Northern Spain. We ate in a lot of wonderful places, and most left us happy and sated, but these were our favorites...

Fonda Caner in Begur

Begur was the “base” for our Costa Brava explorations. Unlike the seaside towns where most tourists flock when visiting the Costa Brava, Begur lies a little ways inland. Small, romantic, and absolutely charming, it is a gem of a town growing around a hill, upon which lies the ruins of their old castell. Our hotel, Hotel Rosa, a recommendation from my aunt, was a little family-run affair down a pedestrian cobblestone lane, not two steps from the main square. We loved it! It was just the type of place I like – intimate and cozy, nothing too fancy, with great service. And if that wasn’t enough, the owners, Maria Rosa and Narcis, have a restaurant right across the street which is excellent! I am usually wary of hotel restaurants, seeking instead small family-owned places…but Fonda Caner (their restaurant) was just that...and so good we had dinner there twice!

After their requisite free glass of cava (sparkling wine) on the first night, I had bacalao (salt cod) with red pepper, raisins, and pine nuts con cebolla confitado a la miel (caramelized onions with honey) which was amazing. In Manila, we are usually exposed to a very limited bacalao experience, the most popular being bacalao a la Viscaina, and the bacalao sold here (aside from being so expensive) is the super dried up kind which you have to soak out of all hell before you use. The bacalao I had was fresh, so soft and delicate, but still with the familiar salt kick which was complemented perfectly by the onions in honey. Mmmmm. C had the lamb shoulder, which was also good, although I thought my dish was better (heehee). We also had a salad with fresh anchovies (another Mmmmmoment) and huevos de codorniz (quail eggs) with foie. They also have a dessert cart groaning with delicious goodies. You can get a selection of “little bites”…which is what I did.

Our second dinner there came after a harrowing drive up to Cadaques in the fog (more later). Tired and water logged, we regaled Maria Rosa with our rainy adventure (a Spanish-practicing moment) ending with “We are now sooo hungry!” So we tucked ourselves into a table, ordered a bottle of wine (from the Baix Emporda region of the Costa Brava…we wanted to try something local to where we were) and got ready to warm ourselves up with food. I insisted on the Suquet de Peix (fish stew) which I love…it is just the thing when you want something comforting and tasty, and Fonda Caner did not disappoint. C had the Duck Leg with Green Fig sauce which tasted as good as it sounds. We also had a plate of steamed mussels (always good) and Endives with Roquefort, which I really liked but C did not (this is the moment we discovered that he doesn’t like endives…I was so unaware!).

I cannot end this without mentioning their breakfast buffet. I was not expecting much (Asian breakfast buffets are famous/infamous for being seriously massive), just the usual egg, ham, bread spread that I have had in the tiny hotels I have stayed in around Europe. I was pleasantly surprised. They had a selection of cold cuts which included various chorizos and salchichones, butifarra (Catalan sausage) and sobrasada (embutido/chorizo-like spread), a basket full of pan amb tomaquet (pan con tomate), cereals, yogurt, and pastries. But the best part for me was this little chiller section which housed home made cuajada! It is a milk curd which is popular in the Northern part of Spain and is one of my favorite things. I will write more about it in another post but suffice to say that, just with the fresh cuajada, I was a very happy camper.
Hotel Rosa
Pi i Ralló, 19 17255 Begur - Baix Emporda
Tel: +34 972 623015

El Far in Llafranc
I sometimes think that there are two types of people in this world: paella people and fideua people. I am definitely a fideua person. For me, no trip to Spain is complete without having this dish…with tons of allioli. Fideua is cooked the same way as paella except with noodles…short straight ones called fideos (hence the name). It was love at first bite when I tried it with my parents way back when, and I couldn’t wait to have C try it too…only to discover that he is most definitely, without a doubt, a paella person! We had a fantastic fideua in a restaurant called El Far in Llafranc, one of the many adorable seaside towns we explored during our Costa Brava road trip. The restaurant was recommended for their fideua (and seafood dishes) so that was enough for me. We also had Berberechos al Vapor – tiny steamed clams which were so fresh and sweet! A detail I loved was the country style bread which was served on a wooden cutting block with little tomatoes and olive oil so you could make your own pan amb tomaquet (pan con tomate – bread with tomato…a very typical Catalan way of having bread that is oh-so-much better than plain – the bread is rubbed with garlic and tomato and drizzled with olive oil)! It is located at the very top of a hill, beside the lighthouse (which is what el far means) of the town. It has wonderful views and a picturesque walking path which is perfect for a post-fideua-lunch-walk.
El Far
Platja de Llafranc
Tel: +34 972301639

Hotel Sa Tuna in Sa Tuna
We had many amazing meals in the Costa Brava. Most of them relaxed affairs involving a bottle of wine (always!), stretching out much longer than usual. This was our first and one of the best. Sa Tuna a tiny, charming town with an equally tiny and charming beach. On my cousins’ counsel, we ate at the Hotel Sa Tuna, taking a table right by the shore, to have what she claims to be “the best baked fish I have ever had”. So we made sure to order the Pescado al Horno (we had the turbot). It was amazingly tasty and fragrant…just packed with, but not overpowered by, the flavor of garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil, and ever so succulent and soft. We paired this with an order of Escalivada (another favorite of mine) which is a salad of grilled red peppers, eggplant, and onions…refreshing and delicious. We also had the grilled duck breast which was excellent...cooked just right…the perfect amount of rare with just a sprinkling of sal Maldon. After lunch we explored the town with its typical blazingly white houses and gorgeous bougainvilleas, and went for a walk down a walking path along the cliffs which takes you to the next cove.
Hostal Sa Tuna
Platja Sa Tuna 17255 Begur, Costa Brava, Girona
Tel: +34 972624182

La Vela in Calella
As I have mentioned, C is very much a paella person. He loves paella. I like it, sure. He loves it. But in Spain there are more ways than one to enjoy rice and seafood in one vessel, and I wanted him to try them too. One such way is Cazuela de Arroz. Rice with chunks of seafood and meat are cooked in a big black pot (or clay pot/barro). It’s much wetter and soupier than paella and the seafood flavor is very powerful. We had it on one blustery day in Calella de Palafrugell, another seaside haven along the Costa Brava. Its warm, wet, flavor-infused rice hit the spot as we languorously watched the thundering waves crash against the shore, while a lone fisherman bravely tossed out his line, and we shared lazy wine-induced thoughts with each other.
sorry no contact was that sort of day...sigh...

***note: I am posting culinary highlights only, but if you have a question about anything else, or if you need more information than I have put up, please email me at and I will answer as best I can :)


canDIshhh said...

Joey! The pictures look amazing!(I can't seem to stop admiring them) I bet they tasted divine!

Midge said...

Hi, Joey! I haven't been to Spain and Catalonia for the past twenty years. Thanks to you, I'm suddenly planning to go next summer - if only to sample all the lovely edibles they have there!

Katrina said...

I think you just had my dream vacation: lots of gorgeous food, wine, and someone you love to share them with.

When you first posted the collage, I was most curious about the picture with the two eggs. It just looked richrichrich...and now I learn that not only are they *quail* eggs, but it has foie! Cholesterol in delicious copiousness! (I'm sure that word doesn't exist, but I'm rendered inarticulate by the thought.)

The bacalao also sounds like something I'd adore. Salty cod with sweet raisins and crunchy pine nuts -- what a perfect dish! Have you eaten at Banza in Bora? They have several bacalao dishes. I had the baked bacalao in cream sauce and enjoyed it. Can't wait to go back next month!

Ipshi said...

too amazed to comment .. just keep going honey ... on a seemingly related note -- im suddenly feeling very hungry!!

Mae said...

I am now dreaming of Costa Brava. Sounds like a perfect honeymoon indeed. And there's part 2? I can't wait to read it!

I am most certainly on the paella side (that's if i have to choose otherwise, i'll greedily have both :))

I enjoyed browsing your photos.

angelika said...

** sigh !! ** How I loved to read this. If one day I come to the Costa Brava I will follow your suggestions. And I fully acknowledge the first sentence written by Katrina ;-) Thank you for sharing, Joey. I am so glad you had such a great time, even though honestly I did not have any doubts about that :-) Hugs !

PS: It seems to me that you also refreshed some childhood/youth memories which you have now shared with C. Wonderful !

JMom said...

Hi joey! welcome back :) I am dying with envy and hunger here!! What a great way to honeymoon ;)

ces said...

truly a gastronomic-filled(is there such a word?:)) honeymoon! lovely photos...more more! i am just wishing right this moment that i am also in this luna del miel stage! mwahahaaha!

ces said...

ay! without the l pala! sowi! hehe..

iska said...

a colleague of mine just got back from barcelona and i was green w/ envy just by looking at the pictures and now... these! been a long time since my last European trip. wonderful pictures, joey, and that cazuela de arroz... i can imagine how that tastes it makes me drool. and such a lovely place for a honeymoon...

Barbara said...

Wow Joey what a great honeymoon. Fab photos. I'm so want to go back to Spain some day.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Candishhh! Thanks! They did taste phenomenal :)

Hi Midge! Go!!! The culinary and restaurant scene there is amazing! Let me know if you do push through with it :)

Hi Katrina! It was fantastic...and each element (food, wine, love) just made the other even better just for being enjoyed simultaneously :) Haha! My eyes were drawn to the quail eggs with foie on the menu like a moth to a could I not? :) It made my heart beat a little faster (in a good way!)...The bacalao was delicious! And I'm going to bora next week! Hooray! The one I like in Banza is bacalao that is in scrambled eggs...yum!

Hi Ipshi! Thank you, thank you :) More to come! :)

Hi Mae! The Costa Brava is really an absolutely charming place...I also liked it because the beaches and coastline were different from what we have here. Instead of long swathes of white sand and palm tress, you have rugged coasts, cliffs, and tiny coves ensconed by pine trees. I was enchanted! :) C is with you on the paella...heehee :)

Hi Angelika! Thank you! It's my pleasure to share (and relive!) these moments :) We did have a wonderful time...even when we were getting parking tickets and had to explain ourselves in our very mediocre Spanish! It was all an adventure :) Yes, and it was very heartwarming to share with C my old favorites, both food to eat and places to see :)

Hey Jmom! It was great! :) But now we are both paying for it with very tight jeans!!! Hahahaha!

Hi Ces! Thanks! It's also nice to be back :) You can visit the "luna de miel" stage by having midnight champagne and cheese breaks right in your own home! That's what we did with the cava and cheese we brought back (not to mention the jamon iberico!) ;)

Hi Iska! Spain is a really nice place for a I really wanted C to see it because I knew he would love it even more than me...the cazuela de arroz is reeeally much flavor...

Hi Barbara! Thanks! :) We had a blast! You should visit Spain's growing and changing too :)

peabody said...

Ha, ha...I love the that which does not kill you only makes you fatter.

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Looks delicious - I wish I was on holiday right now, enjoying some sun and the lovely exotic food - I envy you!

Mae said...

I just saw your comment about kaffir lime leaves and you said you can them fresh.

If you do get fresh kaffir lime leaves, you can freeze them and they keep fresh for months. This is what i normally do. Just take it out as and when you're ready to pop it in the pot.

They keep in the freezer for months and months. :)

Lani said...

Since the topic of LP last October was La Espanyola, I've been dreaming of tasting authentic spanish dishes. And thank you, Joey for sharing us your experience, para kapag nakapunta na ako sa Spain, I know where to go and eat (hehehe).

ChichaJo said...

Hi Peabody! Hahaha! Me too :)

Hi Scott! It was really a wonderful holiday...but I am back to work now! Sigh...

Hi Mae! Thanks for the tip!!! I will defnitely try that :)

Hi Lani! If you need more suggestions (not just about food) email me :) Spanish food is so much more that what we have grown up with here...especially now when brave and creative Spanish chefs are pushing the culinary limits! :)

Fruit Seasons said...

I think my produce guide could improve the quality of your ingredients.

Submit you blog to our Food Blog directory while you there!

briliantdonkey said...

Hey Joey!

Long time no see. Glad to see you obviously had a delightful trip. Man it all looks so damn good I am not sure I can pick a fave.

BTW as a public service announcement: In case anyone was wondering computer monitors are NOT 'scratch and sniff' or scratch and taste enabled, no matter HOW good the pictures of the food looks.hmmmm tastes like chicken.....dusty, chicken!

great pics, now I am off to fight the urge to eat just before bedtime. Again!

Be good,


ChichaJo said...

Hi BD! Happy to see you! :) We had a blast! I know...hard to pick a favorite...I always have that problem, especially because I'm a I just taste everything repeatedly in the guise of "making up my mind"!

No eating before bedtime!!!

mike mina said...

that paella noodle looks yummy!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Mike! It is! :) I like it better than paella...but let me tel you, I am in the minority! It's ok...more for me :)