Tag Archives: spain food

6 Secrets to Making the Perfect Spanish Tortilla

The tortilla española has to be Spain’s most iconic dish. It’s ubiquitous. There’s hardly any tapas bar or restaurant worth its salt in the whole of Iberia that doesn’t have it on the menu. It’s as Spanish as the hamburger is American. It is consumed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, as a main, a side, a sacrament at the lowliest and holiest of occasions.

At first, I didn’t understand it. I’d imagined Spain as some exalted culinary capital. After tasting the famed tortilla, I thought to myself,

Really? This is your trademark dish, España? Eggs, taters, and onions? And salt… is there even salt? I can’t tell.

But after months of eating tortillas in a variety of settings, I eventually grew to love the dish. Even if you never learn to do so yourself, it’s only a matter of time before you become intimately familiar with the sight, the smell, and the taste of it.

how-to-make-spanish-tortilla

Over the past couple of years, I have seen and eaten Spanish tortillas at the beach, at backyard barbecues, birthday parties, school functions, botellon pre-games, and white-tablecloth restaurants. I even remember the tortilla getting a prominent mention on an episode of the popular Spanish sitcom, La Que Sea Vecina. In it, a spiteful Spanish mom was shooting down a girl who wanted to hook up with her son. After a string of put-downs, Mom dealt the final death blow:

“She can’t even cook a proper tortilla!”

The studio audience erupted in laughter.

So, Dear Reader, if you ever hope to impress your Spanish friends, or win that dashing Spanish beau, or simply avoid being laughed at by a make-believe studio audience, you’ll have to learn to whip out a proper Spanish tortilla. Here’s how.

 

6 Secrets for A Perfect Spanish Tortilla

how to make a spanish tortilla

1. Rough-cut the potatoes

I learned this secret in the home of my friend and fellow English teacher, Juana. Instead of slicing or chopping the potato into neat, evenly shaped cuts, she used her knife on the potato in a sort of cut-and-turn motion that released rough-edged, irregularly-shaped (though still similarly-sized) chunks of potato. The extra surface area and the cutting method allows the tater release a little more starch, which ultimately makes for a better mouthfeel and texture in the final product. Of course, you can slice them more uniformly as well, and still yield a favorable result.

 

2. Use a dedicated pan

If there’s any one secret that is essential to having your tortilla come out perfect every time, it’s this one. Keep one pan in your cabinet sacred, reserved only for tortillas and other egg cookery (and maybe pancakes and crepes). This pan does not have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be non-stick and it should never, ever be touched by utensils that can scratch or scrape its surface – so, no metal forks or spoons, only wooden, rubber or silicon spatulas and the like. Keeping your tortilla pan unmarred will ensure that your tortillas consistently slide out of the pan with ease and don’t stick to the sides and fall apart when you try to flip or serve them.

 

3. Let it rest

After cooking the potatoes and onion, draining off the oil and adding them to the beaten eggs, give the egg mixture a couple of quick stirs, and then… walk away. This is the perfect time to ready your non-stick skillet, get your plate out of the cupboard for flipping, and arrange the rest of your tortilla add-ins and seasonings. Letting the mixture rest allows the flavors to meld a bit, and helps the tortilla set properly when it’s cooked.

 

4. Make it your own

There’s something to be said for simplicity. Sticking to the basic tortilla ingredients of potato and onion is perfectly fine, and honestly, recommended until you feel more comfortable with the cooking technique. But once you’ve mastered the process, it’s time to get creative. The first tortilla I had that strayed away from the tried-and-true ingredients was in Cadiz. An artisan shop in the central market there was serving tortillas with goat cheese and apricot marmalade. After tasting it, the rules of tortilla cookery changed forever for me. Since then, I’ve enjoyed adding in all kinds of ingredients to the basic tortilla, from spinach, to breakfast sausage to mushrooms. Basically, anything you might put in a quiche would also taste good in a tortilla.

how-to-make-spanish-tortilla-espanola
Spanish tortilla with broccoli

5. Don’t fear the flip

Flipping the tortilla is the most intimidating part of the tortilla cooking process. But it shouldn’t be. As long as you approach this step with confidence, you’ll be fine. Be sure to use a plate that’s slightly larger than your pan. Invert the plate onto the pan and move the covered pan over to the sink. Use your left hand to keep the plate tight against the pan while you flip the pan over with your right hand. Lift the pan away from the plate. You should now have a tortilla on a plate in your left hand and an empty pan in your right. There may be a little spillage – that’s ok. Don’t sweat it. That’s why we came to the sink. Just slide that sucker back in the pan, return it to the stovetop, then rinse and wipe down the plate to get it ready for serving.

 

6. Know your preference

Do you like your tortilla jugosa – or, as a Manchego friend of mine would say, ‘cuando los huevos lloran’ – or cuajada? I’ve found that most people – Spaniards or no – tend to prefer their tortilla jugosa – or with the eggs still a bit runny on the inside. I, however, belong to the cuajada camp. I want that sucker to stay firm when I cut into it. Nothing ruins my day more than digging into a tasty slice of tortilla and ending up with a plate of room temperature yellow goo in front of me. Blecch.

[See that there? That’s called a very strong preference. It’s what most people have when it comes to their tortilla.]

Get to know your own preference and how to alter your cooking time to achieve the desired result. Practice making tortillas often. Hopefully, in the process, you’ll also become familiar with exactly how long you should cook your tortilla española to achieve the desired results of your friends and kitchen guests. So when your would-be Spanish mother-in-law comes over, and you whip out her version of the perfect tortilla without breaking a sweat, she’ll know just how much of a tortilla master you are.

 

Have you perfected making Spanish tortillas in your kitchen? What secrets do you have to share?

the cortado – my daily ritual

I can make a ritual out of almost anything. Perhaps it’s my Catholic past. Maybe my inner bruja. No sé. Rituals help me mark the time. Moments. Hours. Days. Seasons. States of mind. They are asterisks on experiences. A reminder that I was a little more aware, more present in this moment. That I took the time to appreciate a gift – no matter how tiny – that was given me by god, nature, the universe.

One of my daily rituals here in Spain is having a coffee. On the rough, cold winter days I had in the place we do not speak of, it was reason for me to get out of bed and drag myself across the chilled marble floor of my little piso. On others, it was impetus for me to get dressed, leave the house, and will myself to a nearby cafe where, hopefully (could today be the day?) I’d meet someone willing to strike up a friendly convo, but, usually, I’d just sit taking small comfort in both the sound of voices other than my own and the smile from the person behind the counter serving me my beverage. At other times, it’s been my way of noting to self that this is the start of a new day, and I’m ready for it. In fact, I now have a saying: I haven’t woken up until I’ve brushed my teeth, and I haven’t started the day until I’ve had a coffee.

cortado-perfection-solo-in-spain

 

Early Adult Education

The cortado at the high school where I work is the best in town. Perhaps, the best in all of Spain; possibly, even, the known universe. But only when Emi, the lunch lady, makes it –  not her husband. For some reason, he never steams the milk quite right, and the fluffy ‘capa’ that I love, is always missing when he makes it. I once intimated this to Emi. Now, when I enter I don’t even have to order it anymore. As soon as she sees me, she starts pulling the shot and warming the milk.

emis-cortado-solo-in-spain

 

Sweet Sublimation

Adding the sugar is a subritual in itself, and can vary slightly depending on if the coffee is for wake up, post meal, or hangover treatment. For the first, about a third of the packet is sprinkled lightly on top of the foam; the resulting design appreciated before it submerges and disappears into the caffeinated depths of the cup. For the second, very little sugar is used. Sometimes, it’s skipped altogether. For the last, a little more sugar is added after every sip, so that the final swallow is absent of any bitterness, and can be considered more sweet treat than am beverage.

cortado-love-solo-in-spain

 

(Im)patient Initiation

The perfect cortado is often elusive. But once you’ve had it, you’ll never stop searching for it again. Anything less will seem like a huge letdown, a testament that the preparer is a novice or just completely out of touch with Spanish coffee culture. At my neighborhood coffee shop, they change and add new bar staff so often, that at least once a month, I find myself side-eyeing the new blood for serving up an inferior product. I have become part of their initiation. The old head notices either the confused look on the initiate’s face when I order, or the dissatisfied slight scowl on mine when my drink is received. Oldhead rushes to instruct. “Es como un solo, pero con poca leche. Y te metes la leche enfrente de ella, hasta k ella te dice, ‘Ya’.” The noob attempts, presents. I taste. Of course, it isn’t quite there yet. But. She’ll learn. I’ll be back again tomorrow for more practice. Yesterday, the new new girl was alone on her shift. No old head to guide her. Ok. Let’s see whatcha got, dahlin. She doesn’t do well. My cup is full of more not-quite-hot milk than coffee. The cup looks like it’s full of very dirty dishwater. I return the beverage, apologetically explaining that that’s too much milk for me (I’m going to the library next. Please. Think of the others.) She attempts again. It’s better. But only slightly. I try to drink it, but the excess amount of milk starts to work on me almost instantly. I return the cup to her half full, pay and exit swiftly. I’m miffed. The superstitious part of me links a bad coffee to a bad day ahead.

 

Prophetic perfection

The following day, Saturday, I have work to do. I have no time for instruction. I ride slowly past my neighborhood bar to see who’s working. It’s new girl. Alone again. Not on today, sugah. I U-turn and head to a cafe in the town center. I rarely go there, because their prices are higher. But there’s a reason for that. I order. A few moments later, perfection is placed before me. The beverage, a few shades darker than me, which lets me know that not too much milk has been added. A beautiful, fluffy cloud of steamed milk rests at the top of the cup, its bright white nucleus like a target that silently suggests, ‘add sugar here’. I sigh delightedly. It’s been too long. I savor each sip until the very last. At the finish, the last remnants of fluffy foam cling to the sides and bottom of the glass. Some people read tea leaves. Me? Coffee foam. I can see the future. It’s going to be a great day.

cortado-reading-the-foam-solo-in-spain

How I Lost over 15 Pounds While Living in Spain (and Eating Everything!)

Wow! You look great!

Hey skinny lady!

Who’s that in the picture?

 

It almost never fails. Every time I post a pic of myself on Facebook or some other social media outlet, these are the comments I get from friends and family back home. Since first moving to Spain for a 6-month stint in 2014, and after living here for almost another 8 months, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight. I’ve never been one to track my weight (scales, schmales), so I’m not exactly sure how much I’ve lost (that 15lbs in the title was really just a guesstimate); but I do know that not only have I dropped a couple of dress sizes, I also feel a lot better about my body – the way it looks, feels, and how it serves me as I go about my daily business. And get this: I’ve never once been to the gym.

living-in-spain-weight-loss-before-after
Left: Me – 1 week after arriving in Spain. Right: Me – after living in Spain for a little over a year

 

Before I have you thinking that I’ve slimmed down to the point of having no body issues at all, let me tell you: I’ve still got quite a little pooch going on, I still have minor anxiety sporting a two-piece on a beach full of super-fit Europeans, and, at over 35 years old, I’ve got bits that are jiggling and swaying way more than they ever did (or should). Still, more often than not, I like what I see looking back at me when I look in the mirror, and I know for certain that it has a lot to do with abandoning my American eating and living habits and adopting a more Spanish or European lifestyle. Namely:

 

Smaller restaurant portions

Though I eat all the things I try to avoid when eating out at home – like taters, bread, and pasta – and I drink like there’s no tomorrow, I’ve still managed to shed pounds. Part of this is because the amount of these things that I consume in a sitting is much less than what I’d consume in the States. The US is notorious for its ridiculous portion sizes. If you order a meal for one in a typical US dining establishment, you’re usually presented with enough food for 2 people. Ditto for drinks – especially sodas and beers. Here in Spain, the tradition of tapas – or small plates of food that are meant to be eaten in a few bites – makes it easy to have a filling meal with lots of variety, yet not overeat. One of my favorite Spanish portion control options is the caña – which is basically a half-sized serving of beer. Even when I go out and have multiple rounds of beers, I’m still only drinking half as much as I would if I did the same in the States.

 

Several small meals a day

My typical daily eating pattern in Spain goes something like this…

For breakfast (before 11am): Coffee and/or water.

Post-breakfast / Pre-lunch (between 11am and 2pm): A piece of fruit or, occasionally, a small pastry or slice of Spanish tortilla.

For lunch (between 2 and 3pm): A quick, home-cooked meal like a pasta dish, a big salad, or a meat-and-veggie dish.

Post-lunch: A piece of fruit or two for an after-lunch dessert or snack.

For dinner (between 8 and 10pm): A couple of rounds of drinks and accompanying free tapas or another quick, home-cooked meal.

I’ve adopted this pattern of eating after observing and eventually falling in line with the way I’ve seen the folks around me eat. The concept of eating several small meals a day isn’t unique to Spain. In fact, most nutritionists and weight loss experts in the US recommend this method of eating. Still, it isn’t the norm for the average American. We’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that you should eat ‘3 square meals’ a day – a hearty breakfast, a hearty lunch, and an especially hearty dinner – and that’s pretty much how I used to eat back home (with the exception of the hearty breakfast). Here, lunch – not dinner – is often the biggest meal of the day, which leaves plenty of time to burn off the calories before settling in for the evening.

A glimpse at typical Spanish eating habits.
A glimpse at typical Spanish eating habits.

 

Lunch at home

You’ve probably heard of the Spanish siesta – that 2-3 hour lull in the middle of the day where everything shuts down and people go home to take a nap. While not everyone actually takes a nap during that time, almost everyone I know goes home for a home-cooked lunch. Having that large block of time to go home, prepare a healthy meal, eat it like a normal human (versus inhaling it like a vacuum cleaner), and let it digest a bit before heading back to work, is a luxury that I wish I had in the US. At home, I would barely have time to stuff some chicken fingers and fries (or a similarly unhealthy option) from the downstairs food court into my gullet before heading off to a meeting or rushing to meet an end-of-day deadline. Even on the days when I did go for a healthier lunch option, it was often more expensive to do so, and I’d end up resorting to the cheaper, less healthy lunch the very next day.

 

Coffee done right

Coffee is a known metabolism booster, and can help you burn extra calories IF you drink it the right way. What’s the right way? Well, ditching all the milk and sugar (I’m lookin’ at you, Starbucks), and drinking a small amount of black coffee or coffee with very little milk and sugar (like my beloved cortado) is a start. Also, it’s typical in Spain to have a coffee directly after or between meals, which is just when your body benefits from an extra boost of metabolism to help burn off the food you recently consumed.

The cortado - a shot of espresso with just a little touch of steamed milk. Sugar optional.
The cortado – a shot of espresso with just a little touch of steamed milk. Sugar optional.

 

Shared meals

In Spain, especially in smaller cities like the one I live in, eating is not a solo sport. Meals are meant to be shared – with friends, family members, coworkers, roommates. When you go out to eat with a group, it’s typical for everyone to share from common plates or to share bites of their individually ordered dish with everyone else at the table. At first, I turned my nose up at this practice. But… I want all my food for myself! But, I’m still hungry! But over time, I’ve adjusted. I’ve even noticed that the slower pace of eating in a group setting, helps me feel more full with less food.  I’ve also noticed that Spaniards tend to share snack foods with folks around them. Whenever one of my colleagues has what we Americans would consider a single serving bag of chips or a similar snack, they always end up offering away at least a third of it to others, or eating about half and saving the rest for another time.

Sharing is caring. And better for your waistline.
Sharing is caring. And better for your waistline.

 

Walking

When I lived in the States, my work kept me sitting at a desk for multiple hours a day. After work, I’d walk 2 minutes to get in my car and drive home, where I’d often do more work sitting at a computer, before cooking dinner and watching TV or reading for a couple of hours before bed. Even if I ran errands in the neighborhood – like going to the grocery store that’s literally at the end of my street – it meant getting into my car and driving there. In the US, walking is often seen as a hardship or something that the less fortunate (i.e., those who can’t afford cars) do. The combination of a car-centric culture, and sprawling cities and neighborhoods, make walking for anything other than intentional exercise either unfashionable or implausible.

To put things in perspective, the entire country of Spain is smaller than the state of Texas (in square miles). The lack of sprawl makes walking a lot more feasible. Neighborhoods are designed so that you have almost everything you need within walking distance of your home – grocery stores, banks, schools, retail shops, personal services. And you’re not seen as odd or less fortunate if you walk everywhere, because almost everyone else – from infant to elderly – is walking too.

 

Water, water, everywhere

Because of all the walking I do, and because of a personal commitment to myself to consume more water, I almost always have a bottle of water on hand. I keep a 5L bottle of water in my room by my bedside, so I can not only track roughly how much water I drink a day, but also so I never have to go far to get it.

 

Biking

This is probably the single most influential factor in my weight loss. At the beginning of this school year, one of the professors at my high school was kind enough to loan me a bike to use during my time here. It just so happens that this bike is the oldest specimen of 2-wheeled locomotion ever known to man. It’s also a fixed gear, and it can leave my legs feeling like jelly even when riding on relatively flat terrain. Still, it’s a more efficient mode of transportation than walking, and I ride my rusty steed everywhere – to school, to the grocery store, to the park, to the library. I usually spend around 30-40 minutes biking each day, which isn’t a lot, but it’s definitely made a lot of difference.

My rusty steed - who I've affectionately nicknamed Roci, after Don Quijote's mule of a horse.
My rusty steed – who I’ve affectionately nicknamed Roci, after Don Quijote’s mule of a horse.

 

Easy access to healthy, cheap ingredients

Within a 3-5 minute walk in any direction from my apartment, I have a least 4 independently owned fresh fruit/veggie stands, and 2-3 chain grocery stores. The selection of produce in either of those outlets is generally less varied than what I’d find in the US, but the price and the quality is significantly better. And the fact that they’re so close and right in front of my face, makes it easier for me to grab a healthy snack versus the fast food that I’d normally go for back home.

My favorite neighborhood fruteria - cheap, fresh, seasonal produce a stone's throw away from my place
My favorite neighborhood fruteria – cheap, fresh, seasonal produce a stone’s throw away from my place

 

Fast food is an occasional treat

In the US, fast food is convenience food. Don’t have time to cook? Forgot to pack a healthy lunch? No problem. Just stop by one of the dozen fast food restaurants you’re sure to pass on your way to and from home and pick up an extremely high-calorie, extremely low cost meal. Fast food is so widely available and frequently consumed in the US, it could almost be considered its own food group. While I wasn’t a frequent consumer of fast food at home, I certainly ate my fair share of quick-serve lunches at work, and my go-to snack when on the run was an order of french fries from the nearest Chik-Fil-A or McDonald’s. Here, a trip to a fast food outlet is seen as a treat – something you do every once in a while as a special outing for the kids or yourself. And the prices reflect that. Going to Mickey D’s, KFC or Burger King is often an expensive proposition – a combo meal can run from 5 to 7 euros, and there’s rarely, if ever, a dollar menu. There are also fewer fast food locations to choose from. You almost have to go out of your way to get to one, and you’ll have to pass several cheaper, considerably healthier options to do so.

 

Now, are any of the above behaviors impossible to duplicate in the US? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting that there are no overweight or obese Spaniards? Nope. In either country, individual health and body weight are often a reflection of the daily lifestyle choices we make. But due to cultural norms, I think it’s more difficult to make these choices and stick to them on a regular basis back home in the US of A. As my time in Spain comes to an end, I often worry if I’ll be able to hold on to these healthy habits that I’ve picked up in my host country. I like to think that it’ll be easy, but I’m not 100% sure. For my own sake, and for the sake of my Facebook photo admirers, I certainly hope so. :)

Have you noticed any positive body changes during your travels or time living abroad? What do you think was behind it? Have you been able to stick to your healthy habits after returning to your home country?

Share your feedback in the comments!

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tapa of the week: el tio pepe, valladolid

On a cloudy, chilly Saturday afternoon in Valladolid, one of my travel companions – let’s just call him, ‘Tio Pedro’ – suggested we stop into a bar for a quick drink and a tapa. 
Tio Pepe (No, the irony was not lost on me) is a fairly nondescript-looking bar in an equally nondescript neighborhood – in fact, my host repeatedly referred to the area asthe ‘Queens’ of Valladolid. But the tapas on hand at this unassuming bar are an unexpected treat for the senses.
On display under a glass case that spans the length of the bar, is an array of tempting bite-sized delights that look as good as they taste. 
My travel mates and I started off with a glass of Cigales – a rosé wine from Castilla y Leon that’s effervescent and smooth, but not overly sweet. 

Next came our shared tapas: 
Chipirones (or baby squid) ‘hamburger’ – a slider-sized sandwich served on a squid ink bun…
tiny baby squid on tiny baby sandwich

…And tosta con jamon y setas. A salty, savory bite of thinly sliced jamon topped with a portion of fried wild mushroom, roasted pepper and garlic. Um. YES.

I sometimes forget that there’s more to tapas than just getting a free bite with a drink. There are tapas out there that are intriguing and creative; tapas that make you feel like it was worth spending your money on. Thankfully, Tio Pepe reminded me of that, and also showed me that great tapas don’t have to be accompanied by a lot of frills and fuss.

Bar El Tio Pepe

Calle Embajadores, 54, Valladolid

Average Price : We paid 8 euro for 3 wines and 3 tapas. An unbelievable bargain.

My Rating:  A low-key neighborhood tapas bar with surprisingly high-quality selections. 

 

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tapa of the week: cafe quijote, ciudad real

After a full morning of window shopping in the commercial district of Ciudad Real, I needed a bite to eat. Cafe Quijote, with its green neon sign, beckoned. The place was pleasantly packed with a mostly older, well-heeled crowd – a good sign, I thought. Plus, if you’re gonna name yourself after the region’s most famous person, you’d better be good, right? Right. I’m goin’ in.

I slide up to the bar, slyly eyeing other people’s plates and the selection of tapas on display under the glass. When the bartender approaches, I point to my neighbor’s half-eaten plate of food.

“What’s that?”
“Champinoñes” he replies.
“Si,” I respond, giving him the go ahead to serve me up some of that.

Moments later, he places a small plate in front of me filled with thick, garlicky slices of ‘shrooms accented with little slivers of bacon and red pepper in an olive oil-based sauce. It’s a lovely few mouthfuls of meaty, savory, umaminess.

Champinones at Cafe El Quijote

Alright, Cafe Quijote, well done. What else ya got? As I order my next caña, I ask the bartender what he thinks their best tapa is. He smiles and nods, and tells me he’ll bring me something he think I’ll like. A short while later, out comes… migas. Uh-oh, I think. Migas can be a hit-or-miss dish for me. It’s so simple, so good ingredients and good seasonings are absolutely necessary. Cafe Quijote obviously knows this. Their version of tapas is well seasoned, and comes with a ‘huevo roto’ on top. The addition of the egg takes this rather pedestrian dish to another level. The egg helps to moisten the otherwise dry breadcrumbs, and the savory, slightly spicy chorizo (which they didn’t skimp on), plus the little bits of sauteed garlic added so much flavor. This is definitely the best version of migas I’ve ever had. 

Migas en estilo Quijote

I didn’t have any room left for other tapas that day, but I was impressed with the ones I saw on display. Each one was artfully presented in a martini-style glass, with elaborate garnishes on top. More than I expected from a place that doesn’t look as fancy as some of the other places in downtown Ciudad Real.

Cafe Quijote

Calle de la Paloma, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.40 for a caña

My Rating:  Cheap beer, better than average tapas. A must-visit for the best migas tapa in Ciudad Real.

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tapa of the week: volapie, ciudad real

I’d been hearing a lot of good things about Volapie from another American friend who lives in Ciudad Real, so I was excited to try out another more upscale tapas bar in town.

On Thursday nights at Volapie, the crowds pack in to hear live flamenco performances from local groups. My first visit was on one such Thursday.

I settled into one of the cozy tables, and ordered a glass of wine, eagerly anticipating what tapa would come out along with it. Since I’d had a long, busy day and hadn’t even had a proper lunch, I also ordered a couple of menu items  – berenjenas con miel and a rabo de toro burger – to line my stomach in preparation for a few rounds of drinks.

The tapas that appeared that evening were quite disappointing. Small in size – even for tapas – and not very inspired. The skimpy size also carried over into my ordered items. The portion of berenjenas was so scant, that I wondered if they’d run out of ingredients before filling my order. And the rabo burger was more like a little slider. While it was very tasty – tender, well seasoned oxtail on a fresh, grilled bun – the 5 euro price tag hardly seemed worth it.

You can’t fool me – that tapa is just Vienna sausages with mayo. No way, Volapie.
Wait. Where’s the rest? [Berenjenas con miel]
Points for creativity – Volapie’s menu is made like a newspaper

Rabo de toro burger – tasty but pricey.

Thankfully, the wine I ordered was a redeeming high point. And the live flamenco? Absolutely amazing! I felt like I was back in Andalucia for a few hours. And the crowd that gathers at Volapie on Thursdays is not just there to sit and watch – they clap, dance, stomp, and sing along with the performers, filling the place with a delightful energy that does my spirit good.

Flamenco Thursdays at Volapie

I’ve been back to Volapie a few more times, and the tapas have been considerably better than on my first visit. Still, they’re not exactly my favorites. But the combination of the quality wine selection, the attentive service, the live entertainment and the energetic Thursday crowd make it one of my favorite places to spend a evening out in Ciudad Real.

Taberna Casa del Volapie

Calle Hernan Perez de Pulgar, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.50 for a cana; 2.20 – 2.50 for most wines. 

My Rating:  Not a place I’d really recommend for tapas, but a sure bet for a lively start to the weekend, and great wines!

tapa of the week: doña croqueta exprés, ciudad real

When I first arrived in Ciudad Real, I asked around about places that served the best tapas. Several people mentioned Doña Croqueta. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high when I finally got a chance to visit.

It’s worth noting that there are 2 Doña Croqueta (DC) locations in Ciudad Real (strangely enough, only 1 is listed on their website). The ‘downtown’ location near Calle La Mata is called Doña Croqueta Exprés – which I assume is because it’s much smaller with fewer tables, and even a walk-up window outside. The menu at each location is also a bit different, with the ‘uptown’ location (near Calle Toledo) serving slightly more upscale (and pricier) dishes.

For my first visit, I met some friends at the DC Exprés, and we proceeded to order several rounds of cañas, each of which was accompanied by some truly gourmet tapas. The variety and quality of each dish was impressive and I could clearly see why DC was in the top of many people’s list for best tapas in Ciudad Real. This is not to say that I enjoyed every item that came out, but I chalk that up to more of my personal tastes or dislikes, not necessarily any problem with the food itself.

DC’s namesake: croquetas
Grilled ribs with a raspberry sauce
One of the tapas I wasn’t thrilled with – still pretty to look at though!

Aside from the free tapas, DC Expres offers some delicious and affordable options on their regular menu. Since that first visit, I’ve been several more times, and have tried one of the artfully presented massively large sandwiches, and one of their gourmet tostas. Both are filling, expertly prepared, and a deal at around 5 euros each – especially if you share with a friend.

A simple chicken sandwich gets upscaled with a perfectly cooked egg, crispy bacon, and artisan bread
Tosta featuring caramelized onion, goat cheese, arugula and bacon – riquisimo!
This little lady is going places.

Doña Croqueta Exprés

Calle Hidalgos, 13, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.50 euro for a caña.

My Rating:  Good service, amazing gourmet tapas. Regularly crowded – especially on weekends. Go early. Go often.

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tapa of the week: el trokanto, ciudad real

I passed El Trokanto the first day I took my new route to school. The place caught my eye because it looked a tad bit fancier than most of the other bars on the block. After school, I stopped in for a closer investigation.

I ordered a caña, and the bartender asked me which tapa I wanted to go with it (I love it when I can choose my own tapa). After I selected, she then asked me which ‘frio,’ or, cold tapa I wanted. Wait. I get 2 choices? Oh, hells yes.

My cold tapa was a simple tostita of tuna and tomato. And the hot tapa – a revuelto (scrambled egg dish) with potato and huge chunks of savory (not super-salty) ham. Delicious! I usually don’t like scrambles, but this one was light on the egg and heavy on the tater and ham, so it was just fine with me.

Rear: tuna and tomato tosta; Front: ham and potato revuelto

While I munched and sipped, I was pleasantly amused by the nusic selection playing over the speakers in El Trokanto. In the time I was there, I heard Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, Mc Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in The Mirror’, and Donna Summer’s ‘What a Feeling’. It was when Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ played that I silently gave the soundtrack selecta a mental hi-five.

On a second visit, I tried pisto manchego for my hot tapa, and a pate tosta as my cold tapa – while neither were life-changing dishes, they were both enjoyable.

Rear: pate tosta, Front: pisto manchego

El Trokanto, Taberna Selecta

Calle Palma, 9, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 1.80 for a cana – 2 free tapas with each drink.

My Rating:  Decent tapas, and a nice selection of 90s throwback music. A good spot for a quick snack.

tapa of the week: la marimorena, ciudad real

The last day of Carnival (aka, Dia de Piñata) in Ciudad Real was festive-level 10. I’d been on my feet for a couple of hours watching the big parade passing through the center of town, and since I’d skipped breakfast, I was inching past hungry into ‘howngry’ territory. So, I set out in search of nearby sustenance.

 

I chose La Marimorena because it offered a quiet refuge from all of the parade madness and it had a sunny outdoor seating area. A sunny Sunday afternoon calls for sparkling wine, so I ordered, and my accompanying free tapa arrived a few moments later – migas. By now, I’ve had both good and bad migas. This one was the bad kind. It actually kind of made me sad. It being Sunday, I couldn’t help but think that my folks back home were probably having really good Southern Sunday dinners, while I was here eating stale bread sauteed with pork. Oh, the inhumanity.

My second tapa was a serving of potato salad – I expected to be disappointed, but the addition of olives and diced veggies gave it some character. Not grandma’s tater salad, but pretty tasty nonetheless.

One interesting note was that the tapas were served on flimsy plastic plates. Maybe it was because of the big crowds expected from the parades, but the place looked rather upscale, so plastic seemed out of place. Service was pretty good, but when I went to pay the tab, I was a bit shocked at the 2.30 euro price tag for a glass of sparkling wine.

Sad to say, nothing about my experience at La Marimorena would make me venture a return visit.

La Marimorena

Calle Ramirez de Arellano, 2, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : 2.30 euro for sparkling wine.

My Rating:  Decent service, but not much else.

tapa of the week: la hormiga II, ciudad real

Ok. So technically, this isn’t a tapa. It’s a dessert. Or… maybe it’s a breakfast? No. wait. It’s a snack. Whatever it is, it’s still worth writing about, so here goes.

Remember Emilio? My knight in shining cardigan? Well, Emilio’s son, Angél offered to show me around town one day back when I was still figuring things out in Ciudad Real. After a delicious lunch (more on that in a separate post), Angél suggested that we have some churros and chocolate at one of the most popular churrerias in town.

And this is how I ended up at La Hormiga II.

This is also how I ended up learning that not all churros go by the same name. La Hormiga specializes in porras – a type of churro that is made in a large spiral shape which is later cut into smaller portions that can easily be dunked into a cup of warm, melted chocolate. These churros are different from the ones I usually enjoy in the snack bar at school, which are called churros en lazo or churros madrileños, and are formed into little loop shapes. Of course, both of these are different from the Mexican churros that I’m more familiar with from back home – that come in short, tube-like sections and are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and sometimes filled with chocolate.

Now that that’s settled.

As we munched the light, crispy, fried treats and dipped them into the small cup of delicious chocolate that we ordered as an essential accompaniment, Angél and I discussed all of these differences. In the end, we decided that the only thing that mattered was how good you felt after eating a churro, whatever its name.

As you can see in this video about La Hormiga, there are more than a few tricks the restaurant uses in making the perfect churro con chocolate. Apparently, there’s also things other than chocolate that you can dip your churro in, as demonstrated at the end of the video.

Churreria La Hormiga II

Calle Cruz, 8, 13001 Ciudad Real

Average Price : .40 euro for a serving of porras. 1.40 euro for a small cup of chocolate.

My Rating:  Nice decor and service for a churreria. Good for an occasional visit to sate your sweet tooth.