Have Bag, Will Travel
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“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms. Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”- Norman Lewis, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.
Visiting my sister on the Costa Blanca we visited the coastal community of Guardamar del Segura. Carried away by the unexpected good weather I packed swimming trunks and challenged others to do the same. There wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm I have to say, Kim hid her swimsuit at the bottom of her case and claimed to have forgotten to bring it but my sister Lindsay promised to join me if I felt like taking to the water any time during the day.
As it happened the weather wasn’t nearly so good as the previous day so when we arrived and parked the car we left the costumes and towels in the back seat and went for a walk instead.
Guardamar del Segura turned out to be a fascinating place and once away from the modern concrete tourist beach front we found ourselves in an area of old fishermen’s houses, built almost a hundred years ago directly beside the caramel beach and now under daily attack from storms and water erosion as they crumble away into the Mediterranean. Some had already given up and surrendered to the inevitability of the assault of the sea. A visual story of changing fortunes and times.
In preparation for visiting the Costa Blanca I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by the travel writer Norman Lewis who (allegedly) spent three summers in the fishing village he called Farol and where he watched, recorded and lamented as modern tourism replaced traditional rural industries and he mourned the changes that take place.
The book is an account of catastrophic social change punctuated with recollections of conversations and stories of strange customs – such as the local tradition of drowning of a mouse in the first barrel of newly pressed grapes, walking over red-hot coals and jumping over new-born babies. Slowly over the three sections of the book he explains how he integrated himself into a community that had barely changed for hundreds of years, where people adhered to tradition, superstitions ruled, and the ageless rhythms of the year continued as they had for centuries.
He asks a local man to explain about life and he replies: “How can anyone put it? One thing is certain – here we have always been and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea.”
But Lewis was observing life on the verge of headlong and irreversible change, the cork forests that were the life blood of their neighbours were suffering blight, the fish were not as plentiful as they once were and worst of all, the first waves of tourism were beginning to lap at the golden shores of the Costa Blanca and a way of life was heading for extinction.
By the third season there was no turning back – the fishermen’s wives were working as chambermaids at the hotel, and even his friend Sebastian had to abandoned his ambitious travelling plans and succumbed to the inevitable and become a waiter.
We walked along the seashore and then into a pine forest, planted some time ago to protect the coast from erosion and now a site of special scientific interest. It has done its job well because the sand dunes are piled high at the back of the beach and have stopped the encroachment into the land.
This reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk. It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms. Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.
We walked right along the path though the pine woods and stopped for a while at the marina for a drink where the weather improved, the sun poked through the grey cloud and Lindsay began to panic about having to join me later for a swim in the sea. As we left and started to walk back I think she was probably relieved to see the clouds coming back in and blotting out the sun and if I am honest so was I.
I liked Guardamar del Segura, it was good, it is a tourist/ex pat sort of place now but I could still get a sense of its history and fishing heritage. It is a place that I would happily go back to.
I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea. I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been shaped from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.
But, now I have another idea. It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a foreign country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Quesada on my short list of potential places.
It was mid-November and the weather was just perfect. Shirt-sleeve weather in fact with sunshine and big sky so after breakfast we were away to the nearby city of Alicante which I was sort of surprised to discover is the eighth largest in Spain.
The short drive north took us through a wild landscape of lagoons and wetlands and for me this was another surprise. I would have to say that it is hardly the Camargue in the South of France but away from the urbanizations and the towns it wasn’t what I was expecting and it turns out that this is a region for bird spotters and wild life photographers and I could see why as flocks of vermillion flamingos strutted through the shallow waters like statuesque flamenco dancers.
We arrived in Alicante and found plenty of room in an underground car park – plenty of room because Spanish drivers object to paying for car parking in the same way they boycott toll roads and would rather drive around in ever decreasing circles wasting time and fuel until they disappear up their own exhaust pipe looking for a free spot than spend a couple of euro to leave the car in a secure place.
As we emerged blinking into the sunlight, even though I have never been to Alicante before I had a strong feeling of Déjà vu. We were on the Esplanade de España where the coloured floor tiles undulate like a rolling sea in a storm and I knew that I had seen them before. It took me a moment or two to drag up the memory but then I remembered – I have a picture of my granddad in this very avenue, perhaps even this very spot taken nearly sixty years ago.
In the photograph below my grandparents whose names were Ernie and Olive were probably about fifty years old or so and they were clearly having a very good time sitting at a bar enjoying generous measures of alcohol, the same sort of good time that I like to enjoy when I go travelling.
I’m guessing of course but Granddad, who looks unusually bronzed, seems to have a rum and coke and Nan who looks younger than I can ever remember her appears to have some sort of beer with a slice of lime and that’s about forty years before a bottle of Sol with a bit of citrus became anything like fashionable. With him is his brother George (no socks, very impressive for 1960) and his wife Lillian. Nan and Granddad look very relaxed and with huge smiles that I can barely remember.
We walked first around the marina and stopped briefly for a drink and then on to the beach, abandoned today because although the sun was shining it was perhaps a little too cool for a dip in the Mediterranean so we bypassed the opportunity of getting into our bathing costumes and made our way instead to the castle which sits on a rocky outcrop and looms large over the area.
Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Spanish Tourist Board, there are over two thousand five hundred of them, for comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom but France claims almost five-thousand but it includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number.
It looked like a strenuous climb to the top but fortunately there was an express lift so we took the easy option and in a few seconds were standing at the very top of the city. Alicante castle turned out to be as good as any in Spain, there is a lot of reconstruction and renovation of course but I find nothing wrong with that and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements, looking at the exhibits and enjoying the elevated views.
We had return tickets for the lift option but walked down instead and at the bottom at around early afternoon we searched for the old town and somewhere nice to eat. We were looking for a tapas bar and found one that we liked in a pleasant square in the last of the Autumn sunshine where we ordered a beer and selected our favourite food.
According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise (if I was King I think I would like to be called ‘the Wise’, so much better than ‘Andrew the Fat’ or ‘Bad King Andrew’) visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.
This developed into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.
As we finished lunch the sun slipped behind the tall buildings and cast long shadows across the square so as the temperature quickly dipped we paid up and left and strolled for a second time around the marina before returning later to the town of Quesada where we were staying and spending an hour or so in the garden before preparing to go out for an entertaining evening meal.
“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!” American tourist family overheard in Rome
February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day.
First, the facts…
… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)
When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!
For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch. There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.
The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.
We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste. Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!) I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’
If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.
I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.
It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic. Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.
A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…
Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’. This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it. And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas. He said…
“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”
Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!
Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World. Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY! I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.
Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie. If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.
Happy National Pizza Day USA and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).