Thursday, 24 August 2017

Travel: Valencia, Spain Part V - Oranges, Sloths and Doors...

I do like a good door...

I'm not sure where the appeal comes from, and I'm sure some discredited Freudian analysis could probably come up with some sort of reason for this attraction, but I think it's down to my appreciation of their simplicity of use versus the possibility of intricacy of design, and well thought out engineering. Therefore when I'm away I tend to snap more photos of doors than would be normally considered healthy, and I've been known to stand admiring a well made handle or ornate hinge for minutes as I marvel at the detail, finish and materials used.

And don't get me started on knockers...

Valencian Doors
There are plenty of doors to choose from in Valencia in varying states of decay or splendour - old, new and somewhere-in-between, and - humour me - it's with just a few of these images that I start a round up of some of the sights we enjoyed in the city, with a post about some of the major places such as the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, Oceanogràfic and the Central Market still to come. I'll try to keep the words to a minimum in this post and let the pictures (Click into them if need be...) do the explaining, but as you know I tend to ramble...


Trunks, Walks and Gulliver!
One of the more interesting plant sights for me were the Ficus in small park called La Glorieta, east of the city centre. The Game of Thrones-like trunks looked like tendrils from some monster, stretching out to catch an unwary tourist as they pass. From here you can cross the busy  Plaza  Porta de la Mar with its impressive gateway and wander along Carrer del Justícia to get down on to the Turia Gardens, the winding park that was created after the town diverted the river that ran through the city. It's a nice cooling walk under bridges and trees, past pretty flowers and ending up at the superb Gulliver's Park, a gigantic prone figure of the man himself that is also a playground for kids - a must see and do for kids.


Cathedral & Views
The Gothic-styled cathedral at the heart of the city centre is well talked about in many guide books but if you don't fancy forking out a pretty penny to see the interior and the alleged Holy Grail(!) you can just climb the tower and get some fabulous views for a couple of euro. The long and winding stairs operate on a green-light/red-light system, as they are quite narrow, but don't account for little legs or tired older ones! Be quick or you'll meet someone coming the other way...

The Freshest Oranges
The square on the north side of the cathedral - Plaza de la Virgen - has a large fountain and plenty of places to sit and people-watch while enjoying a cold drink or a bite to eat. Don't miss the lovely little garden just west of the square, as it's a little oasis of calm and cool, away from the crowds and heat.


The House of the Cats
Somewhere you just have to go if travelling with kids, or even if you're not, is the The House of the Cats on Carrer del Museu. This area is slightly off the beaten track for tourists but is full of restaurants if you get there via Carrer de Roteros. It's a tiny house built into a wall, and if your child has an imagination like my daughter they'll be talking about it for weeks afterwards ... I will say no more, just go!


Fireworks on Plaza de la Virgen

If you are lucky you might catch a fireworks display ... we were! These type were firmly secured to the earth but the spun, crackled and sparked, and there was no risk of sprained necks, just singed hair!


Platja Del Cabanyal
What can I say about the beach? Well it was large and well tended but extremely crowded ... not really our kind of thing but we did visit out of pure interest. There's plenty of places to eat closeby and if lying in the sun bumping extremities (Not like that!) with your neighbours is your thing then you'll probably like it. We were told that there are nicer beaches to the west of the port but didn't have time to check them out, maybe you should!?


Porta de Serrans
Two gates of the city walls survive and given my predilection towards doors these had to be seen. So I dragged my family north of city centre first, to see Porta de Serrans with its Moorish look. You can climb all the way to the top for a small fee and it's well worth it for the views looking back towards the city centre. Check out the dragon-like door knockers on the first floor, and just be careful of the pools of saliva I drooled as I admired these doors and ironwork...

Torres de Quart
Torres de Quart is west of the centre and on the way towards the botanic gardens which sadly we missed, but this walk does bring you past much of the wall art I wrote about previously. This gate is in a more European style and again I urge you to check out the huge doors, and don't miss the channel for the portcullis cut into the entrance -excellent for squashing kids into!


Round Squares and Sloths
Just a quick mention for all the wonderful squares that suddenly appear when you turn almost any corner in the city. Most have lovely bars or restaurants, some spray you with water and some have, er, sloths hanging from vines above your head! Regardless, they are all excellent decompression zones to get your bearings and take a breath.

Some aren't even square, such as the peaceful Plaza Redonda with its beautiful and simple fountain, and interesting design. A word of warning on the fountain, the locals wash their dogs in this one so don't drink the water!


La Lonja de la Seda
Last but far from least is La Lonja de la Seda one of the main tourist attractions in the city, and close to the central market. This impressive piece of Gothic architecture is full of history and I'd recommend getting the audio guide and doing the tour. It really gives you all the information you need and highlights loads of interesting features ... including the downright bizarre and disturbing stone carvings, many of which must be seen to be believed and were too disturbing to show here without a NSFW tag!

The high vaulted ceiling is stunning and even the small courtyard garden is very pretty and filled with those ubiquitous orange trees, neat hedging and showy flowers like agapanthus.

Take your time here, let the history seep into you...


Playing in Plaza de Manises
So those were a few of our favourite places, or sights to look out for, but just a final word on how child-friendly everywhere is in Valencia, you should have no hesitation in bringing them here, exploring the city and staying out a little late. We had no hassle at any of the sights, restaurants or bars - or walking back to our hotel.

It's a great city for those of any age, easily walkable and nicely proportioned. Taxis are cheap if you need them and their drivers refreshingly grumpy!

Enjoy ... more to come...


(As you can see I've swapped between Spanish, Valencian and English place names depending on which I feel is more appropriate.)

The series starts here and Part VI is here.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Travel & Food: Valencia, Spain Part IV - Tapas ... and More

Food and the act of eating out seems to be a major part of Valencian culture, which might go someway to explaining the thousands of restaurants, cafes and bars that seem to occupy every second property in the city. We obviously couldn't visit all of them during our week, but apart from the burger joints I previously posted about we did manage to fit in some more - or less - traditional places too.

Eating out is always a big part of our holiday as we all love our food, although the boys seem less fussy than the girls in the family - and more carnivorous. So my youngest and her mother tended to pick the plainer, safer foods while my son and I were a little more adventurous in our choice of dishes. Eating late is the norm in Valencia, and southern europe in general, which suited us as the intense heat of the day had started to abate when we headed out for food around 8 or 9 o'clock at night, after a nice shower and a cooling off in our hotel rooms. Bringing kids out late at night wasn't a problem anywhere we went and tapas-size food is ideal for small people - although my son the almost-teenager is eating portions close to my own at this stage!

It's worth remembering that the food itself should be as big a part of a foreign holiday as the sightseeing, and something that a little bit of extra money should be spent on, without going crazy of course.

Remember, spend your budget on experiences, not 'things'...


El Rall

El Rall on Calle de Tundidores was the exception to the food places I mention here, as we ate here one lunchtime, having been coaxed in by a smooth talking head waiter as we wandered past one day. Tired and in need of both food and rest for weary feet of all sizes we gave in and sat down in the small square outside the restaurant. A couple of legs of ham were perched on a side table along with some other preserved meats and some local cheeses, which didn't seem to be the most hygienic way to display them but this seems the norm in these parts.

Not in the mood for the paella that was being pushed by the waiters, or that selection of hams and meat we instead choose a few dishes from the tapas section of the huge menu, with our youngest opting for a burger and chips! That was when the waiter eventually arrived to take our order, as it appeared that the main activity of the waiting staff was to try and draw people into seats with the promise of superb paella. Indeed at the table next to us the waiter had brought out a live lobster to try and tempt the people sitting there into a seafood one! I presume that the cost versus retail of a paella is enough to warrant such a hard sell, crustacean waving display.

El Rall
Service was quick once we got our order in and we received our food all at the one time. We had chosen the ubiquitous patata bravas, which were proper chopped and fried pieces of potato - not the frozen, coated cubes we had elsewhere - nicely seasoned and covered in garlic mayonnaise and sprinkled with paprika, not a hot sauce. These I really enjoyed as the flavour of the potato still shone through. The game stew - mostly boar I think - was a gorgeous, slow-cooked blend of rich meaty flavours and smokiness...

But the star of the show was the Esgarraet - roast peppers, garlic and salt-dried cod served cold with a little radish and olive oil. It was a fantastic blend of ingredients and I was raving about it for days afterwards.

So, the waiting staff might be a little pushy but the service in general was fine and the food very good, although we only had a small taster of the range. Prices are reasonable enough, and it's a handy location ... make sure you try the Esgarraet!


Las Cuevas
Our next spot is Las Cuevas, which sits in the lovely, quiet Plaza Cisneros. I had come across this place on my research of the city so one evening we made the short trek from our hotel to the restaurant, which would be hard to come across if you didn't know about it as it is slightly off the beaten track. We took a seat under an orange tree and were promptly handed menus as the sun began to drop behind the tall buildings of the square. It was again an extensive menu, with an option of picking tapas from the counter inside as well as what was on the menu itself. We again went for a mixture of dishes to suit everyone - a bean dish, cheese parcels, patata bravas (again), a kind of meatloaf and a type of crepe which were all delicious. I was a little braver going for a black pudding parcel - Rollito de Morcilla, snails - Caracoles, and rabbit roasted in garlic butter - Conejo al Ajillo.

Las Cuevas

The black pudding parcel was served like a spring roll - the velvety pudding encased in crispy, deep fried pastry and then drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce - and it was excellent! The snails were a bit of an issue for me as the were a little small and I didn't seem to have the knack for getting them out, also the sauce was quite bitter and not to my taste, so I left half. The rabbit was beautifully presented in a heavy iron pot, with the meat and some potatoes swimming in the garlic butter and just a few bay leaves for company. It was slightly underseasoned for my palate but that was easily rectified and the meat was tender and moist from its bath - I made a mental note to try to make this dish at home...

The black pudding was the star here for me with the rabbit a close second, but everything apart from the snails was a hit with all of us. The laid back atmosphere in the square here was part of the experience too, and it's a place I'd come to again if ever back in Valencia.


Bodeguilla del Gato
We had spotted this place on Calle de Catalans a few times during our meanderings around the city but we usually weren't hungry, or it was closed when we passed. The cat name - Bodeguilla del Gato - and image on the door was a draw for our youngest ... although in fairness a pug would probably have had the same effect! So one evening when we didn't really know what we wanted to eat and after looking at a few other places, we ended up outside its doors again. It looked very busy but we took a chance on getting a spot. We were just in luck as a table for four had freed up just inside the door. This was a traditional looking place with lots of posters from the early twentieth century on the walls and a homely, comfortable feel that made us relax and settle further in to our seats.

In the mood for wine, and as this spot seemed to be very much a wine-kinda-place given the chalk written list and the emphasis on the rotating house wine on a board at the bar we ordered a bottle. Our local Caprasia Bobal Merlot was excellent value and really suited the food. I'm not a wine expert and hadn't come across the Bobal grape before but I'd certainly seek it out again, as this was just the right blend of medium-dry berry and chocolate flavours to keep us both happy.

Bodeguilla del Gato

Foodwise we went for spiced and cured deer sausage, the house croquettes, house tortilla, marinated and roasted ribs, chorizo cooked in red wine, more patata bravas - of course, and pork rolls called Flamenquines.

Every dish was superb with the standouts being the huge chunk of tortilla and the flamenquines, and that's probably being unfair to the rest of the dishes. The whole family loved it here ... with the deer sausage being my son's favourite.

Combined with the wine and the busy atmosphere this spot really ticked a lot of boxes for us. It appears to be very much on the tourist map but that's not always a bad thing. The prices were good too, possibly because there seemed to be a good few locals eating here too.

I only wished I could have smuggled home a huge wheel of that tortilla!


Finding L'Ermita on Carrer del Bisbe En Jeroni was an accident in truth. We were wandering towards the north of the city centre to look for somewhere to eat and I took a wrong turn ending up on a street parallel to the one I wanted. Half way down, and still cross with myself for my error, I looked left and spotted a small bar with a familiar pink elephant on a plaque outside the door. Delirium Tremens beer is one I'm well acquainted with from the beer side of blogging so I went to investigate and discovered that this place also served food. (That's the menu at the top of this post.) It looked more of a drinks bar than a foody bar but we liked the look so we wandered in. It was an interesting spot with plenty of old movie, music and drink paraphernalia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. A lady nursed a very placid dog at the bar and a guy was sketching in a corner near the back. I could really see this being a local hangout - an escape from the tourists ... that we were now gatecrashing.

Our youngest went for the Spanish equivalent of a Toasted Special - a ham and cheese toasty and the rest of us went for the bravas again (I know, I know..), goat's cheese in olive oil with rosemary, squid in tomato sauces and thick slices of cured pork loin - Lomo Embuchado.  The squid - Calamares Salsa Americana - didn't go down so well with the others but I enjoyed them. Looking around I spotted a little selection of tinned produce in a lit counter top display. The tin of squid looked suspiciously like what I had just eaten... This didn't bother me, as there's nothing wrong with tinned produce as long as it's good.

I really liked this place, I would have stayed here all night moving from beers to cocktails, while picking at food and chatting to the locals that wandered in and out. It's a comfortable place ... like that sweetspot on your couch, that well-worn fleece or those threadbare slippers. I'd urge you to visit if you're in the city, even if its just to have a drink and pet the dog.

Unfortunately my family dragged me back out into the warm night, as I mulled over what might have been an even better night...



Towards the end of our trip I realised that we hadn't really explored east of the city centre, and felt that this should be rectified. My research had thrown up a strange-food place called Deli_Rant on Plaça del Col·legi del Patriarca, yet another little orange-treed square. All the outdoor tables were occupied and we had to wait for a while to be seated. To occupy my time, as the rest of the family wandered around the square, I had a look at the beers on the shelves inside, which held an impressive range from the US as well as a good few spanish and other european bottles. The three taps on the bar had a good variety of styles too, from different countries. Soon a table freed up and we were seated again under orange trees with the sun setting.

We looked at the menu and even with my much-used Spanish translator it made no sense, so we had to wait for the waiter to translate them - and what they meant - but with her descriptions curiosity got the better of us and we ordered way too much...

  • Torrija de Tomate - Iberico ham on a tomato paste laden bread
  • Pakoras de Tramussos - A fried ball of polenta-textured beans in a spiced yogurt sauce
  • Gnocchi Bravos - A clever twist on patata bravas
  • Churros de Rabo de Toro - Oxtail wrapped in pastry and deep fried, served with a beef soup
  • Costillas Bar Bao Coa - Rib meat served in a steamed Japanese bread
  • Fizz & Chips - Battered fish with popping candy (I kid you not!) served with fresh crisps
  • Tagín de Tajá - Couscous with fruit and nuts, and a pastry tower
  • Macdalena - A meat filled muffin, served with a syringe of tomato sauce to squirt inside
  • Postre de Hoy Mismo - Layers of mousse and wafer thin pastry
  • Shock Oh Late - Chocolate fudge, and squares of chocolate and mallow with a dipping cream
  • Crème Chûfeé con Fartons - A kind of crème brûlée using horchata - a milky beverage made from tigernuts - and a base of fartons - a sweet bread-like confectionary.

I'm not doing them justice with my descriptions and something may have been lost in translation but everything was a little strange and designed to amuse or surprise. An interesting take on tapas indeed...

All the dishes came out over the period of an hour or so which suited us perfectly, as there was a lot of food even before we greedily decide to go for desserts. Everything went down well and we all had or favourites, with the ox tail the only dish that we thought was only okay - I suspect it was slightly over cooked. My favourites are hard to chose but I enjoyed the fizzing sensation of the fish and also the rib meat in the wonder fluffy, moist bread ... but in reality I really enjoyed it all!

The service was excellent - although there was a bit of a delay when a table of around twenty were seated - and when our waiter found out we were from Ireland she chatted with us about a recent trip she had here. The square where we sat had a good few passers-by so it was great for people watching too, with plenty of activity and strange but harmless goings on.

So this was by far the most expensive of the places we visited but that was down to the crazy amount of dishes we ordered more so that the actual prices themselves. A normal family would probably just have the Fizz & Chips between them followed by the Shock Oh Late!

If you are going to Valencia and you are looking for something a little different to amuse your palate then this is definitely the place to go...


These were the better of the traditional (I use that word loosely.) Spanish food places we visited, but we thoroughly enjoyed everywhere we went. They were all pretty diverse, which was good, and all very attentive to the kids - and child friendly from a food point of view too - even though we were out pretty late on a few nights.

The food scene in Valencia is a big part of any visit and getting to try places like these really made our trip feel more complete ... as we appeared to be doing as the Valencians do...

Eating out.

(And no, we never tried a paella!)


Part V is here, and the series starts here

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Food & History: Cheshire Pork Pie Recipe 1841 - Sherry's not just for trifle...

I came across this recipe during some of my research and felt it should get a bit of an airing:

'Cheshire Pork Pie - Divide a loin of pork into chops and cut away the skin and the greatest part of the fat; season the meat with salt, Cayenne, and a little nutmeg. peel and core a dozen pippins, filling up the centres with fine Disbon[sic] sugar. Line your dish with a good crust paste, then put in a layer of pork, then a layer of pippins, and so on until you have filled your dish;pour in a pint of sherry, and cover down with paste for top crust. Two hours baking will not be too much to insure the meat is perfectly done.'

(The Carlow Sentinel - 1841)

Pippins were small, crisp apples of which the Cox's Orange variety is probably the best known now; Disbon sugar should be Lisbon sugar - presume - which is a refined cane sugar; paste is of course pastry ... and what about that pint of sherry!

I haven't tried to make this yet but between the cayenne, sugar and sherry it would certainly be an interesting experiment!

I'll keep you posted...


(With thanks to the Carlow library local studies room.)