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T / go away / a spanish road trip

Alicante---HeaderSo I had a couple of big takeaways from my most recent road trip through Spain: 1) damn that country is delicious and 2) there is a skill to avoiding nausea while navigating curvy European roads and being in charge of navigation and I do not possess it.

I also learned that southern Spain is where many northern Europeans choose to die.  I’m not joking.  There was a preponderance of gated communities filled identical semi-detached vacation homes to house pensioners hailing from north of the continent and related big box grocery stores from said region to serve all of those pensioners. The nail on the coffin (nervous laughter) was the number of insurance companies promoting burial and return of assets services.It’s a one stop shop, kids. It was pretty much straight out of a BBC farce.

Grating tourism for the elderly aside, I met up with my man and we spent a few days tooling around Alicante and the Valencian community.  We’re usually game for more off-the-beaten-path travel, but when the opportunity arose (parental birthdays that is), we jumped at the chance to eat and drink the hell out of the region.  So we weren’t able to make it up to Seville (to satisfy my Game of Thrones geekdom). But we did manage to re-adjust our Circadian rhythms to the Spanish time zone of siestas and late nights, with rolling mountains, the most delicious of fruits of the sea and an endless supply of tapas, cervezas and sangria.  I couldn’t think of a better way to recuperate after the marathon through London (which Cait just started!) and Copenhagen.

So I thought I’d share some of the shots of this beautiful region.

Wander-HeaderJune in the south of Spain is perfect.  From an expatriate in Cambodia’s point of view, the crisp mornings and evenings, and relatively sunny and cool afternoons are the perfect respite when escaping from 50°C and humidity.  The sky was pretty much always a beautiful blue, whatever shade you want to call it.  The streets were always pedestrian friendly (and sometimes only) and you could never get lost.  We started with so much beauty in Murcia. There were palm trees upon palm trees and cacti in Elche and checking off of World Heritage Sites. Got cathedral-ed out in Orihuela. And rounded it all off in Roman ruins in Cartagena.

Orihuela

Orihuela

Blue skies, negative space and towers in Murcia.

Blue skies, negative space and towers in Murcia.


 

Play-with-Colour-HeaderThe city of Alicante, and especially its historic quarter, are a colourist’s fantasy come to life. Everywhere we wandered.  Up the stairs and down.  Out of the Museu de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante (MACA) and around cathedrals. There was so much colour.  And for someone who’s supposed to be delving into colour theory right now, I was basically at home. Alicante-PastelsColour-in-Alicante


 

Eat-Alicante-HeaderBecause there is no such thing as too many boquerones. Fried. In oil. Stuffed. What have you. Just get them in my belly.

With the fire of one thousand Bourdains, we drove into Dénia expecting gastronomic heaven.  And we were happy to have found the next El Bulli.  But we were told that the next table at El Baret de Miquel Ruiz was available in October.  I still can’t forget the maitre’d’s look of disbelief when we walked in asking for a table for two. With the thought of what could have been  clouding our minds, no other restaurant in Dénia really quelled our tastes. We were only left with the wont of what could have been.

Market-FoodBut that said, the days before and after this were heaven.  Being the breadbasket of Spain, the south is a treasure trove of fresh ingredients and palette bursting energy.  We stocked up on our own cured boquerones and queso at markets popping up in the residential areas of Torrevieja, where we were staying (sleeping is probably more of an appropriate word).  We discovered the juiciest donut-shaped pears and ate our weight in cherries.  The gluttons of Rome who conquered this area millennia ago would have been proud.

Dinner-at-La-Catedral

From left: truffled artichoke salad with ham, and the most sumptuous scallops with flying fish roe at La Catedral

We spent our last edible moments with the sun setting over ancient Roman ruins in front of us, dining al fresco on the best starters at La Catedral in Cartagena.  I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end this road trip through Spain. And I couldn’t wait to explore more of the north.  But I had some wurst and schnitzel waiting for me in Frankfurt.


All photos taken by Tiffany Tsang.  Please request permission for use.

 


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T / go away / my toronto (now)

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Gaudi-esque at Bar Raval

So Anthony Bourdain came to Toronto last year and throughout the entire episode, he didn’t sound very impressed. Such lack of enthusiasm! Naturally, I was a little offended. Now I get it, Toronto’s not a very good looking city.  Our neighbours to the south burnt us down in 1813, and we burnt ourselves down in 1849 (oops).  So a lack of historical architecture combined with a post-industrial aesthetic and the lot of ugly condominium high rises that have penetrated the city make for a not so pleasant facade.

Thank goodness for its neighbourhoods.  Tiny enclaves built on the backs of early 20th century immigrants from Scotland, Portugual, Italy, Korea, China, India and beyond that have now become the gentrified centers of delicious for the current generations. My trips back to Toronto have always involved discovering whatever neighbourhood has become the next big thing.  On this one, I had to get the advice from cadre of local authorities who made sure that I was going to spend my short time here well. As a result, I’ve been equal parts stuffed and hungry all week by just being surrounded by all this gastronomic glory. Let’s begin shall we?

Brunch

Farmhouse-TavernThe wedding post-mortem is a tradition among our friends that didn’t exactly work out this time considering the hangover.  So while my pals slumbered, I needed to soothe a grumbling stomach and lumbered my way over to the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto where my pal Mojan had ordered me to brunch at the Farmhouse Tavern (1588 Dupont Street near Dundas Street West). Sadly they were out of their signature Mother and Child reunion which consists of breaded and two  deep fried duck eggs paired with fine slices of duck prosciutto. I had to bear with their Eggs Benny, probably more appropriate prescription for a hangover, with smoked trout gravlax served on cheddar and chive biscuits that made me melt into a messy but satisfied puddle.

Saving GraceIn the Dundas West neighbourhood there is a huge selection of possible brunches.  From the classic Federal (1438 Dundas Street West near Ossington), to the white walled and light filled Saving Grace (907 Dundas Street West at Bellwoods Avenue).  If you’re more akin to a weekend brunch later in the morning and have a craving for the brightest waffles topped with the freshest of berries, you’ll find Saving Grace packed to the brim. Thankfully, you can put your name down for a table and mosey across the street for a coffee at Ella’s Uncle.

Coffee

ManicIt’s only natural that Little Italy offers a very saturated market for quality java, right?  I like heading to Manic Coffee & Gelato (426 College Street West, near Bathurst).  Not only do they offer some cold creative treats (there’s miso caramel if you’re adventurous, however black sesame is a personal fave), but their baristas are great conversation.  One of my faves is Mikhail who hails from Costa Rica and has the coffee trade in his blood.

Academy-of-LionsAnd I couldn’t write this post without mentioning one of the inspirations for the Kettlebell Café in Phnom Penh.  Academy of Lions not only has a beautiful post-industrial space and the friendliest of staff in an old kitchen supply store for its work outs, but they also serve some great post-workout coffee. If you’re a Crossfitter looking for a friendly gym, go west and do a hundred burpees here!

Aperitifs

Bar-RavalTo call Bar Raval only a location for libations would be a misnomer.  I wound up spending three hours here catching up with one of my oldest friends, and we just kept ordering tapas upon pintxos upon planchas upon queso and beyond.  And highly curated absinthe-based (apparently now legal in Canada) beverages of course.  If you find standing space inside, you’ll be surrounded in Gaudi-esque structures from top to bottom which match its Barcelona-inspired menu so well.

Rock-LobsterOne should also not miss a new institution just welcomed to the world last year. The Bloody Lobster Caesar is just perfect for a warm day on the patio at Rock Lobster (3 locations across downtown Toronto).  And if you’re feeling indulgent, and we know you won’t be able to help yourself: go for the lobster poutine.

Dinner

Bar-IsabelIn the weeks leading up to my trip back home, I posted about a profound desire to feast at the Black Hoof.  Very shortly after, my new friend Julia (also a Toronto-to-Phnom Penh transplant) intervened and implored that I go to Bar Isabel, Grant van Gameren’s new outpost instead.  And I am so happy that Julia stepped in. Reunited with a dear old friend, we spent the three hours at Bar Isabel feasting on roasted bone marrow, smoked sweetbreads atop raw albacore tuna, a whole seabream ceviche, patatas bravas that were truly imperial with house-made blood sausage and boquerones layered on top and finished off with a sour cream ice cream with rosemary and candied orange.  Oh right, and cocktails.  And yes I was stuffed and tipsy. 

So that’s it for my Toronto.  I hope you enjoy my hometown if you ever make it above the 44th parallel! 


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.