Sherry Rebujitos in Grazalema, Spain

A Rebujito in Grazalema, Spain
A Rebujito in Grazalema, Spain

Our last trip to Spain opened my eyes to lots of new food and deepened my understanding of a few of the most classic Spanish drinks.  One of the tipples that I really got to know on this journey was Sherry, or Jerez, as it is called on the peninsula.  I’ve been a fan of Sherry since the first vacation to Spain with my wife.  Oddly, when I lived there as an 18-year-old foreign exchange student, I didn’t get into it.  I think I was too busy discovering J&B with coke.  (Don’t ask.)  Anyway, a little more maturity has paved the way for the immensely satisfying world of Spanish Sherry.  Its flavor is legendary and is as varied as the Spanish landscape itself.  There are many more experienced Sherry palates on the web to discuss the topic in detail so I’ve chosen to bring one small strata of the world of Jerez to you  – El Rebujito.

El Rebujito comes from a long line of Spanish drinks that mix beer or wine with juice or soda (sangria, tinto de verano, cerveza clara…).  El Rebujito takes this a step further and mixes Fino Sherry with lemonade or, as we experienced more often, 7-Up.  Yep, 7-Up.  The flavor of the sherry was mellowed by the 7-Up, which managed to take away some of the characteristic acidity of the Fino.  Served over ice, it was the perfect midday sipping concoction to enjoy in the local sun-drenched plaza.  Mixed with a salty tapa or just a good bunch of potato chips, it was perfect.  Having enjoyed the single drinks early on in the trip, imagine our delight when we found it served in a pitcher in a little place in Sevilla, outdoors, on a characteristically scorching Sevilla day.

Sherry showed its incredible versatility and variety on this trip.  It’s made a permanent home for itself in my bar/armory.  And, the Rebujito is a welcome foot soldier in the war to beat the summer heat.

Traga Tapas – Ronda, Spain

Traga Tapas - Ronda, Spain
Traga Tapas - Ronda, Spain
At a certain point in my Spanish vacations, I need to focus my palate on something other than the Spanish staples of bread, cheese, jamón and eggs served in countless combinations.  On the last trip it was a visit to Maoz for a delicious falafel in pita with veggies and yogurt sauce.  This time, it was a visit to Traga Tapas smack dab in the middle of the picturesque town of Ronda, Spain.  Traga Tapas is apparently the sister restaurant to Tragabuches, where I have never been and know nothing about.  Traga Tapas, on the other hand, merits repeat visits.  The sheer audacity of the combination of the flavors used and fused makes every dish we tried worth nothing less than contemplative study with each bite.
Salmon Marinated with Vanilla and Lime (Salmón Marinado con Vainilla y Lima)
Salmon Marinated with Vanilla and Lime (Salmón Marinado con Vainilla y Lima)

The salmon marinated with vanilla and lime (salmón marinado con vainilla y lima) shocked the senses with the first bite but as it continued, it made almost “why didn’t I think of that” sense. The stew crouquette (croqueta de cocido) mixed two Spanish classics together to form a delicious ball of well, fried stew. Much better than it sounds, believe me.

Pork Cheek on Gratin Toast with Cheese Fondant (Chapata de Carrillada)
Pork Cheek on Gratin Toast with Cheese Fondant (Chapata de Carrillada)

The pork cheek on gratin toast with cheese fondant (chapata de carrillada) was reminiscent of the richest pulled pork that one could imagine.  The texture of the toast plank underneath was perfect as well.  Leaning heavily on Asian side of the fusion wheel, the soy pasta dish (fideos de soja salteados con queso de cabra curado, cerdo iberico y rucola) combined Asian, Italian and Spanish flavors in to a sort of cellophane noodle, global village, pad Thai. 

I know, I know.  This reads like hyperbole – trust me – it isn’t.

Trumping all the dishes, the pork ribs (costillas de cerdo) broke little new ground but represented two different dishes to perfection.  The spare ribs were tender, succulent, with a seemingly flash-fried, light, thin outer coating.

Stew Crouquette (Croqueta de Cocido)
Stew Crouquette (Croqueta de Cocido)

  Complimenting their flavor were the best fried potatoes alioli ever served.  The potatoes themselves were enough to send Mrs. NH into gastronomic bliss causing her to beg me to order a full plate of them alone on her behalf.  (I didn’t – there was too much else to try.)  The potatoes were golden fried on the outside and fluffy and earthy on the inside.  The alioli was fresh made, rich, and all creamy-yolk-garlic goodness.  Garnishing the dish was a perfect scattering of coarse sea salt – just enough to make sure every flavor contained therein would have a chance to properly grace your tongue.  Writing this alone is making me salivate uncontrollably…

Pork Ribs (Costillas de Cerdo)
Pork Ribs (Costillas de Cerdo)

I can’t recommend this place highly enough.  With the combination of the inventive yet classic food, great deals on new flavors in local wine and excellent service and recommendations – you’d be a fool to miss this spot while in Ronda – and maybe within a 50-mile radius.

A Slight Change of Plans

We’re sitting on the balcony tonight after putting “el rug rat” to bed. We made a trip to the supermarket today and picked up jamon, queso curado, bread, wine and picked up a little amontillado from the hotel bar for dessert.

We took a side trip to Sanlúcar today and stocked up on a couple bottles of La Gitana Manzanilla – (the stuff they serve at Almendro 13). We also got to try the Shrimp Fritters (tortilla de camarones as they call them). A whole review with pictures is coming on those babies.

Off to Sevilla tomorrow. Looking more and more like Cordoba after that. It’s hot and sunny and the rebujitos are going down like water!

El Museo del Jamón – The Museum of Ham

El Museo del Jamón - Madrid, Spain
El Museo del Jamón - Madrid, Spain

Used to be, when I thought of ham, I thought of something honey baked or square watery lunch meat in plastic.  Ever since I was a foreign exchange student to Madrid, Spain nearly 20 years ago, the picture in my mind changed.  Whenever somebody says “ham” I kind of feel a pending letdown.  It’s not that I don’t like ham but it’s just that I know that they’re probably not talking about jamón.

There is no such letdown at the Museo del Jamón in Madrid.  My fellow traveler and I visited the Carrera de San Jerónimo 6 location not once but twice, so interesting were the offerings of the museum.  Come to think of it, we only went to the Prado once and probably spent less time there than in the museum devoted to succulent cured swine legs.  Somehow, I believe Velázquez would understand.

It is less a museum than a deli showcase of all the types of jamón that Spain has to offer.  It is truly awe-inspiring.  Legs hang all around the walls, over the bar, over your head and behind the deli counter.  They fill golden cañas and plop them before you in pools of beer that would probably quench your thirst even if you could only gaze upon them.  The fluorescent lighting serves to make this museum a completely different experience than the smokey, earthy wine and tapas bars of “la Latina”.  Everyone here is a commoner.  We saw people pay with what appeared to be food stamps and saw fellows who looked like they might have been collecting trash all day talking to a group of abuelitas that were dressed to the nines – including pearls.  And for all of this mix of clientele, I did not see one other tourist – gringo or otherwise.  Maybe that’s the equalizing effect of the museum.

What was unequaled was the main event – the jamón.  We ordered a 1/2 plate of queso manchego and 1/2 plate of the Jamón Iberico de Bellota.  What sets this jamón apart from all others is that it is from a free-range, acorn fed pig.  It has a velvety consistency on the tongue and a tenderness that is unequaled by any of the other varieties.  The striations of delicious fat mix with the full flavored cured red meat on your palate and combine to create a flavor that exists nowhere else.  You can taste the meat, the process of curing the meat and slightly taste the nuttiness of the acorn in the flesh.  The richness gathers on the back of your tongue and holds there until ushered along by another sip from the caña.

All the while El Museo del Jamón bubbles and breathes around you.  Bartenders shout orders to the deli, checks are paid, new patrons arrive, and the hum of the traffic pulses outside.  Still, there is no better name for this establishment than “museum.”  When one thinks of a museum as a place to experience works of art with your fellow man, this fits the description.  It houses products that only a few talented individuals can do, things that are held in high regard the world around, things that may be loved by some and despised by others.

Happily, there is one thing that sets this museum apart from all others.   When your done marveling at the works of art, you only need to proceed to the deli counter to take one home.

* approximate times