The medina and the market: colours of Tangiers street life

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Women selling fruit and vegetables in a square in the medina of Tangiers.

Tangiers, Morocco

A woman shells peas to sell in the street.

Tangiers, market, Morocco

A mix of dried spices, leaves and flowers. Moroccan cuisine is highly aromatic.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

The classic colours of Morocco at a spice stall.

market, Tangiers, Morocco, Medina

Stalls have an amazing variety of goods, including garlic, ginger and volcanic pumice stone.

Tangiers, medina, Morocco

A turquoise street in the Medina with yellow and red houses.

For me, the most memorable part of my all-too-short visit to Tangiers was wandering through the Medina – the old city, just below the Kasbah. In my last post, I talked about our guide, Aziz. If I had been trying to find my way through alone, I would certainly have got horrendously lost – normally a fun part of exploring a new city, but when you’ve only got a day, with lots to see and learn, not ideal. But as it was, Aziz knows these labyrinthine streets and took us up steps, around corners, and under archways. We saw the real Tangiers, which is a third-world city without running water in some homes, with refuse on the streets, and with a vital sense of life. As I said in a previous post, this is my first time in a developing country in over a decade, so I was looking through newly naive eyes.

Morocco, Tangiers

Coloured, patterned leather slippers are reminiscent of tiles and plasterwork, with their intricate patterns.

House in the medina, in a shade close the famous albero of Seville.

House in the medina, in a shade to close the famous albero of Seville.

Tangiers, Morocco, market, olives

Fat, juicy olives in all colours, in the market of Tangiers.

When I  mentioned to a very well-travelled, highly-experienced photographer friend that I was going to Tangiers, and asked what advice would she give me – especially in case of not-ideal climatic conditions (it rained) – she just said “colour”. Only showers, as it happened, but those zingy colours can’t be suppressed by a light downpour – houses, spices, clothes (not the djellaba, the long hooded kaftan, which we only saw in earth tones – white, grey, brown or black).

Berber, market, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Berber women selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

market, Berber, Berber market, Tangiers, Morocco

Produce from the countryside in hand-woven baskets.

oranges, Tangiers, Morocco, market

A moped trailer piled high with oranges, fresh from the farm.

We were lucky enough to be in Tangiers on a Sunday, when the Berber market takes place. Berbers are the native people of Morocco, before the Arabs arrived; they’re nomadic, tribal people. They come into the city – mostly women, but men too - bringing their fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs (and even live chickens, too) to sell on the pavement next to St Andrew’s Church, by the Grand Socco, on Sunday mornings.

Some handy tips for visiting Tangiers

One euro = around 11 dhirams. Most places accept euros, but give change in dhirams.

Some Moroccan women don’t like being photographed; I tried to avoid capturing their faces.

Alcohol is served, but discreetly, as Morocco is a liberal Islamic country – mostly in tourist hotels, and smarter bars and restaurants.

Kif (marijuana) smoking is tolerated for Moroccans, and very popular among the young, but illegal (if also popular) for tourists. Beware.

In future posts, I’ll be looking at Tangiers in artistic, musical, cinematic and literary terms, as well as telling you about the trip I took out of the city to the coast.

Foodie heaven: fishy business and FAB sherry in Vejer with Annie B

A typical street in Vejer, with its white walls, tield rooves, balconies and potted flowers.

The picture-postcard pretty pueblo blanco of Vejer, with its flower-lined white walls, tiled rooves and iron balconies.

Annie Manson, Annie B's Spanish kitchen

Annie with the besugo (sea bream) we bought at Barbate market..

I often mention on this blog how I find cooking a drag. I don’t mean baking cakes, and creating salads and puddings – the fun stuff – but nutritious everyday meals for the family. You know how when you get older, you hear yourself starting to sound like your dear mum? Well, mine loathes cooking; creative flair is a foreign concept to her. She eats healthily, but her repertoire is limited and she’s terrified of trying anything new. I wouldn’t quite put myself in that bracket, but I need some inspiration to rediscover (or just discover) my cooking mojo.

So I was delighted to be invited to Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen in Vejer de la Frontera. Annie is an ebullient Scottish chef with an infectious smile and a zest for life, who has lived in the gorgeous white hill town of Vejer, near Tarifa, for 11 years. She is a huge fan of the local seafood – Vejer is just inland from the coast – and wine, especially sherry, made in nearby Jerez. Anne is one of a sizeable group of interesting foreigners, including sundry media and movie folk, who have inhabited this exquisite town with its medieval fortified area, pretty cobbled square with steep, narrow flower-filled streets and new gourmet market, stunningly located atop its hill looking over the sea to Africa.

A prett way of displaying sardines.

Sardina arenques (herrings), cousin of the sardine, at Barbate market.

A Ray, complete with tackle. One of the strangest-looking fish I've ever seen.

A ray, complete with tackle. One of the strangest-looking fish I’ve ever seen.

Our cooking day started off with a trip to the fishing town of Barbate, a few kilometres south on the Costa de la Luz, to visit the famous fish market. The morning’s shopping activities were made more intriguing by a performance event involving a group of local people dancing around the centre of the lonja. No one seemed to be quite sure why they were there, or what they were doing, but they added to the surreal atmosphere provided by fish that were so fresh they were still breathing, their gills opening and closing in an alarming manner, and a huge ray hanging up with his tackle on show, so to speak – their reproductive organs are external. (Too much information?)

Barbate, dorada, gilt-head bream, Costa de la Luz, fish, Spain, Andalucia

A dorada, or gilt-head bream – so-called from the gold band you can see between its eyes – in Barbate’s famous market.

Choosing fish seemed quite a pedestrian affair against this background drama of life, death and sex. But choose we did, a pargo (sea bream) and a lubina (sea bass). We also saw dorada (gilt-head bream) – you could clearly make out the gold markings on their heads – which are fab on the barbeque. It was amazing how different these specimens were from those at your local supermarket fish counter – their scales were positively gleaming, as well as slimy (a good thing, Annie assured us; you need to touch them to ensure they’re naturally moist), their eyes were bright, and the gills, opened by the stallholder to show how fresh they were, a fierce bloody red.

almadraba tuna, tuna, Cadiz

Almadraba tuna cuts (wild red tuna from the Cadiz coast) – one of the best, although notoriously difficult to obtain, is the morrillo, or neck (left of picture).

Then it was off to the shops of the local tuna companies – La Chanca, Gadira and Herpac, all a stone’s throw from the market. Barbate is famous for its revered almadraba tuna, which is caught in an ingenious system of tunnels and nets invented by the Phoenicians, every spring along this part of the Costa de la Luz. These fish are fat and juicy, having spent the cold winter months in the Atlantic building up blubber, and so by the time they’re pootling past here on their way to the Mediterranean, they’re in prime condition for being caught and turned into sushi – much of the meat is flown off to Japan within hours. But if you’re lucky enough to taste it, you will never forget that soft, melting texture. I tried almadraba tuna on my hiking trip last autumn, and I can confirm it was to die for. I go misty-eyed just thinking about it.

Ijada, no 7, is the best cut for preserving tuna, while fresh lomo (5) is good for sashimi and ventresca (6) for cooking.

Ijada, no 7, is the best cut for preserving tuna, while fresh lomo (5) is good for sashimi and ventresca (6) for cooking.

In Gadira and other shops, we saw tins of almadraba tuna, a cut above your normal canned fish. The tuna industry is such an integral part of life in this fishing town – the factories are just outside – that many local families live off it. Environmentalists say the area is being over-fished; locals say the quotas are fine, and anyway it’s in their interest to stick to them. In an area with little other industry or agriculture to speak of, and endemic drug problems, their livelihoods depend on being allowed to take their boats out into the waters of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Preserved almadraba tuna flank - works out as 108 euros per kilo.

Preserved almadraba tuna flank – works out as 108 euros per kilo.

Annie told us about the finest cuts of tuna – morrillo (neck), although this is hard to get hold of; ventresco (belly) for cooking; lomo (loin) for making sashimi; ijada (flank) for preserving. In another shop we spotted smoked tuna, and tuna in PX sherry. She explained that there are four almadraba traps along the coast – Barbate, Conil, Zahara and Tarifa – each marked by orange buoys. When she sees those buoys, she gets excited as it means the nets are out, and the tuna will be dished up soon. Barbate also has a tuna festival every year in May, when you can get a tapa with drink for as little as 3 euros.

Vejer, Vejer de la Frontera

The view across Vejer’s old town from Annie’s roof terrace; on a clear day, you can see across to Africa.

Vejer, Vejer de la Frontera

Annie’s fabulous roof terrace, where you eat, drink and experience the sun-soaked Andalucian lifestyle.

Annie B's Spanish Kitchen

Fellow blogger Marianne, me and Michael, Marianne’s husband Michael.

Back at Annie’s gorgeous house in a tiny street in the highest part of Vejer, with a swimming pool, roof terrace with stunning views, and of course a wonderful kitchen for learning, cooking and chatting, we donned our snazzy green aprons and set to work on a gastronomic feast which was to extend from lunch through to supper, in true Spanish style. Marianne, whose excellent blog East of Malaga is a must-read for everything from gardening to quirky local history, and her husband, both former police officers, completed the group. They were great company, telling us how at dinner parties with work colleagues, the favourite topic of discussion would be how to pull off the perfect murder.

Annie B's Spanish Kitchen, Vejer de la Frontera

Tuna salad in a Moroccan bowl. A colourful, easy storecupboard staple.

In the midst of this drama, first we made a tuna salad, which was so simple even I could do it, and so delicious and brightly coloured my children will eat it – and nutritious too. Yes. They. Will. Tuna, boiled eggs, red peppers, red onion (reduce the amount, or remove altogether, when cooking for kids), and a few secret ingredients. It’s a must for barbeques, picnics, or a last-minute lunch for unexpected guests, and would be heavenly heaped into a baguette. We also whipped up a supremely easy chocolate and almond cake, using a blender – no kitchen should be without one, as they take out the slog of beating batter by hand, making the whole process quicker, simpler and more fun.

raisins, sherry, PX, Pedro Ximenez, Annie Manson, Annie B's Spanish Kitchen

Raisins soaked in PX sherry – the easiest and most delicious dessert, or DIY tipsy cake-maker – just pour over and allow to soak in.

Annie imparted many tips, most of which I shall not reveal here, but one was how to chop herbs properly – the correct angle, motion and speed of the knife are essential for minimal effort, maximum effect, and to avoid squashing your parsley and losing the nutrients. Let’s just say, my herbs have never been more evenly or professionally diced.

Another tip I will share with you, lucky reader, is raisins soaked in PX (Pedro Ximenez, sweet sherry). I tried this at home with a mix of dried berries, and it is divine. Leave them to soak together in a preserving jar in the fridge for at least a week, pour over a cake, add some creme fraiche, and there’s a no-effort, gorgeous, boozy pudding (I tried it on little bizcocho squares from el super; thumbs up). Divine with ice-cream, too. My own tip is to be careful when taking the jar out of the fridge; it will be damp from the cold – my first attempt ended up with an ugly mess of sherry, broken glass and semi-rehydrated fruit all over the kitchen floor after it slipped out of my hand.

Then Annie introduced us to one of her favourite aspects of Spanish gastronomy: sherry. She is passionate about this much-misunderstood fortified wine, and is a Qualified Sherry Educator, which means the Top Brass in Jerez have confirmed that she knows her stuff. The grapes used to make this uniquely Andalucian and increasingly trendy wine can only be grown in certain areas. Sherry must be made (FAB, explained Annie: fortified, aged and blended) within one of three towns – Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The sherry is aged in oak barrels stacked in “cathedrals” (Tio Pepe’s in the Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez is an architectural wonder, designed by Eiffel), and the method of blending proportions of differently aged wines, called solera, is like none other. And so is the result. Sherry tastes quite unlike all other types of wine, and its wide range of flavours, from dry fino to sweet PX, means it is especially good for pairing with different types of food.

Prawns, Sanlucar prawns, gambas

Sanlucar prawns with spicy chilli dip.

Annie B's Spanish Kitchen, Vejer, Spain, Andalucia, cooking classes

The fish covered in salt, ready to be baked in the oven.

We tasted a bone-dry fino sherry and a manzanilla (a kind of fino only made in Sanlucar), which have a subtle difference in taste; I couldn’t say which I prefer, as any dry sherry is my bag so I’m partial to both. Then we had my favourite dish of all: Sanlucar prawns with a spicy dipping sauce. You usually boil these delectable little gambas to eat them, but we also tried some sushi-style, in other words raw, and they were a revelation. Uncooked shellfish is always a risk, but they were worth it, with the element of danger adding an extra frisson. We packed the fish in coarse salt, then baked it, in the traditional Spanish way, cracking open the rock-hard case to eat the soft, moist flesh inside. This was an endless gourmet feast – great food, great wine, great company, in a beautiful house, in a beautiful town. You get the picture.

Menu at the excellent Los Cuatro Gatos in Vejer.

One section of the menu at the excellent Los Cuatro Gatos in Vejer.

Chupitos (shots) at Los Cuatro Gatos: cod with (left) and mussel with red pepper. Tasted as good as they looked.

Chupitos (shots) at Los Cuatro Gatos: cod with potato and pearls of orange (left) and mussel with mascarpone and red pepper. Tasted as good as they looked.

gourmet market, Vejer, Vejer de la Frontera

Artistic squid pintxos, with trails of their own black ink, at the new gourmet market in Vejer.

Annie proudly guided us around her vibrant Moorish adopted home town, bursting at the seams with trendy gastro-bars serving groovy tapas shots and purple bread; bakeries, artesan shops, boutique hotels; a beautiful tiled gourmet market full of exquisite pintxos; a buzzing monthly street market full of quirky crafts (knitted doggy pencil toppers made great presents for my kids).

Even the doors in Vejer have character.

Even the doors in Vejer have character.

This star of David on a church in Vejer shows how the building was shared by different religions for their ceremonies and rituals.

This Star of David on a church in Vejer shows that centuries ago, religious buildings were shared by different faiths.

Washing hangs on the ancient walls of Vejer's fortress.

Washing hangs on the ancient walls of Vejer’s fortified area.

_Vejer, Vejer de la Frontera

Until the 1930s women in Vejer wore the cobizada, a full body covering.

One night we went to a caverny bar to hear an excellent, haunting Arabic-Andalusi band; Vejer is part of the long history of Moors and Christians in Andalucia (hence the name, de la Frontera, as it was on the border between the two kingdoms). Vejer was one of the first Moorish outposts after the Arabic invasion from North Africa against the Visigoths in the early 8th century; the town remained under their control until 1250, when it was captured by Fernando III; the fortified stone walls date from the 15th century. An interesting fact: until last century, women wore a traditional full-body covering called the cobijada, which was banned under Franco, as men used it to disguise themselves and thereby escape capture (although hopefully it also made them appreciate how hot and uncomfortable these burka-type garments were for women to wear).  I didn’t have time to investigate the history further, but this is a good website with more detailed information, while this blog has a weekly events listing.

Annie’s cooking courses provide an excellent opportunity to learn about Mediterranean cooking – she offers sherry, fish, and Moroccan-themed experiences – in one of Andalucia’s most beautiful hilltowns. As well as learning about food, you taste the wines, and discover the culture – gastronomy, history and music are all intertwined in Andalucia. And I haven’t even mentioned the fabulous beaches which are ten minutes’ drive away.

Her courses have been featured in top foodie holiday listings in both the Telegraph and the Times – and Vejer has now become a favoured destination for gourmets in the know. And I actually don’t mind cooking (most of the time) – I just have to remember Annie’s assertion that “There’s no excuse for mundane food, is there?” How true, and even more so here in Andalucia, with all its amazing local produce from land and sea. It is Annie’s extraordinary warmth and enthusiasm which make these courses (she does days ones, too) such an enjoyable experience. You don’t even realise how much you’ve learned till afterwards. Why can’t all classes be this much fun?

This short video offers a good overview of Vejer – the aerial shots are wonderful.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arCeZkBhePM&w=560&h=315]

A century of tradition: Seville’s olive oil biscuits go global

Ines Rosales, tortas de aceite

Sweet and savoury: from top left, cinnamon, almond (the latest), orange, and rosemary and thyme hand-made tortas de aceite (olive oil biscuits), individually wrapped in greaseproof paper with original design from the early 20th century.

The new foil packaging, used for the new flavours which are exported abroad, gives the tortas a longer shelf life, protecting them from damaging bright light.

The new foil packaging, used for the flavours which are exported abroad, such as Seville orange, gives the tortas a longer shelf life, protecting them from damaging bright light. It also features a full visual run-down of exactly what goes into your torta: olive oil, orange, sesame seed, aniseed, and wheat flour. That is all (except the sugar – oops).

Ines Rosales (far left) founded the company in 1910 in a town near Seville.

Ines Rosales (far left) sells her wares – the writing behind her reads “OTRA MARAVILLA DE SEVILLA” (another marvel from Seville). Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

Over 100 years ago, a young woman in a town near Seville started making and selling snacks called tortas de aceite, using an old family recipe. Made from nothing more than flour, water, sugar and olive oil, with a little aniseed and sesame for flavouring, these thin, round biscuits were individually wrapped in greaseproof paper, printed with their inventor’s distinctive logo, to protect them.

The tortas soon became popular and gained fame beyond Seville to the rest of Spain. Over a century later, the olive oil biscuits are still produced nearby under the founder’s name: Ines Rosales. These days the company sells 12 million packets a year all around the world.

Delivery Ines Rosales tortas in the the early days. The transport has changed, but the recipe's still the same.

Delivering Ines Rosales tortas in the the early days. The transport may have changed, but the recipe’s still the same. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

The fact that a woman managed to start a business in 1910 is cause for astonishment, and celebration, in itself. Sadly, Ines Rosales died too soon, aged just 42. The business stayed in the family until her son sold up in 1982.

The tortas de aceite from Castilleja de la Cuesta have become a global success story. Adapting to more modern, international tastes, in 2009 flavoured versions were introduced, in both sweet (orange is my favourite) and savoury (rosemary and thyme). The “sweet olive oil tortas”, as they’re known in English, are a hit from Japan to the US, the biggest export market, where they’ve been sold since 1999; cinnamon flavour is the top seller (you can buy them at Whole Foods Market). China offers a set of up-and-coming new customers eager to sample these unusual snacks.

Working the super-glam factory visit look.

Working the super-glam factory visit look – no photos allowed inside, so this is the closest my camera got.

I was curious to see how they’re made, and since the Ines Rosales factory is very near my home, last summer I went to visit. The factory outgrew its high street location nearly two decades ago, and is now located in a town about 20km west of Castilleja, though the company’s official headquarters is still in the town. (Interesting facts about Castilleja de la Cuesta, which is in the Aljarafe region to the west of Seville: it was the home town of Rita Hayworth’s father; and conquistador Hernan Cortes, who conquered Mexico, died here.)

It is always intriguing to learn about a company which is expanding, despite the crippling economic crisis which has been affecting Spain for nearly five years. Each day 350,000 tortas are made by the nimble hands of local women, working on a production line behind a window. Men don’t make the grade for manual dexterity, when it comes to flattening the tortas, as with Carmen’s 18th-century cigarette factory in Seville.

torta de aceite, Ines Rosales

These women each make more than 20 tortas per minute. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

These Sevillanas deftly transform the little balls of dough into flat pancake-type rounds so fast you can barely see them doing it. You have to watch very carefully – blink and you’ll miss it.

Fresh out of the oven.

Tortas fresh out of the oven. Photo courtesy of Ines Rosales

Then they sprinkle sugar on and the tortas are baked, so the sugar melts and goes crispy. Oh yes. And since each torta is hand-made, they all look different. This is one of the main selling points of these traditional snacks – they’re not made in a mould – a cookie-cutter, literally. They’re shaped by human hands into individual biscuits.

Original ads decorate the walls at Ines Rosales.

Original ads decorate the walls at Ines Rosales -  see how little the packaging has changed?

I had a go at making tortas de aceite in a cooking class last year. Mine were passable, but I only made about 20, and had plenty of time to make a hash of it. These ladies are on a production line and make 21 tortas per minute each. Quality control is strict, with photos being taken of the tortas to ensure they meet exacting standards of size and shape. Those which don’t make the grade – purely for aesthetic reasons – are donated to an NGO to distribute, while 100kg a week are given away to the most in-need families.

Enjoying a torta in the Ines Rosales canteen, after my factory visit. Well, it would be rude no to.

Enjoying a torta in the Ines Rosales canteen, after my factory visit. Well, it would be rude not to.

The company is unusually forward-thinking for Spain, in that some years ago they introduced a sugar-free torta, while other traditional biscuits, normally laden with manteca (lard), come in non-animal product varieties.

The mark of a traditional product.

The mark of a traditional product.

Last year the tortas de aceite of Seville province were officially registered by the European Union as an Especialidad Tradicional Guarantizada - which translates as Traditional Speciality Guaranteed. This tells consumers that it’s a product made from traditional raw materials, produced using a traditional method. Basically, the tortas  have been made the same way for a very long time – on a larger scale now, but using the same ingredients and hand-made process.

The orange tortas are one of my family’s top merienda (tea) choices, while the rosemary and thyme ones are a fab accompaniment to that well-earned Friday evening glass of wine. Or put some grated cheese on top and grill gently for an instant, super-tasty pizza. Ines Rosales have loads of recipe suggestions on their website, suggesting the savoury ones (sesame and sea salt is the other non-sweet variety) as ideal summer-time outdoor nibbles. A little piece of Andalucia to impress your guests.

While the classic tortas are widely available, as Spanish like them with their coffee (I don’t like aniseed, which is why the new flavours are more to my taste), not all the other varieties are easy to find, even a few km from their home-base where I live. For this reason I was very excited to hear that the first-ever Ines Rosales shop is opening soon in the centre of Seville – in Calle Hernando Colon, near Plaza San Francisco to be exact. Be sure to visit when you’re here.

Aljarafe organic market – now monthly

The aljarafe eco-market is now held on the third Saturday of every month.

The Aljarafe eco-market is now held on the third Saturday of every month.

If you live in Seville, and you’re interested in organic food, you’ve probably visited the monthly market in the Alameda. Fellow Seville-based blogger Mary posted about it recently here. This takes place on the second Saturday of the month and has a number of stalls selling locally-grown fruit and vegetables, olive oil, wine, honey and other products.

For those of us who live up in the Aljarafe, the area to the west of the city, and don’t fancy the schlep into town, parking hassles, and lugging heavy shopping bags full of chemical-free goodies around, there’s another option – the organic market which takes place in Gines. It’s organised by a group called La Reguerta Ecologica which promotes organic and ethical living. How fitting that the Aljarafe, being higher than the city and therefore slightly cooler in summer, is where the Moors had their kitchen gardens all those centuries ago. Those North Africans knew their stuff when it came to agriculture, as with so many other aspects of life.

Until now, this market has only been held periodically, every several months since June 2012, but the good news is that now it’s going to be a regular event – on the third Saturday of every month, starting last weekend. The market takes place in a large, shady park in Gines, with a good playground, cafe and an area with a small river, bridges and a lake inhabited by water fowl. Children love feeding the ducks and geese; mine spotted some frogspawn on Saturday. And you can park right outside: gets the family vote.

Part of the entertainment - a band plays at a previous market. It's a fun family day out.

Part of the entertainment – a band plays at a previous market. It’s a fun family day out.

We’ve visited the market several times, in the heat of summer and the chill of winter. Last Saturday the number of stalls was less than half the usual (about 30), since part of the area they occupy was a mud bath thanks to recent downpours. A chilly wind and spitting rain didn’t deter the more determined shoppers, which was impressive considering how much Spanish people – especially women – hate being rained on. We only lasted about an hour (me shopping, the kids playing) before we became uncomfortably cold, and hightailed it back home – whereupon the sun came out. Of course.

As with any market, the experience of buying direct from the producer is illuminating and enjoyable. These producers and farmers nearly all come from Seville province (or next-door Huelva), and many from the Aljarafe itself, so you’re buying locally. They love telling you about their produce, as you sample it - how it is made, and all the different varieties. If you’re a foodie, I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday morning, than browsing stalls of locally-made organic goodies produced by small (mostly) family companies, and tasting their wares – organic goat’s cheese, bread dipped in olive oil, wine made in the nearby hills.

So what did we buy? I already had a few favourites – Monte Robledo cheese; Colonias de Galeon wine; and Al Andalusi bread.

organic cheese, organic goat's cheese, Monte Robledo

The Sierra de Aracena is world-famous for its superb jamon iberico, but the area’s dairy products, such as this Monte Robledo cheese, are gaining a reputation too.

Monte Robledo is goat’s cheese made in the Sierra de Aracena, as mentioned in a recent blog post. It’s rolled in herbs or paprika. They do farm visits where you can make your own cheese; this is now on my list of family days out for this year.

The delightful Elena of Colonias de Galeon. You can taste her excellent organic wines at the market.

The delightful Elena of Colonias de Galeon. You can taste her excellent organic wines at the market.

Colonias de Galeon is a bodega in Cazalla de la Sierra, in the Sierra Norte. I chatted to Elena, who runs it with her husband, about their young wine (with the purple top). I’m not normally a red wine drinker – don’t like the tannins, they give me a headache – but this is a fresh young tinto (2013) made from a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah, has a light, fruity, red-berry taste. Last November the winery held free tastings of the new bottling in Seville, so keep an eye out this autumn.

wine, organic wine, Colonias de Galeon, Cazalla, Sierra Norte

FROM SVQ wine by Colonias de Galeon, in the Sierra Norte of Seville province: it’s a limited-edition pinot noir made to celebrate a noteworthy aspect of the city.

Special-edition pinot noir from Colonias del Galeon, dedicated to the team working on the Airbus A400M.

This FROM SVQ is dedicated to the team working on the Airbus A400M military aircraft.

Each bottle in this limited edition is numbered - love the luggage label-style look.

Each bottle in this limited edition is numbered – love the luggage label-style look.

She also produces a special limited-edition run of 2000 bottles, under the label FROM SVQ (the code for Seville airport): the latest is a pinot noir from the 2010 harvest, bottled as A300-M, in honour of the new military aircraft made just outside the city.

Organic bread from Al A>ndalusi, in Sanlucar La Mayor. We went for the olive and cumin loaf, second from right.

Organic bread from La Andalusi (sic), in Sanlucar La Mayor. We went for the olive and cumin loaf, second from right.

La Andalusi is a well-established bakery in the nearby town of Sanlucar La Mayor. (Interesting foodie fact: Ferran Adria’s only outpost of La Bulli was located there. I spent a memorable evening working my way though the 24-course tasting menu – on assignment, pre-crisis.) You may have seen their distinctive Mezquita arches logo. They make all manner of delicious organic loaves in their wood-fired oven – at this latest market, there were even chocolate cupcakes, the craze which has just reached Seville. For coeliacs, they do spelt bread; the onion and spice loaf is on my list to try.

The team from De La Huerta a Tu Casa with their olive oil and jams.

The team from De Mi Huerta a Tu Casa with their oranges, olives, olive oil and jams.

A new discovery for me was the wonderfully-named De Mi Huerta A Tu Casa - as the name implies, they do home delivery from their base in Almensilla. You can order oranges from their orchards in Palma del Rio (’tis the season), or delicious olive oil, which is a blend of two local Seville province varieties, manzanilla (more often used as an eating olive) and zorzaleña (also known as lechin), along with the more commonly pressed arbequina. The oil has a strong yellow colour, and a full, spicy flavour. Home-made jams on offer included fig, lemon and ginger, and lemon and mint – we opted for the last one.

organic market, Gines, Aljarafe

Refuel with some cheap, healthy, vegan/vegetarian tapas.

If you need to have a pitstop, no need to leave the market: there’s a stall with well-priced organic vegetarian tapas, such as chickpea and chard stew, couscous or tofu fillet sandwich, accompanied by home-made lemonade or local wine.

Other stalls have organic fruit and vegetables - what most people come here for - as well as clothes, baby goods such as carriers and cloth nappies, and handicrafts such as bags and jewellery. Have you ever been to a market where they didn’t sell accessories? Local gardening and environmental groups also have stands, so it’s a great place to learn about projects going on in the area which you can get involved with.

You can hear talks on many subjects at the organic market.

You can hear talks on many environmental subjects at the organic market.

Often there are talks on eco-living, sustainable lifestyle, and organic agriculture, but we chickened out early due to the inclement weather, so missed the full programme. Previously we’ve seen live bands (see photo above), which have varied from a bit dodgy to pretty good. Nothing better than buying – and eating – food you know is Very Good For You, and then watching your children rock out to “Shake it!” and “Twist and Shout”.

The produce at the organic market is not cheap, but people don’t come here looking for bargains – they (I) want tasty food that has been grown and made locally, without using chemicals, and which will be coming from field to plate in the shortest possible time.

organic wine, organic bread, organic cheese, Gines, Aljarafe, organic market

The sum total of our purchases: a delicious Saturday and Sunday lunch (along with some salad, prawns and iberico goodies), plus some seeds to plant – broccoli and radish.

The organisers’ blog La Reguerta Ecologica has information on permaculture and social currency used in the Aljarafe – like a product/service exchange. Another site, La Cooperactiva features organic agriculture and ecotourism.

The next Aljarafe organic market will be held on Saturday 15 February 2014. The market takes place from 11am-3pm.

Watch a TV report on the market here. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57laB28_yk8&w=420&h=315]

Festive Seville: Mapping and Food Fairs

Happy New Year to all my lovely readers! I hope you had a wonderful festive season, spending lots of time with your friends and family.

A couple of posts ago, I listed all the events that were going on in Seville over the Christmas period.

Although it feels odd still to be talking about last month, I thought it would be fitting to report back on how they all went. I will try to avoid to less obviously festive aspects of our adventures, as I don’t know about you, but I have a serious dose of the January post-Christmas blues.

Flower-covered facade of Ayuntamiento.

Flowers projected onto the rear facade of the Ayuntamiento.

Ayuntamiento, mapping

Meccano construction on the Town Hall.

The Mapping

This is a (free) show of 3D-laser video projections on the rear facade of the Ayuntamiento (town hall), watched in Plaza San Francisco. This was not as imaginative or spectacular as last year’s, which also had more detail and was more technically impressive, and I thought it seemed longer too. However it had some great set pieces, like the Scalextric track with cars racing (video below, quite loud – be warned!), and the sweeping tour of some of Seville’s monuments: Plaza de España, the Atarazanas, Torre del Oro, and Triana Bridge (video also below). But there was no fake snow at the end, alas.

Scalextric section

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=776TXAWFNCg&w=420&h=315]

Seville monuments (watch from 9:20)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JRGThE5aaQ&w=560&h=315]

The markets

We managed to get to three food markets, the first two of which are annual events, so they’ll be on again next Christmas.

The location of convents which make and sell pastries around Seville. Most have their own shops, and many bakeries stock their goodies too.

The location of convents which make and sell pastries around Seville. Most have their own shops, and many bakeries stock their goodies too.

We started off with the convent pastries in the Alcazar, made by nuns in 24 religious establishments located around Seville province. These include seven in the city (see map above), and one in Estepa, which is particularly famous for its mantecados.

What a magnificent setting for such dainty confections, with the colourful tiles and high ceilings of the palace’s long Renaissance salons, which were lined with tables piled high with pretty white and pink boxes.

mantecados, polvorones, Christmas, Alcazar, Navedad

Sweet treats: convent pastries on sale at the Alcazar.

These traditional Christmas shortbread-type biscuits have wonderful names like huesos de santos (saints’ bones) and coquitas de la Habana (little coconuts from Havana). Thankfully they weren’t all laden with pig fat – manteca (lard) is one of the main ingredients of crumbly polvorones (also known as mantecados); some came in vegetarian versions too. Other ingredients typically include egg and sugar, with some spice or pine nuts.

The annual Seville Province Gastronomy and Handicrafts Fair.

The annual Seville Province Gastronomy and Handicrafts Fair.

We briefly visited the Provincia de Sevilla craft and gastronomy fair, held in the patio of the Diputacion (Provincial Government, one of four levels of government in Spain – over-stuffed civil service? really?). This always takes place over the last two weekends before Christmas.

In a crowded, covered space, the average age of visitors seemed to be around 60, so two small, rampaging children intent on running everywhere at high speed, were a dangerous addition to the mix. Before retreating to a less risky area, we spotted lots of delicious local goodies, some of which were taken to the UK as Christmas presents.

Bodegas Salado's cava was popular with the crowd at the Seville Province fair.

Bodegas Salado’s cava was popular with the crowd at the Seville Province fair.

Among the stands of Seville-made produce, we saw olive oil, honey (orange blossom, rosemary and eucalyptus), cheese, embutidos (sausages), and wine. Bodegas Salado, in nearby Umbrete, make a variety of wines, including a cava. Their stand was mobbed by thirsty pensioners desperate for a free copa de vino. But I managed to elbow my way in and try some. Not Catalan, but perfectly acceptable. This bodega offers tours – on my list for 2014.

Spanish food, Portuguese food, Santa Cruz

Spanish-Portuguese food and craft market in Santa Cruz.

Then we moved on to another food market, this time in the patio of a school in barrio Santa Cruz. This was organised by EuroAAA, the Euro-region of Andalucia-Algarve-Alentejo (southern Spain and Portugal). In a large, open space, this was much better for the kids, who could charge around without annoying anyone – there was even a face painter!

Little Portuguese cheeses, a snip at 1 euro each.

Little Portuguese cheeses, a snip at 1 euro each.

We got some delicious little Portguese cheeses, as served with bread and butter as an appetizer at many Algarve restaurants (although no sardine pate, sadly); Flor de Sal, prime sea salt, produced in the salt flats at Castro Marim, just over the Portuguese border (as always, the Portuguese owner of Agua Mae, Luis, spoke excellent English); and Monte Robledo cheese, a tangy favourite from the Sierra de Aracena, made of goat’s and sheep’s milk and rolled in rosemary, oregano or paprika.

Riding a camel on the Alameda. As you do.

Riding a camel on the Alameda. As you do.

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned funfair ride to fill a small person with seasonal joy

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned funfair ride to fill a small person with seasonal joy.

We also did the camel ride in the Alameda (the Reyes arrive on camels, so they’re a big part of Christmas here). They take three children each, one of the hump and one either side. This was a huge success, despite (or perhaps because of) the half-hour wait; and we couldn’t resist some funfair rides too. The colour and excitement, and exotic treats like riding a “ship of the desert”, are such a wonderful part of Christmas for kids. Seeing the delight on their faces is present enough for me.

What we didn’t manage to see/do: ice-skating at the Prado or the Setas (son); the Mudejar Belen at the Palacio de los Marqueses de la Algaba - a model of Seville in post-Moorish times (me). Next year!

Coming up in next blog posts: the Norfolk coast, and the Cabalgata de los Reyes in Gines.