Foodie Paradise from Rioja to Portland
When most people think of Europe, they imagine the patisseries and the beautiful coffee shops with Parisian-looking people in stylish clothes sitting outdoors at café tables on narrow cobblestone streets, with beautiful churches in the background.
My idea of Europe may have initially started that way, with the romantic Parisian stereotype, but soon enough I was introduced to the hustle and bustle of the Spanish way when I stepped foot in Rioja.
Rioja has a beauty to it, a simplicity to it, a way of capturing your heart and soul with not only the love of wine by its inhabitants, but also with their love of food and, ultimately, of life. This is why I called this place home for two years and why my heart yearns for it every day. It was a way of life, not just a place in which I lived for two years. It was an escape to an alternate reality that brings for me new meaning to the maxim “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
The Spanish know how to live life; they live it fully every single day, from the moment they wake up and head down to their local cafe for a “café con leche y una tostada” to their evening get-together with friends after work for a quick drink and some tapas. Rioja is truly what I would call a foodie paradise. Their foods are simple, not overly complicated. They take the simplest of things and make them spectacular without a lot of tricks. Simple dry-cured ham, or Jamon Serrano, which is a leg of pork that is covered with salt for two weeks, then rinsed and hung to dry upside down for a period of six months or more. The resulting meat, which is cut in thin slices just before consuming, is spectacular and buttery; it simply melts in your mouth. The very best variety of these hams is called Jamon de Bellota. It is from pigs fed on acorns, and it is incredible. Right now my mouth is watering as I am picturing my favorite place, Cafe Bar Garcia on Calle San Juan, 28 in Logroño, where I get a “Zapatilla,” a thin slice of bread spread with olive oil and jamon serrano, then grilled.
Another spectacular and yet so simple dish is their “Champi,” which are fresh local mushrooms that are brought in that same day, cooked with garlic and olive oil, stacked, and topped with a tiny shrimp. It may not sound like much, but every single person who has come to visit me raves about how wonderful this tiny stack of mushrooms cooked, or rather, bathed in garlic and olive oil, is their most favorite thing in the world. If you go to Calle Laurel in Logroño, make sure to stop by Bar Soriano.
I could go on and on about the beauty of Rioja and its amazing food. Did I mention that they have world-class wine too? In my opinion, it is some of the best wine in the world. For more information on Rioja, check out my write-up here on this website.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Rioja: with my master’s program ending and the economy in Spain not improving, it was time to pick my next adventure. I needed a place that offered culinary delights as well as the world of wine. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the Portland area, and now to Portland itself, my soon-to-be new home, where the food is local, fresh, and delicious.
Lately, I’ve been writing about all the incredible events that I’ve had the privilege to attend—events including wine and spirits, and, most recently, including cider. Oregon has so much to offer, and Portland as a city has the most interesting culture of young, enthusiastic people who are focused on sustainability and everything that is local.
If you are new to Portland or simply wanting to experience a bit of the foodie scene in the region, you should check out Forktown Food tours. It is a great way to explore the four quadrants of Portland and experience not only the food but also the culture of each area.
I went on the North Mississippi Ave. tour, led by Kelsie, a 6th generation Portland native who loves all things food, art, music, and culture. North Mississippi Avenue is a historic, artsy, and exciting neighborhood on Portland’s north side and is one of Portland’s newest culinary hot spots, full of great food and personality. It is fun for locals as well as for out-of-town visitors. This part of Portland is well worth the visit! I would recommend coming very hungry; perhaps skip the traditional Portland brunch and leave room for these offerings, as you are going to need it.
The tour led us through seven different places, starting at a sit-down meal at Mee Sen Thai Eatery for some great Thai food, then on to a food cart called Gabagool, which featured a phenomenal Italian flat bread mozzarella and capicola sandwich, which my husband devoured in 2.5 seconds. We then went to the super locally-sourced Little Big Burger which offered a perfectly-sized goat cheese burger to pair with a nice organic HUB IPA. Did I mention that they have the world’s best Truffle fries? Wow…enough said.
As if there had been room in our tummies for more food, we then took a little break and headed to Sidecar 11, a great little intimate speakeasy-style whisky lounge where we had a chance to pair prohibition-era cocktails like the Gin-Gin Mule with some great seasonal aperitifs.
At this point, we were only half way through the food tour, and I was wondering how I was going to fit the great Koi-Fusion Korean/Mexican fusion tacos that came next. What is great about the food cart area next to one of my favorite watering holes, PROST, is that you are allowed to bring your food cart food into their patio or restaurant. Who could ask for more? Great German beer and great Portland food! (Disclaimer: My husband is German, so this is the perfect way to satisfy his love for German beer and my love for Portland food carts.)
After this we finished off with a visit to the cute little salt-and-chocolate boutique shop called The Meadow, where we did a salt-and-chocolate tasting, and then headed off to Ruby Jewel for their real ice cream sandwiches, which are literally two fresh cookies with fresh ice cream between them.
This tour was phenomenal and well done. I would love to go on some of their other tours as I am sure they are just as great. Check out Forktown Food Tours for more information on their upcoming tours.
That was just Northeast Portland; wait until I get to Southeast Portland! Thanks for joining me on my foodie adventure from Spain to Portland. Cheers!
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