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

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.”

Cobble stone streets of Rioja

 

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.

Here is a picture of my mother holding up this wonderful delight.Mom enjoying her jamon serrano

 

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.

 

champi

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.

PORTLAND

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.

IMG_7794

The plan of attack for N. Missississippi Tour with Forktown Food Tours

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.IMG_7801

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.

IMG_7808

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.

IMG_0050

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.)

IMG_7817

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!

IMG_0055

 

 <a href=”https://plus.google.com/110830109140128127622&#8243; rel=”publisher”>Google+</a>

Logroño, La Rioja, named Gastronomic Capital of Spain 2012

The Famous Mushrooms from Calle Laurel

Gastronomic Capital of Spain is sponsored by the Federación Española de Hosterlería (FEHR), Spanish Federation of Hospitality, and Federación Española de Periodistas y Escritores de Turismo (FEPET), Spanish Federation of Journalist and Tourism Writers. The FEHR and FEPET created this Capital in order to promote Spanish gastronomy at a national and international level, as an attractive form of tourism in Spain.

According to the Spanish Secretary General of Tourism, in Spain, there are over 59.2 million people who visited the country in 2010, five million of which came solely for gastronomic reasons. So how does it work? Each year a city is nominated as the “Capital Española de la Gastronomía (CEG), Gastronomic Capital of Spain, which lasts from the January 1 to December 31.

La Rioja was chosen due to its leadership in Spain to market its land, wine and active tourism not only nationally but internationally. It was able to take their successful model of ecotourism to gastronomic tourism.Logrono- Gastronomic Capital of Spain 2012

Logroño, the capital, is situated in the heart of La Rioja. Oenologically (in regards to wine) La Rioja is divided into three different regions, Rioja Alta, North West of Logroño; Rioja Alavesa, the Basque wine region, North of Logroño; and Rioja Baja, South East of Logroño. Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa are well known in the wine industry, whereas Rioja Baja, which also produces wine, is primarily known for excellent agricultural products that are also under a Designation of Origin – DO similar to the wine which is under a Qualified Designation of Origin—DOCa. These DOs are a regulatory classification system used to control and ensure the quality of products of these regions in wine as well as food. Combining these quality agricultural products along with quality wine and the already established culinary culture of La Rioja, optimally makes La Rioja a prime candidate for being selected as the Gastronomic Capital of Spain.

In La Rioja, there are over 510 restaurants and 2,180 bars (that also serve food-tapas) that all share the drive and desire to continue to make La Rioja a gastronomic destination now and in the future. For these reasons and more, Logrono, La Rioja was selected as Gastronomic Capital of Spain.

Speaking from personal experience, Logroño, the city in which I live, is wonderful. I have never been a place in the world that lives, eats and breathes this concept more. Every day there is an event that demonstrates this, such as tonight, for example, I am attending a tasting that is sponsored by La Rioja, a regional newspaper, called “Lo Mejor del Vino de Rioja Cata,” The best wine of La Rioja wine tasting, which is open not only to people in the industry but also the general public. This event is held every month to highlight one Riojan winery of the region and allow everyone to try their wines with the owner and winemaker. A few weeks ago, there was a Tapas Week as part of this Gastronomic capital initiative where all the bars in Logroño served their special tapa ( small bite) with wine for a special price. There are also two streets dedicated to Tapa hopping, which is the same concept as bar hopping, except you literally go bar to bar in these two streets, Calle San Juan and Calle Laurel, and devour the beautifully tasty tapas that are specific to each bar with a wonderful Riojan wine.

What more can you ask for? If it were up to me, Logroño would be named Gastronomic Capital of the World, and this coming from someone who has lived in a lot of places. Though Peruvian and Thai food would be my next choice!