Archive for January, 2012

More than just a daily read

January 4, 2012

I try to avoid mentioning the ‘crisis’ in the things I write, not because it isn’t affecting me – far from it, it’s as disastrous for me as it is for many people – but because you can get tired of reading about how worse life is going to be in 2012 than it was in 2011, so I prefer not to write even more bad news. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that where once the Spanish press were always giving away freebies, there hasn’t been anything accompanying the morning paper for ages. I was wandering through my archive when I found this, written in the heyday of promotional give-aways – was it really only a couple of years ago?

‘One of the pleasures of life in Spain, expat or otherwise, is the morning stroll to the newsagents to pick up a newspaper before a gentle meander to the cafetería for a coffee and croissant. What confused readers of the newspaper La Razon recently was that they didn’t have to get as far as the caff to get their pastry – it was presented to them when the picked up their copy of their favourite daily.

Whereas the British press may occasionally bung readers a free shampoo or scrap of paper scented with the latest ‘must have’ odour from Lanvin, the Spanish periodicals are far more giving in their freebies. Had our La Razon reader changed his allegiance to Levante a couple of weeks ago he’d have got a pack of longanizas, dried sausage, to have for his mid-morning snack. A couple of days later he’d have picked up a tin of aceitunas rellenos, stuffed olives, (no clue as to whether the olives were black or green or had sabor de anchoas or pimento stuffing) to go with them. (Longanizas have a Methusalah sort of shelf-life and the name lends itself to a popular Valenciano saying ‘Hay mas dias que longanizas’ a sort of Spanish sausage version of ‘another day, another dollar’.)

Just so this newly acquired reader wouldn’t forget where the bounty came from, the next gift was an advertising fridge magnet, but God forbid that you should think that Levante is trying to push itself too much to the fore. These pretty little magnetic plaques were reproductions of posters for early 20th-century products. You could be enticed by the 1922 Gran Concorse de Avion, decorative cigarette papers from Alcoi (a town near Valencia and boss fagpaper-maker in age-old times), or Oranjina, the fizzy drink in the funny shaped bottles that seemed ‘Oh so French!” when we went there in the ‘70’s.

We’ll pass over the stick on tattoos offered a few weeks ago, to come right up to date with their latest give-away, a bottle of sun tan lotion – a big bottle of sun tan lotion. Well, they would, wouldn’t they, because summer’s here, but just try convincing your boss that honestly, you’re not intending to knock off early for a couple of hours of bronzey, but you didn’t have time to nip home to drop it off, and besides, it’s only factor ten and what bloody good is that in these days of global warming!

Not to be outdone, Las Provincias, Levante’s biggest local rival, has been doling out its own enticements. If I’d wanted to look even more camp than I usually do I could have had a chi-chi set of earrings a couple of weeks ago, but they were a bit too sparkly for me. I’m not sure I fancied the ‘specially selected coffee set’ they offered for nowt last month, particularly as they have one of the biggest local circulations and I didn’t want to take coffee with a friend and find that I could have brought my own cup and saucer and not have spoiled her table setting. LP’s summer promo last year was a prettily decorated fan, but I’m not much good with a flick of the wrist – much more the macho knotted hanky on the balding bonce. (A totally uninteresting historical note here: the Valencia region produces 100% of the fans made in Spain. You never know, it may come up in a pub quiz sometime.)

I’ve always considered myself a loyal sort of chap but I have to admit that Las Provincias lost my vote recently when Levante offered me a bottle of Rioja if I turned coat. Forgive me, but it’s like buying either the Preston Herald or the Preston Evening Gazette. How different is the news going to be! And if I’m going to kop for a bottle of tinto and a newspaper for €1 call me a traitor if you wish, but don’t throw stones at this particular glass window when you would do the same!

All this largesse might be well and good for thee and me, but there’s always a price to pay. Spain’s got its W H Smith sort of newsagents where you can get every known periodical from Mushroom Growers Monthly (free packet of Death Cap attached) to My Cuddly Little Teddy Bear (usually bought by mothers, with free vomit bag attached for fathers). Mostly though, you buy your newspaper from a tiny shop that is the last free space on a Y-junction that could conceivable be rented off. If you could catch a passing cat your couldn’t swing it but the bosses at the newspapers expect these shops, the dimension of a modest-sized public toilet, to store boxes of bathroom cleaner, cartons of tamarind juice, containers of this, that and the often bloody useless other that they have to give away with a newspaper that, on its own, sits quietly in a pile on the counter top.

My newsagent, Pepe, has his own way of dealing with them. He plonks the boxes down outside his shop and sits on them, taking in the summer rays. Given his girth, love of nosh and whatever ominous gaseous escapes that might provide, and a bad temper if disturbed, very few people have the temerity to interrupt his siesta for the sake of a can stuffed olives. After all, they are only thirty-five centimes in Mercadona just around the corner.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

Kineua and Otudates, two rare Canarian potatoes

January 3, 2012

With influences from Africa, Latin America, and the Spanish peninsular, as well as recipes of the islands’ own creation, the Canary Islands are said to have the most original gastronomy in Spain. Gastronomes might argue the point, but there’s no beating the Canarian ‘tater.

The humble potatoe was first discovered in Latin America by Spanish conquistadors, although no one can say exactly when the first one was brought to Europe or from exactly whence it actually came. Despite claims that Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake introduced it to England, this appears to be the stuff of legend as there is no evidence to back the claim up. Historians believe that the tuba arrived in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and as there are records showing potatoes being sent from Tenerife to Antwerp in 1565, it is generally assumed that the staple diet of most of Europe first arrived via the Canaries.

The sweet potatoe reached England via the Canary Islands and was the common potato during the Elizabethan years. At that time, sweet potatoes were sold in crystallized slices with sea holly (eringo), a thistle style plant with a blue flower that grows on sand dunes throughout Europe, as an aphrodisiac. Shakespeare mentions this sweetmeat in  “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (“Let the sky rain potatoes…hail kissing comforts and snow eringoes”), and the Empress Josephine introduced sweet potatoes to her companions, who were soon serving them to stimulate the passion of their lovers. (Shakespeare also mentioned Malmsey, also known as Sack, an important wine export in the 16th and 17th centuries. Originally produced in Tenerife, the main area of production is now Lanzarote.)

Known locally by the original Indian name of papas, the Canarian potatoes we dine on today are direct descendants of those said to have come from the Andes in the 16th century. Small, wrinkled and knobbly, black, red and yellow, they have their own distinctive flavour. (You may well hear of two local varieties, Kineua  and Otudates – bastardised versions of ‘King Edwards’ and ‘Out of date’ respectively, words said to have been stamped on the sacks when they first came to Spain and mis-read by the non-English speaking locals. This smacks heartily of a local giggle at the dumb tourists expense, given that it was the Spanish that introduced the potatoe to the English.)

The traditional way of cooking papas is with a large amount of sea salt (they were originally cooked in sea water), the quantity being decided on by putting the potatoes in fiercely boiling water and pouring in enough salt until the potatoes float. They are served in a small dish, with a white encrustation of salt on them and known as papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes). Traditionally they are accompanied by mojo picon, a piquant sauce made from garlic, paprika, cumin, breadcrumbs and wine vinegar.

The dish is an accompaniment to almost any meal or it can be eaten on its own, washed down with Canarian wine. Simple and simply delicious, no one should leave the Canary Islands without having tried papas arrugadas con mojo picon.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.