Finely Chopped in the Man’s World magazine and recipes on dude food including the gambas pil pil at the end of this post.
We reached Granada after a picturesque, sleepy and a tad noisy train ride from Seville but then large family groups setting off on a holiday can be noisy whether in Bengal or in Basque.
It was early February, and as the Sevillas has warned us, chilly in Granada which is up in the hills. In Granada too, we had the wonderful Shawn Hennessey of Seville guiding us. She helped us choose our hotel, Room Mate, a chain others had recommended too. A very young and cheerful hotel. Lovely rooms. We upgraded ourselves to a room with a view with 10 euros more per night which was completely worth it as one opened the windows and looked down upon the picture book tale like tiled roofs. Shawn mailed us a list of restaurants in Granada and what to order there. This turned out to be our guiding light to great food in Granada.
Shawn had also told us that Granada is one of the few places in Spain where the ‘free tapas’ (her air quotes) culture still exists. The way it works, as Shawn explains is that you get a free tapas every time you order a drink. The tapas apparently gets better with each drink. Which we never got to experience as we never ordered more than two drinks, usually one at the most including the tinto con lemon which Shawn introduced K to. Shawn also said that the free tapas disappear the moment you order a racione (portion) even if you order more drinks. We saw that happen.
Well, there is something of the free tapas culture that shows in the inherent big heartedness of the folks of Granada too. Sample this collage ..
The kind owner of Gamboa who cancelled our order for a meat platter with no fuss when our dish of gambas arrived and we realised that it was enough to feed an army. There was Rafa, the concierge at the Room Mate, who would patiently and enthusiastically answer my questions on food and even went to a computer to show a pic of pionona, his favourite dessert in Granada, and where to have it, Fernando. The security guard at the Alhambra castle who very kindly waived off the security deposit on the audio guide which I dropped down the ravines while managing my camera. Then there was the owner of El Mentidoro who very kindly gave us the table by the window where he had earlier planned to catch up with his friends over wine. And the cook at La Morago who came back to cook for us on the waiter’s request though he was about to leave for home.
Yes, Granada is a warm city.
So what did we eat there?
First stop, Taberno De Gamboa where we were welcomed with a chorriz & sausage arroz (Spanish rice) with a bewitching bite of whole black pepper. And then the dish that wowed us. Gambas pil pil. Prawns served in frothy, garlic infused olive oil, seasoned with rock salt and white wine. A dish that is warm, invigorating, welcoming and nurturing.
We went to Los Damiantes, not the original hole in the wall in Navas though. We went there on a cold night and chose the comfort of the new one at Plaza Neuvo. Great fried seafood free tapas there and then we ordered grilled prawns which were served on a bed of rock salt with a slice of lime on the side. A dish which ensured that nothing came between you and your love for prawns.
Then there was La Moraga, another fantastic reco from Shawn. A more hip place, lovely to sit in. Hell, their free tapas had smoked salmon & goat cheese! The oxtail burger was as addictive as Shawn promised, succumbed gently to each bite, full of flavour, a dish which I would describe in far more carnal terms had it not been for the sub teens and grand moms who read the blog. There was a pringa (stewed pork) croquette that would compete with the Alhambra when it came to fine art and beauty. We got the chef to come back and make us a mollete with red pesto & Iberico pork served with Parsi salli like potato straws. A dish that was haute and how. A dish whose inherent passion can be matched only by a Flamenco in the caves of Granada. Just about.
Our last dinner was in El Mentidora which had a lovely old pub/ tapas bar feel. So sepia an evening.
Fried potatoes, eggs, jamon. A sure shot success. As Spielberg recently said, its all about the story and the plot. The sweetbreads with artichoke was a bit too mushy for our tastes though.
Sightseeing? We took a bus to the Alhambra and got tickets pretty easily as it was off season. The palace was beautiful. An exquisite example of Islamic art that seemed so surreal in the middle of Europe. A history lesson learnt through stone and mosaic. The rather diligent monologues of the audio guide did detract from the experience a bit. Perhaps you are better off without it just taking in the beauty. Or they should make the descriptors more terse.
The person who made Granada come alive for us was the Serbian Zane of Free Walking Tours. they work on the basis of tips. She took us into the old Jewish quarters and then up the slopes passed the gypsy quarters. As walked and worked up an appetite in the fresh mountain air we got to see sights of the beautiful town…a craftsman making handmade guitars, a professorial retreat where you can see the Alhambra in all its glory, two chubby little kids with huge smiles in a cave that double up as a grocery store, an authentic Moroccan restaurant high up in the hills…vignettes of the picturesque town with loads of character that would have stayed hidden to us but for Zane. Unfortunately images all lost with my camera, now etched in my memory forever.
This is the link to Shawn’s notes on Granada
PS: There is more to the gambas pil pil story. While in Spain I did a story on ‘dude food’ or easy to cook dishes with Man’s World or MW magazine here. Fantastic folks to work with and very patient. Once we came back. I cooked and they shot the food. Gambas pil pil was right up there and they even very kindly Finely Chopped amongst their favourite Indian food blog!!!!!! Thank you guys
Do scroll down if you would like to know more and grab the issue of Man’s World for loads of great food stuff.