It is noon here in Vitoria, Spain, and I am in the hotel room by the window listening to the church bells…beautiful.
Since yesterday, after leaving Jose near the doorstep of the Hotel Centro Vitoria, where I walked through a passage way to the door, I have been resting. I have found with the arthritis pain in my legs, one day of rest will almost make them new again. Almost.
After I checked into the hotel, I did venture over to the El Corte Ingles Department store and purchased some food for a few days of stay here and a CD for my musician son, Ronnie.
It’s a large store where you can find nearly anything you need, and it’s always fun to try out my bad Spanish and watch the people wondering what the heck I’m saying. It’s really nice when someone actually responds back to me in Spanish and we hold a ‘mini’ conversation.
So today, before heading out again, I’m going to write a bit of this, and a bit of that so you can get a flavor of what I’m experiencing.
FOOD – generally very healthy – and I’ve seen few fat people.
I took this recipe right from a website to make certain I have it correct. I had this dish yesterday, today and many days prior. It’s very good and it’s versatile. *Don’t put onions in this, my friend who cannot eat onions.
The Spanish tortilla (Tortilla de patatas in Spanish) is the most common (probably the only one) gastronomic specialty you can find all over Spain. There are hundreds of variations even in one specific region but the most common is the one made with eggs, potatoes and onion. There is not a standard tortilla.
Most usual ingredients
- Eggs (1 to 1½ per person)
- Potatoes (100 to 200 grams per person).
- Onions (variable).
- Olive oil (enough to cover the potatoes when frying)
- Salt (variable).
The potatoes, ideally starchy rather than waxy ones, are cut into thin slices or in small dices. They are then fried in olive oil together with the sliced onions at a moderate temperature until they are soft, but not brown. Browning is often avoided by an excess of olive oil, which can later be strained and reused. The potatoes and onions are then removed, drained, and mixed with raw beaten and salted eggs. This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly fried. The tortilla is fried first on one side and then flipped over to fry on its other side. Flipping is accomplished with the help of a plate or a “vuelve tortillas” (a ceramic or wooden lid-like utensil made for this particular purpose). The plate or “vuelve tortillas” is placed on top of the pan and then, with one hand on top of the plate and the other holding the pan, both are inverted, leaving the tortilla upside-down on the plate. The tortilla is then slid carefully back into the pan. Other ingredients, like green or red peppers, chorizo, tuna, shrimps or different vegetables, can be added. *It can also be made without onions.
The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold; it is commonly served as a snack (tapa) or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into pie-style portions (pincho de tortilla). Hope you make this!!!
The wifi wasn’t working well in the hotel room, so I’m sitting in a restaurant where I ordered a big chunk of tuna with a slice of egg on top and with onions, and peppers. A long pepper, which I have never seen joins the snack, which has been generously splashed with olive oil. No one uses butter here, as far as I have seen. Olive reigns in this region.
Actually, it’s only 1 p.m. and a little early for lunch, so what I am consuming is more of a Pintxo, the Basque name for snack. It WILL be my lunch.
Bread – not an everyday need, but when used it is crunchy on the outside and softer inside – the way bread should be. And you can find small loaves. You don’t have to purchase a long loaf. Butter is never used with bread. If you must have something on it, use olive oil the way the Basques’ do.
Breakfast around 9 a.m., is usually tea (coffee for me), fruit and perhaps bread with something on it generously splashed with olive oil. Lunch is around 2 or 3 p.m. and is usually a big lunch with wine. Stores then close for a couple of hours, except for the cafes, restaurants and bars (some of the restaurants close as well). Dinner is anywhere from 9 p.m. (early) to 10:30 or 11 p.m. at night. Then you go to sleep with a tummy full.
RESTAURANTS – you can stay as long as you want – and it is not unusual to spend hours – but you must ask for the check. A small tip is appreciated, but is optional. You are not expected to tip the 15 – 20% as it is in America.
The restaurants I have seen in the Basque area are old with wood, marble, wrought iron and mirrors throughout the bar/restaurant. Tile or wood floors are prominent – so far I haven’t seen a carpet in a restaurant. They are kept clean, except for the patrons who leave their napkins on the floor next to the bar. I don’t understand this at all.
TRANSPORTATION – there are buses, trains and many automobiles. I have yet to see a taxi in Vitoria. I’ve been told you must call one to get picked up. I’ve tried to get a bus ticket several times now online, but the information comes back that my bank will not honor it. This is false as I’ve called both my credit union and my credit card company, and they say everything is fine, so I don’t understand the problem. So far, however, I’ve been able to get a bus at the station, just not the seat I may desire.
My impressions of the Basque people are that they are easy going, but excited when they talk, with liberal use of hands and arms. “The Spanish people cry,” said Jose about his own people. He laughed once when we saw a table full of animated, laughing and crying people. They are very noisy when they gather together, and seem not to notice it.
The dress is fashionable. The ladies dress nice at work, and the “ladies who do lunch” are dressed in nice skirts, blouses and scarves. Men are in slacks and nice cotton shirts. Men at work are usually dressed in dark suits with ties and white or pastel colored shirts. There is also a casual attire that I’d call, “casual chic” with use of jeans, boots, and scarves. I’ve seen so many scarves, both on people and on rack after rack in the stores. I don’t own one.
When I passed on the way to the restaurant, there was an older man playing a soulful electric cello in the street. It was so beautiful it brought tears. (Where the heck do they come from when I hear certain music????).
American music is favored. I’ve heard country western, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Lady what’s her name, and others. The old man was playing, “My Way”. Hmmm, I wondered if he expected that in his old age, he’d take his cello to the streets?
If you have any cultural questions, send them my way and I’ll do my best. I will be in Vitoria until Monday.
Juan Carlos is the King of Spain. Duchess of Alba makes the news often. She is 86 years old and has a husband, 61-year-old handsome toy-boy, Alfonso Diez. She is beloved and respected by the citizens of Spain for her generosity, but she is also humored for the many plastic surgery’s that has left her with a pasty-flushy face – not attractive. She has been seen frolicking in the sea with her lover while wearing a bikini. Well, good for her! She’s doing her life, ‘her way.’