The food and wine of Extremadura, Spain

Spain, Extremadura, Spain, extremaduraOne of the best things about traveling around Spain is trying out the various regional cuisines. Here in Extremadura, in the southwestern part of the country, the people are known for the quality of their cuisine.

First off, there are these shapely pig legs pictured on the right. Cured and ready to be cut into thin slices, this is called jamón, and is a personal favorite of mine. In a country where people are always saying their regional food is the best, a lot of people seek out Extremaduran jamón. The care and feeding of the pigs is the key.

Spaniards love their pork. While their beef steaks are only OK and their chicken dishes good but unremarkable, they seem to have devised unlimited varieties of pork products. There’s lomo (tenderloin), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (sausage with dried smoked red peppers), salchichon (Spanish salami) and a million kinds of embutido (seasoned sausage). I’m very glad I’m not vegetarian.

One surprise when visiting Extremadura was to discover my favorite cheese comes from there and only there. Torta del Casar is a soft white cheese made of sheep’s milk. It comes in a soft cake that is sliced open to reveal the gooey cheese inside. It has a creamy consistency and rich flavor, perfect to put on crackers. Extremadura produces a whole range of good cheeses, but torta del Casar is the most unique.

The region is also well-known for the quality of its paprika, called pimentón in Spanish. Not surprisingly it makes it into a lot of dishes, including cazuela, a paprika butter that’s very good on bread. Like every other region, Extremadura also has its own brands of olive oil, preserves, and sweets.

And let’s not forget the wine! One good line is Habla del Silencio, a full-bodied, slightly biting red of consistent quality. Another is Theodosius, a Tempranillo/Graciano mix named after the famous Byzantine emperor.

Every town in Extremadura has at least one shop selling local food and wine. If you’re in Mérida, check out Serraquesada on Calle José Ramón Mélida 24, close to the Roman museum, where most of the photos in the gallery were taken. This family-owned business focuses on Extremaduran products and stocks pretty much anything you could ask for. The front has rows and rows of jamón, and shelves stuffed with other food and condiments. In the back is a well-stocked bodega with a few tables so you can sit and sample Extremadura’s wonderful food and wine. Their website is still under construction but the business offers international mail order via email at ppserraquesada@gmail.com.

Many of Extremadura’s better-known products such as jamón and torta del Casar can be found in better shops all around the country.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: Top five castles of Extremadura!

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An open love letter to Ä°skender kebab

Dear İskender kebab,

I know we only recently met, but, well, I love you. Whoa, whoa, don’t freak out. I’m sure you get this a lot. I mean, you’re pretty lovable. Turkish Delight might be more famous (and have better PR people), but you’re my own personal Turkish treasure. Don’t get freaked out. I just really enjoyed our time together and wanted to let you know why I think you’re the best-tasting, least-known Turkish food out there.Sure, almost everyone knows your cousin, the simple döner kebab. But, you were the first kebab made of vertical meat. That makes you special. An innovator. But, much like Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow in hip hop, you don’t get the credit you deserve amongst the mainstream.

Made of shaved lamb basted and covered in a tomato broth, you’re served over pide bread with a heaping helping of yogurt. That alone would merit this declaration of my love. However, you add one more sensual ingredient that lubes things up perfectly: a luxurious amount of hot, melted butter is poured over your meat and bread immediately after you have been placed on the table. At that moment, as you glisten and sizzle, you look more desirable than anyone else in the room. That was when I fell in love with you…at first sight.

You originated in Bursa, the fourth-largest city in Turkey. That makes Bursa the Houston of Turkey. Houston is a town known for meat and you certainly do not lack for meat, İskender kebab. Bursa has some interesting sister cities (Houston is not one of them). Tiffin, Ohio, USA. Oulu, Finland. Two towns in Bulgaria! I haven’t been to any of your “twin towns,” but I don’t see my own sister that often, either, so don’t worry.

Bursa was a key center in the ancient silk trade because of its location on the Silk Road. To this day, it is Turkey’s silk capital and perhaps the best place in the country to buy both raw and handmade silk items. It’s fitting, then, that you, İskender kebab, with your silky smooth buttery coating, were created in the city the known for silk.

Bursa’s futbol team, Bursaspor, won the Süper Lig in 2010. How exciting! They were the first team not based in Istanbul to win the Süper Lig championship since 1984. Istanbul, of course, is Turkey’s tourist hub, but is not the only place worth visiting in Turkey. Heck, it’s not even the capital! Bursa’s champions are called the Green Crocodiles, but İskender kebab most certainly should be made with lamb.

Your name comes from İskender Efendi, who created you. How I wish I could have asked for his approval before I professed my love to you. Alas, he lived in Bursa in the late 19th Century and must be presumed dead.

Baklava is sweeter. Köfte is healthier. Döner kebab is more widely available. But, dear, succulent İskender kebab, you are unique. You are an innovator. You are my own personal Turkish delight.

Love always,
Mike Barish

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.

100 year old butter discovered in Antarctica

Last month we reported that 100-year old whiskey was discovered buried beneath a shack, belong to Ernest Shackleton, in Antarctica, and now it seems that there might be all kinds of food sitting around on the icy continent. The New Zealand Antarctic Trust says that is has found two blocks of butter in a completely different shack that was used by a completely different South Pole explorer.

The frozen butter, believed to be the oldest in the world, was discovered on Cape Evans in a stable attached to a cabin that was once used by Robert Falcon Scott. Both buildings were mostly buried beneath a century of snow and ice until a restoration team, sponsored by the Trust, recently arrived on the scene and went to work. The team was tasked with preserving the historical site and looking for artifacts whose origins could be traced back to New Zealand. Little did they know that they’d find kiwi butter left behind by the famous British explorer on his fateful 1910-12 expedition.

Examining the labels on the butter, historians found the letters “CCCDC”, which they believe stands for “Canterbury Central Co-operative Dairy Company”. The dairy was located in Christchurch and founded sometime in the 1890’s. In that era, many Antarctic expeditions set out from New Zealand, and it was common for them to resupply with local goods before departing.

After carefully examining the two bricks, they have now been placed back where the were found inside the stable. The butter has been frozen solid for nearly a century, and the restoration team fears that if it were brought to warmer temperatures, it would soon spoil. The bricks will stay in place for another 100 years, or longer, as a reminder of an age of exploration that has long passed.

China covers suicide bridge in “butter,” safety margarinally improved

Does anyone know when April Fool’s Day is celebrated in China? Because if this article isn’t a result of some media hoax, then I’ve got a lot of unanswered questions…

According to China Daily & the UK’s Metro Newspaper, Government officials in Guangzhou have ordered a 1,000ft long steel bridge to be covered in greasy fat, to prevent people from climbing on the structure. The bridge has a history of attracting jumpers that often attempt to gain media coverage or draw attention to personal problems.

Government spokesman Shiu Liang said that they’ve tried employing guards at both ends of the bridge, and went as far as installing special fences with notices asking people not to commit suicide. And every new attempt, successful or not, means several hours of backed up traffic and a wave of complaints from local residents.

The butter however, has seen positive results. Bridge guard Wong Man stated, “Since we put up the butter there have been no problems with these attention seekers.”

No word yet on if Nintendo intends to sue for breach of intellectual property.

So, travelers, bridge climbers, and citizens of China – please be careful out there. And if anyone knows if this is actually true, please drop us a line.
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