I’ve seen a lot of enchanting things here: undulating hills exhaling thick mist, extravagant moorish-influenced architecture, fields and fields of olive trees like Illinois has corn. I’ve seen flamenco dancers, amazing guitar players, the same 4 cocktails on special in countless bars in four cities (mojito, gintonic, cosmo, sex on the beach) and quite possibly the highest concentration of bad boob jobs ever. But Spain has also opened my eyes to things I never had an inkling existed:
Pez-like Sweetener Tabs
Perhaps my greatest discovery here. I found these in El Corte Ingles, a department store that also has a little mercado on the lower level. They’re tiny tablets of stevia! The bottom is open, and when you press the side button in, it drops a little tablet into whatever you need. Oatmeal, coffee, tea…the possibilities are endless. Now I can stop carrying around packets with me. I’m genuinely ecstatic this exists.
I first saw this in la Boqueria in Barcelona, where the vendors were selling kiwi and other cut fruit to eat. But then I saw a pack of six kiwis with this little guy tucked inside. It looks like a toddler utensil and has a “serrated” end to cut the kiwi in half with. Naturally, I bought the six kiwis just for the spoon they came with. The adult version of a cereal prize. Sure, I like kiwis just fine. Enough to warrant owning a spoon for the sole purpose of eating them? Probably not, but now I do. Edit: Along with kiwis, it also cuts plastic and tomatoes.
The first time I saw this, I totally cracked up: it’s really popular to attach a little umbrella to a baby stroller to shield them from the sun. It’s very smart; the sun is so hot here and babies have their delicate little new-person skin. Oh, tiny versions of big things…
Once upon a time, they didn’t need to refrigerate milk. It came in a box and sat on the shelf, much like rice or soy milk you buy in the States. It’s called UHT milk, or ultra high temperature processed milk, and it’s the only kind of milk you can buy in Spain. Apparently, its quite the rage all over Europe, too. It’s when a flash of super high heat kills off all the bacteria and spores in the milk, so it doesn’t have to be kept cold until you open it. I’m a little wary of milk in general, and this just has me raising a brow skeptically. It doesn’t have any chemicals or preservatives, according to the box, but yeah…I’ll pass.
Chocolate “La Pedra”
I first discovered this at Brunell’s. I was picking up a couple bars of chocolate to send home, and came across a smaller bar than the others, wrapped in white paper instead of brown, with the words “La Pedra” scrawled on the front. I asked the graying man at the counter what its significance was, and nodded smilingly as I half-understood his response. I opened it about a week ago with a bottle of 2 euro wine (yes: decent wine for 2 euros) and was puzzled by the chocolate’s deliciousness; rich, creamy, very sweet but very dark–was was this ambrosial substance? A quick Google let me know that La Pedra is cooking chocolate, higher sugar content, higher cacao content. It’s most commonly melted down with milk or water to make Spanish hot chocolate, the pudding-like nectar they serve with churros (this is happening in Madrid, btw). It’s kind of like eating Abuelita, except your whole body trembles with joy.
So yeah, I didn’t cook with it. I just ate it. It was great with coffee.
Hey, speaking of coffee…
Ok, so I’ve seen one of these things before. People are so generous with coffee here; they drink it in the morning to wake up, then around 7 after siesta in order to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning on a daily basis. So coffee has been made for me quite frequently, usually from this contraption:
I was invited by my wonderful host, who also happened to be named Raquel, to help myself to making coffee whenever I felt like it. One early morning, barefoot and in my pajamas, I stood in front of her stove, frowning at this strange pot. Like I said, I had only ever been served from this thing and had no idea how to actually use it, and I needed coffee. After opening the lid a few times, shaking it a little, and sniffing around a bit, I once again Googled (“coffee maker europe”).
A moka pot originates from Italy, but is used all throughout Europe and in Latin America too. It consists of three parts, a bottom chamber where you put the water, a little funnel basket for coffee grounds, and then the top part where the coffee appears. When the water boils, it’s forced through the coffee grounds and then condenses in the top chamber. It’s actually quite brilliant and makes tasty coffee. I think I’ll get one in Chicago.
That’s it, so far. There may be a second installation, especially since Turkey is a land full of things unbeknownst to me.