Springtime visitors | Montpellier, France

petra&ninaIt was great to get a visit from one of my favorite twins, Nina, and my new friend, Petra, who during their trip to Barcelona popped over to Montpellier for a few days. Their visit coincided with the first truly warm days of spring and – although much of our time was devoted to food – eating it in restaurants, shopping for it in stores, preparing it at home and thinking about it constantly, we managed to enjoy the weather and sneak in a few nice walks around the city (naturally, with plenty of breaks for tea/coffee/cake).

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Where John, Paul, Ringo and George walked (and ate and drank) | Arachova, Greece

My cool and funny friend Madlen recently sent me this photo and I am excited to add it to The ground beneath their feet series of guest posts by friends.

The photo was taken in Arachova – a small mountain town on the north slopes of Mount Parnassos in the southern part of Greece, where Madlen went for what – she says, was the best double-birthday celebration in her life so far (Happy belated birthday, Madlen!!!).

There are a few interesting facts about the place: it is close to Delphi, the beaches of Antikira and the Parnassus ski resorts; its name comes from the Slavic word for walnut – oreh, and although there are many walnut trees in the area, Arachova is known for the production of olives, formaella – a traditional cheese that is sold only there and the grappa-like liquor tsipouro.

But all of these details pale in comparison to the fact that, in 1967, the Beatles visited Arahova – an event that its residents won’t let any visitor forget, judging – as Madlen pointed out, by the photos of the visit that still hang conspicuously in every little shop in the town. Apparently, Ringo was a fan of tsipouro, while Paul really enjoyed the formaella cheese. (As, by the way, did Madlen.)

Morish pintxos | Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

I love good food, and all different kinds of it. I can’t resist France’s fatty foie gras, the umami that is Japanese miso soup, the freshness of a Bulgarian shopska salad, the light deliciousness of a Greek octopus, or even the heaviness of a good medium-cooked American hamburger and home-made fries.

But my absolute favorite food of all are the bite-sized pieces of deliciousness that are the Basque pintxos. Basically little snacks, pintxos consist of a head-dizzying array of mouth-watering delicacies flavored to perfection – anything from tuna/bonito, anchovies, shrimps, crabs, jamon, beef, mushrooms, stuffed or roasted peppers, eggs, tortillas or croquettes, usually in a combination, served on top of a little slice of bread and pierced through by a toothpick. (This method also gives them their name – from the Spanish pincho, meaning ‘spike’. The toothpicks are used not just to hold them together but also – as the serving system usually involves taking whatever you want from the bar counter, where they are beckoningly arranged, and paying later, as a way to show and pay for the number of pintxos eaten.)

The first time I was exposed to the glory of pintxos was about eight years ago in a Basque pintxos bar in Madrid, where I was shocked not just by the deliciousness of the snacks, but also by the fact that the bar’s floor was barely visible from the countless napkins strewn across it. (My efforts to daintily leave my napkin on the bar were countered by the unfaltering wait staff who swiftly brushed them off the counter top and onto the floor. I suppose, just as a crowded restaurant in many places is seen as a sign for the quality of its food, the napkins on the floor signaled a numerous and happy clientele. ) The toothpicks were presented to the cashier in the end and not one could be seen among the napkins, as getting rid of them was a grave offense punishable by a fine.

Since then, I used every chance I got – during subsequent trips to Barcelona and Madrid, to stuff my face senseless with the little morsels of heaven.

So, you can imagine my rapture when I ended up in Bilbao and pintxos were available at literally every street and every corner. During the two days I was there, not one opportunity to put some in my mouth was wasted – whether it be a few with my morning coffee, several to pass the time after ducking inside a bar to hide from the rain or the head-spinning dozen devoured after a long day spent at the Guggenheim (I’m all for feeding my soul and spirit, but my body just couldn’t resist.)

The last place is where the above picture was taken and, if you look closely, you’ll see some discarded toothpicks lying alongside the napkins on the floor. When I voiced my concern about how they would be able to charge us in the end, the man on the other side of the bar calmly assured us that we would just simply tell him how much we’ve had. And yes, I was tempted to lie, not because I wanted to pay less, but because I was slightly embarrassed by the whooping number twelve that I polished off, compared to the modest four or five everyone else seemed to be paying for.

Point is, once you start eating pintxos, it is very difficult to stop – they are the epitome of the word morish, used in reference to addictive food that makes you want to continue to eat more and more of it, which I learned, not incidentally, while stuffing my face with pintxos in Barcelona (thanks, Slave, for the vocab lessons!).

But in addition to not being able to stop once I start eating them, I am also pretty sure that – if I had to chose a single type of food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be pintxos. I could really have them every single day, numerous times a day.

But, in a way, it might be a good thing that I don’t have constant access to pintxos. Among other gastric challenges it would present, I believe that eating them everyday would surely lead to the demise of this blog, as my protruding belly would quickly make it impossible for me to see my own feet. I’ll just keep telling myself that, anyway. It’s the silver lining, people, the silver lining!

CBB*: A geographical (and culinary) shift

Remember the two-way, three-person Cross Balkan Blogging Project we were doing with my favorite twins in Slovenia? Well, it is still going on, but this time there is a slight shift in geographical positions…

Here is my latest guest post on fine2meline (warning: it features delicious food, likely to make you drool), which – technically – comes not from across the Balkans, but rather from across another mountain range from where they are. So, maybe a better name for this one would be Cross Alpine Blogging Project?

Either way, enjoy! If you like this one, you might also like to see a similar food-related guest post I did for them from India.

* More about the Cross Balkan Blogging project and all posts from it.

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria

My two favorite twins fine2meline finally made it to Sofia for a week-long visit of fun fun fun. Thinking back on it, it seems that much of our activities were centered around eating. When we weren’t actually eating, we were either talking about it, planning our upcoming feasts, commenting on past meals, making restaurant reservations, shopping for groceries, cooking (in which case, by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’), setting the table, clearing the dishes or trying to digest the copious amounts of ingested food.

So, as you can imagine, we didn’t have much time for pictures.* It is, in fact, a small wonder that we were able to do anything else at all. Even when we did, eating managed to make its way into whatever else we were doing. Take a stroll around Sofia? Only after we fortify ourselves with some delicious soup and then take a few beer breaks along the way. Have a look at the Women’s market? Why not use the chance to stop by for some mekitsi (fried dough) and a meal at a Turkish restaurant (where we were the only female customers)? Go to the Rila Monastery? Sure, and we might as well have some delicious sourdough bread (and mekitsi again!) in between all the sightseeing, the hiking, the writing of prayers (on small peaces of paper, which then get folded and places between rocks) and the making our way through cave holes (made precarious by our growing girths). Hang out with friends? Would love to, provided it all happens over a dinner table. Join the evening crowds at the Night of the Museums and Galleries? But of course, assuming they let us into the museums with two loafs of said sourdough bread in our bags. Go out on the town? Not without a heavy dinner to start with and a classic sobering-up visit to Divaka in the middle of the night. Staying in? Sounds good, considering we could have some of my grandmother’s sarmi or cook dinner ourselves.

I was a little heart-broken after Tina and Nina went back to Slovenia. Thankfully, there was the homemade cheesecake they left behind, which kept my spirits up for a few days (Thank you! Hvala! Merci! – and not just for the cheesecake. “Still hungry!”).

*Incidentally (or not), both of the pictures in this post were taken immediately after eating – the first one is on Shishman Street, just a few steps away from our favorite souperie Supa Star, and the second is the entryway of the Street Bistro on Tsar Asen Street, which boasts some of the tastiest meatballs and the most outrageously entertaining waiter in the city. Protruding bellies were diligently cropped out.