It’s been a while. How are you? Three weeks in Spain and back for one. All the necessary post – holiday processes like unpacking, laundry, ironing, food shopping et al, are done, and designed to bring you back with a thud. Yet, it’s incredible how easily we all have slipped into the old ways – the crazy driving, swearing at the heat and taking our preferred positions across the sofa. I am precious glad to have air conditioning back, along with my uber comfy bed and massive, fluffy pillows. Yet, I still feel I am on holiday mode, distinctly lacking mojo, thinking of the food I already miss and the natural colours bursting everywhere.
We were based north of Alicante on the Costa Blanca, perched on top of a hill between the towns of Javea and Moreira. Javea is a working Spanish town and boasts a walled town surrounding a thick, sturdy, imposing church. This was my favourite place to wander in. The tight alleyways, and low buildings made of big bricks of rough stone, was cool and shaded and you didn’t have too walk far to get a cooling drink. The buildings are well inhabited and looking in sneakily through open doors, the flats are small and dark, decorated with bright blue designs on white tiles. I suspect folk kept their shutters closed during the day, to keep the rooms cool. There were clusters of men and women, sat around a corner on plastic chairs, smoking cigarettes, sipping water and having a natter. They had the habit of going silent as you came by and watched you pass before resuming their chatter, as if they were worried you’d steal their thoughts.
If you glanced overhead, the narrow balconies had the same decorative tiling under the balcony so passer bys have something pretty to look up at. A lack of garden space meant that every balcony was teeming with colourful pots of trailing plants and bright blooms. Ground floor windows had ornate, curved iron railings across them, and doors were furnished with handsome, polished door knockers. Winding alleyways led unexpectedly to open squares where the Madonna, looking down at you from painted wall tiles, could watch people pass the time of day while sipping milky coffees or bitter curtados depending on the time. Wherever a small tree could be planted, it was done and the whole atmosphere felt easy, simple and utterly charming.
The Church itself was a big, solid structure, with a more imposing that welcome feel, unused canons laid at the bottom of the stairs. The carved stone work was weathered, blunt around the edges, betraying it’s years. I couldn’t have a wander inside as a service was going on. I liked the fact that this strong structure hadn’t stood the test of time in vain and that it was a source of comfort still, to those who seek it.
At night, this place comes to life. The Spaniards are very late diners and as we were leaving you would see the flock of people wandering in, dressed smartly, with a careless fashionable air and several generations mixed in one group. Restaurants hang strings of lights across the alley and the whole feel is moody, romantic and pretty. Food wise, you can take your pick of several, excellent tapa places, stylish, contemporary food or easy and simple rustic platefuls. Not an egg, ham and chip place in sight.
From left. Chopitos– tiny squid or octopus battered and deep fried, Mushrooms sauteed in olive oil, garlic and parsley, Bouquerones – Pickled anchovies, Albondigas – delicious meatballs in a sweet-savoury sauce, Garlic Prawns with tiny dried chillies and finally Clams, cooked with wine and garlic, finished off with parsley.
Moreira was different. Developed predominantly along the coastline, it is a town that’s geared for the tourists. However, the wise local council forbid any structure above three stories, thereby maintaining a lovely, simple, unspoilt feel to the place. There is more shopping to be had here, good, quality things mixed the usual holiday tack. You could stumble from one eatery to another but our favourite was a place called Terra Vina, which sat back from the main street. It was quieter, nicely decorated with plenty of overhead shade from brolleys and handsome trees. The tapas was different from the traditional offerings but excellent. On a date night, (my in-laws had the kids, hoorah!) The Scotsman and I headed down there, drank gorgeous Rosados and picked and ate in comfort and total ease for around three hours. Dates wrapped with bacon and stuffed with foie gras, roasted quails eggs, goats cheese battered and served cold with honey and balsamic vinegars, spicy chorizos baked with broad beans, boquerones (pickled anchovies) with chives and olives all served with bread and vampire warding garlic allioli are just some of the things chosen off their menu. I will so, go back.
Another cracker is Ca Pepe, a hidden gem. Word travelled on the excellence of this restaurant and we were booked to celebrate my in-laws anniversary. The chef-owner Alan Jenkins, worked at The Ivy and decided to bring his talent to this corner of Spain. To say the food is excellent, seems a poor, pale compliment. I cannot restrain his repertoire into a strict cuisine. He uses the local Spanish ingredients such as Morcilla (a blood sausage, made with pine nuts, sherry and spices – just delicious), chorizo and the abundant seafood available, mixing them up with spices like coriander and cumin, alongside reworked British classics like cauliflower cheese. My piece of fish, was thick, incredibly fresh and cooked to utter perfection. The salsa he served with it was sweet, tangy and perfumed with the floral, citrussy flavour of coriander seed. I was mucho impressed! I could go on and on, but if you ever find yourself in this corner of Spain, eating here will make your holiday, as it did mine.
All the Spanish towns have a weekly market. Oh the words excite me. You have the usual stalls selling paella pans, crockery, cheap swimsuits and demonic looking dollies. However, the main reason the locals go here is for the fresh produce. You cannot know what it felt like to see fresh, good quality produce laid out in front of you. For that, you would have to witness the withered, drooping offerings lining the crates of Doha’s supermarkets. I don’t need words for this, the pictures tell you the story. Donut peaches, cherries, pineapples, grapes, all shapes of tomatoes, prune plums, huge reams of garlic, dried meats, dried fruits, candied fruits, spices, honey………oh and a churros truck (no photo as I was too busy stuffing the churros and chocolate sauce!)
Finally, there remains little else to say. We’ve been to this area three years in a row and never come back disappointed. Knowing the area well makes things easier for us with the kids. With such foodie delights around to tempt, please and satisfy and long, sprawling shallow beaches, the decision to return is never reconsidered.
If you have made it to the end of this post, well done! It’s huge! I’m glad to be back though and getting myself, slowly, into the kitchen. A big thank you, to Jo and Thanh for their gorgeous posts while I was away.
Adios, for now.