The week we drank

Just to be clear, we actually drink every week. Water, obviously, plenty of fresh orange juice, and the occasional beer or bottle of cava. But this week I finally achieved Catalan Drink Bingo, and I had to tell someone!

There are many popular tipples to taste while watching the world go by here in Catalonia. Some you may have heard of, others perhaps not. But to achieve bingo, you gotta taste them all. Get your pencils out, it’s time to play…


1. Cerveza

Although we are discovering more and more local craft beers (like Tortosa’s own Lo Gambusi), cerveza on tap is pretty much limited to Damm Estrella, Cuzcampo, or if you’re lucky, Barcelona’s own Moritz. Oh, or you can have Damm Lemon, which is 60% beer, 40% lemon. Beer is everywhere here – it’s probably harder NOT to have one!

Una cervaza waits patiently for lunch in the sun
  • Average price for a canya (pot): €1.50.
  • Appropriate time to drink: all the time.

2. Vino

Spain is famous for its delicious wine, and Tortosa is very close to Terra Alta, a not-so well known wine growing region that produces some lovely shiraz blends. There is also a lot of Rioja from the northwest of Spain which is famous for its delicious tempranillo. If the wine is not so delicious, just cut it with some gaseosa (lemonade) and you have yourself a refreshing glass of tinto de verano, or summer red wine.

Vino tinto
A glass of Terra Alta vino tinto with lunch
  • Average price for a copa (glass): €2.50 (often free with lunch).
  • Appropriate time to drink: all the time. We’ve seen abuelas drinking red with breakfast.

3. Cava

Ahh cava. The bubbles that don’t need a reason to celebrate. Cava (xampany in Catalan) is Spanish champagne, produced mainly in Catalonia to the west of Barcelona. It is fantastically cheap to buy, and H is yet to find a bottle he doesn’t like.

Two glasses of delicious cava at our bar downstairs, Rosa del Vins
  • Average price for a copa: €2.50, but often you need to buy the whole bottle for €6–20.
  • Appropriate time to drink: all the time, according to those same abuelas.

4. Sangria

I always thought sangria was a bit of a tourist drink, and maybe it is, but now that summer is here you can get your sang’ on at most bars, particularly those with a terrace in the sun. You can have typical red wine sangria, made with vino tinto, some lemonade, a liqueur (often brandy), and some fruit, or a cava sangria which is similar but white and fizzy. We’ve been told that the fruits and liquids must be combined up to 24 hours before consumption for the drink to legitimately be called sangria, but are yet to test this extensively. Research continues, the things we do for science!

Sangria in the sunshine at the seaside. Spectacular!
  • Average price for a jarra: €8–€20, depending on your vista.
  • Appropriate time to drink: when the sun is shining.

5. Vermut

In this part of the world, ‘let’s go and take a vermut’ is similar to ‘let’s go grab a drink’. It’s pretty much a verb. Before lunch or dinner, and on weekends, people head to beach bars (or chiringuitos) or any kind of bar for an aperitif. Vermouth (vermut) is having a revival at the moment, and many bars and pubs make their own version of this sweetened and herb-infused wine treat. It is served on ice, with gaseosa on request, and garnished with a slice of orange and one or two anchovy-filled olives. I’m not even kidding a little bit about the anchovies.

A vermouth with chips in Barcelona. It tasted better than it looks, promise
  • Average price for a vaso: €3.00.
  • Appropriate time to drink: pre-lunch or dinner, Sunday morning.

6. GinTonic

Now things start to get serious. Although you can also buy all your other mixed drinks here, the gin and tonic reigns supreme as lord of the beverages. Multi-paged gin menus are standard, with garnishes ranging from standard lemon to lemon rind, strawberries, cherries, rosemary, juniper berries and pepper. And that’s just the gin half. You also need to pick your tonic, one that matches the fruity, floral or crisp nature of the gin. Served in a huge glass and prepared lovingly by even the most hardened barman, Spanish gin and tonics are in a world of their own.

A saffron-infused gin with tonic if you don’t mind!
  • Average price for a copa: €5–10, depending on your gin and your tonic.
  • Appropriate time to drink: At the start of the night, at the end of the night.

7. Café

So you’ve gone out, worked your way through the first six drinks on the list, and now it’s morning. You need a coffee. But which one? This excellent infographic shows you just how many different coffee variations are available in cafes and restaurants across Spain. Taking a coffee is an important part of the Spanish daily ritual, so it’s easy to drink yourself through the list, from a café solo (an expresso) to a bombón (a shot of coffee with the same amount of condensed milk). I have a cortado descafeinado de sobre (a sachet of decaf in a small cup of hot milk), pretty much a decaf magic!

A cortado with cake
  • Average price for a café: €1.50.
  • Appropriate time to drink: at the start of the day, morning tea time, afternoon tea time, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner.

8. Horchata

Not just the name of Vampire Weekend’s first single from their second album Contra, horchata is actually a sweet milky drink made from tiger nuts (or chufas), originally from Valencia, and reserved for the summer months. The first time I drank it, I thought it tasted a bit like Clag, but now that it is warm and sunny, it tastes more like sweetened soy milk. It is traditionally served from horchaterias with fartons (hehe), long fingers of pastry covered in icing sugar.

H hoes into a horchata in Barcelona
  • Average price for a vaso: €3.
  • Appropriate time to drink: after school or on the weekend, when it’s warm.

9. Leche Merengada

And finally, the last square on my bingo card, leche merengada. A colleague told me about this drink last month, when the ic-ecream shops in town reopened after their winter break. Leche merengada is a kind of milkshake mixed with sugar, egg, a bit of lemon zest and some cinnamon. H thought it tasted like citronella candles when we drank one on the weekend, but I loved it. Not bad as an ice-cream flavour either!

A tasty leche merengada, complete with cinnamon on top
  • Average price for a vaso: €3.
  • Appropriate time to drink: after school, on sunny afternoons.

Best of luck with your own round of Catalan Drink Bingo. Please tell me what drinks need to be added for season two!

The week of the jamón

Finally, after two months of filler, of pretending this blog is about science or experiencing a new culture or some such, I can finally write the blog post that this website was born to host. The real reason we moved to Spain. La semana del jamón.

Jamon of the house
Meet our newest housemate!

Jamón—pork that is cured by drying and salting, as opposed to your standard sandwich ham, which is boiled in brine or baked—is served at almost every restaurant here. Legs of it are sold at the supermarket, even at the German chain Lidl, and it has been our dream, nay our mission, to own a leg of jamón during our stay. So with my second paycheck we braved the wind and cold last Saturday and journeyed to the nearest Mercadona to procure ourselves a slice (multiple slices hopefully) of history.

Jamon on wheels
Jamón on wheels

It took us three laps of the supermarket to work up the courage to approach the jamón counter. There were hind legs (jamón) and forelegs (paleta) for sale, all hanging up behind the friendly butcher. We wanted the real deal, the jamón ibérico. This grand-daddy of pig products comes from black-footed Iberican pigs that are apparently fed only acorns. The meat is cured for over two years (so the butcher told us) and is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It was tempting, but we just could not justify the 99€ (~$150 AUD) price tag.

The jamón serrano was more our style, from white mountain pigs that are fed mostly cereal and cured for only 12 months. After a free tasting, and a confusing conversation in Spanish, we left the supey with 8kg of pork for only 48€.

We got her home and started slicing. Although we’re not completely convinced the leg is the right way up, so far we have not cut off any fingers. OK yes, some of the slices are still landing on the floor, but we’re getting there. We have now accumulated all of the accessories too: a jamonero (‘ham house’ –not the direct translation but quite the table centrepiese) and a long sharp flexible knife for cutting nice clean slices.

Apparently you need to keep eating the jamón every day or two so that the exposed meat does not go bad. Who are we to ignore this advice? Stay tuned for ‘The Week We Finish The Jamón’. Likely to be next week…

Jamon for lunch
Our first attempts at slicing the jamón. Another nominee for worst photo on this blog but my golly was it delicious!

The week of our first visitor

Last week we welcomed our first guest to Tortosa, a dear friend who had trekked all the way to Europe from Australia just to see us! And go snowboarding in Andorra.

It was strange to have a visitor in our town when it doesn’t feel like our town yet. Where to go? What to do? It was even stranger when our guest had a better grasp of the Spanish language than we do, meaning that he was our guide as much as we were his!

We had a great time. Despite Tortosa being much smaller than Barcelona, we filled his few days here with what I hope was delicious and fun adventures. If you have found this blog by Googling ‘things to do in Tortosa’, or ‘cheap stuff to do in Tortosa’ here is the first in what I hope will be many lists of activities. As we learn more, we’ll add more!

  • Visit the cathedral. I missed this excursion, but apparently it was big, old, echoey, and cheap at only 3. Other information I’ve learned about the massive building in the middle of town with a slightly spasmodic bell is that it has Baroque and Gothic components, is on the site of an old roman forum, and was built between 1347 and the 1700s.
Calçots. A plate of onions might not sound delicious, but they were sweet and excellent sauce vessels.
  • Eat some local food! For us that meant a delicious lunch at Paiolet, a restaurant near our flat. I tried calçots, a seasonal onion that is barbecued and served with the most delicious romesco sauce. Our friend tried the menjar blanc (white food), a local rice milk and cinnamon dessert that doesn’t photograph well. We ate three courses each, shared a bottle of wine and had coffee for under 40.
  • Hire a bike. As I have bragged previously, I now own my own wheels, but the boys had to hire theirs. And why have two bicycles when you can have one? For 25 from the nearest bike hire store, we secured an incredible TANDEM MOUNTAIN BIKE for the day, giving us the freedom to have Goodies-style montages all over town. We rode along part of the Via Verde, one of Spain’s many bike paths built on old train routes. We did not really get far enough to see much verde, but enjoyed the good path and rode through a couple of towns to the west of Tortosa.
Tandem bike
That look on my face is definitely joy. Not terror. Promise.
  • Explore the fortifications. The hills behind Tortosa are topped with (I think) medieval ruins, halting structures that remind you how young European settlement in Australia really is. One of the forts, behind the Parador, is signposted and maintained, while the others are more like secret garden ruins. You can meander for hours. All have great views. And all are gloriously free.