The Hunt for Fish Sauce

24 02 2010

Since I arrived I’ve had a craving for good Chinese. There are lots of people from a Chinese background here in Córdoba so I assumed somewhere there must be a really good authentic Chinese Restaurant. But if you ask the Chinese students studying here they say there is nowhere they’d go out to eat. 

I tried one of the ‘recommended’ Spanish restaurants the other day to celebrate completing my 2nd book. The menu was a little limited but had enough to get excited… until the food came. It was Spanish food with a slight Chinese appearance, but no new flavours, no spice – no nothing.

I’m keen to cook some at home then. I looked around everywhere for some Hoisin Sauce, Fish Sauce and some Sweet Soy. I recently found a little Chinese grocers which sells rice noodles and flat egg noodles. But the best was my Christmas present which Noemi brought back from ‘Chinatown’ in the UK – a Fish Sauce and Kecap Manis. ¡A Cocinar!

Eating my Way through Spain

22 02 2010

I eat so well here it’s unbelievable. Spain is the second biggest consumer of fish after Japan and we often have fried King Prawns, fish and mussels. Every time I eat, I think of my Dad who loves seafood. When the sun is out on a Sunday you find half the neighbourhood sitting outside the bar in the plaza eating ‘arroz’, basically Paella. For the first three months I was here we had a leg of Jamon just sitting in the kitchen for whenever you wanted to cut off a slice (we’re talking top grade 4 star Pata Negra Jamon!) Marina is making a list of all the Spanish foods I need to learn before I can graduate from her house as a fully trained ‘daughter’ of Marina’s school of Spanish cooking. I don’t think I’m ever going to eat as well in my life as I will this year in Córdoba.

A little spice is Nice

20 02 2010

I mentioned before that Spaniards don’t seem too keen on the whole to try new foods. They also don’t like their food to have much spice to it. When I was first served little chilies pickled in a jar to go in the soup – they warned me repeatedly to be careful because they’re ‘picante’. Initially I was really cautious, mixing a tiny bit in, but you can barely taste the flavour that way. So I waited til the end of the soup when it wasn’t so diluted – but really, the whole chili could be eaten like a carrot.

I’d love to cook a meal for Marina and Nicolas. Apart from not being able to get my hands on stuff, what would I cook? Everything I can cook that they don’t already do better includes sweet chili sauce or hot chili paste. And given they can’t tell the difference between Mexican Hot, Indian Hot and Korean Hot, for never having tried any of them, I’m not sure any of my cooking would go down too well.


16 02 2010

Spanish people often tell me that they think Spaniards aren’t like the rest of Europe in that they don’t do a good job of learning languages. But so far I’ve come across people who have taught themselves stacks of English from songs and movies, others who know immense amounts from school let alone those people who’ve worked in bilingual environments. One of the women at the brunch has the softest touch of Spanish in her American accent and almost native grammar, and only lived in the States for 2 years, over a decade ago. Bilingual secretaries – I never even thought of that! In Spain they have 4 languages (not that people speak all of them) – then you add English which pretty much everyone learns a degree of in schools. When they say they aren’t good at languages it’s pretty relative :). There is no way to explain how lazy Aussies (in general) are with language. Seriously, if we aren’t born into it – it doesn’t matter. And we’ve got so many languages on our streets it’s incredible. But I guess the difference is there is no other majority.

Rubik’s Cube

12 02 2010

Ben is a Rubik’s cube genius and watching him do it with his pinkies going a hundred miles an hour made me come back keen to teach myself how to do it. I’m pretty good now too! I still need to check my instructions to finish it but hopefully in a few months (since I’m trying not to do it to often, such a time waster!) I’ll be a legend at it.

I had a little Rubik’s cube I was carrying around with me to practice. It was a great way in, especially with the younger kids at church because when they had a go, and asked for help, it started conversations which I can pick up and continue now. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly well made and the corner fell of J But since then I’ve been gifted a new one which not only has coloured sides, it also has a picture so all the sides need to be the right way up. It’s doing my head in!

Sevilla and the Tax Man

5 02 2010

I thought my shipping would take ages, maybe 2-3 months by sea, then we found a reasonable service by air that was quicker, but I was still really surprised when DHL Spain rang in January to say my things had arrived. They just asked that I put together a fax to customs explaining why I was bringing my things to Spain and what was in each book. I sent that off, and DHL called me back to say that the boss of customs had not accepted the letter and I was going to be charged €300 taxes on my things to be paid before they were released to me. I had been warned that although we are technically allowed to bring in personal things for free, on occasion they will charge you 16% tax, calculated off the value that you’re ensured the good for. But even by this measure, the quote was 4 times greater than normal. The only other option was to go down to the customs office and argue my case personally.

Firstly, I went to go get me empatronated (my word – can’t think of an English version), in an attempt to look more permanent here. That’s when you inform the local government that you live in the area. Then the next day Marina and I caught the train to Seville, bus to the airport and went to visit customs. When we met the director, he was really pleasant, listened for 3 or so minutes and looked at the paperwork before stamping it with his seal – no taxes required. Then we wandered off to the DHL office. When we got there, they said that they required different paperwork, but rather than sending us to go find it, the customs director came down with his stamp and they went hunting for all my boxes to mark. The company was going to give us the boxes there and then, but we pointed out it might be a little difficult getting them home on the train – all 8 boxes! 

The highlight for me was waiting in the DHL office where there was a huge weighing scale built into the floor. Marina and I took turns jumping on and off what turned pout to be a wildly inaccurate measure. Marina appeared to have lost and gained 6 kilos in three minutes! 

The next afternoon, all 8 boxes arrived. I got a call from the workman saying he’d arrived and would leave them downstairs. Marina got on the phone and gave the guy a serving for suggesting that he leave it on the ground floor and pointing out that we’d paid for a door to door service. The little guys had a trolley at least but he did not look happy after lugging them all up the two flights of stairs.

A generous host, an affable customs offer, door to door service… I’m so thankful that God pulled it all together!

This is how we keep warm!

2 02 2010

Under the table during summer there isn’t anything and you have a light mantel over the table with the glass on top. But in winter… the heavy mantel comes out and there a base to the table made of MDF which holds the brasero. With the brasero on and the heavy mantel over your legs it’s nice and toasty! We spend hours sitting around the table watching tele, siesta and I do all my homework there too. It’s a fantastic idea! Only it makes getting up and going to bed really hard!

More Medieval Madness

1 02 2010

Medieval Festival

1 02 2010

I am learning the new world of meats here – sausages and cuts of jamon, salchichas, chorizo – and none of it fat free. Comes just after my education in cheese… Yesterday and the day before, I went to the medieval festival that they have here at the moment in Córdoba. They had everything, from a display of falcons and owls, to cheese making, wandering minstrels, wood turning; artisans’ candles, soaps and chocolates and stacks more. And because it’s in the plaza which is quite historic anyway – you really feel like it could be a bit back in time… like Playing Beattie Bow…