natas, churros, super bock and francesinha

Spain and Portugal Sketchbook front page sm

For the Spain and Portugal part of my trip I started a new sketchbook, one of the hardback landscape Stillman and Birn Alpha books I like so much. I did the England sketches at the end of the previous sketchbook, so it was a good place to start a new book. As with my Italy trip last year I decided to decorate the front page with a title like this and draw in some of the things I would eat or drink on the trip. So, a few words then I guess on some of the culinary items on this page. First of all the stuffed olives. These were from the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, a wonderful place less like a market and more like a self-contained food hall, with lots of really tasty tapas and snacks on sale. I can’t resist a stuffed olive, and these ones were stuffed with peppers and fish and even mussels. Underneath it is a bocadilla – like a little piece of hard toast, I suppose – with sliced and spiced octopus on it. That was nice. I’m definitely one for seafood and like a bit of the tentacled variety. Below that, the little purple drink is a Ginjinha, from Lisbon – more on that later (I drew the Ginjinha shop), but that was a delicious appetizer of a drink, a kind of sweet cherry liqueur, a local specialty. Speaking of Portuguese specialties, next to that is the Nata. The pastéis de nata, a small pastry filled with custard and occasionally other things, costing about a euro a piece, was pretty much my main food in Porto. I could not get enough of them. I just really like custard and pastry. It’s a good job those hills are so steep in Porto, to help me work them off. Speaking of Porto, the orange-coloured item just above the ‘T’ is a vastly not-to-scale version of something called a ‘Francesinha’. Ok, I will come back to the Francesinha. Next to that, a dry Madeira wine that I tried in Lisbon at the Cafe ‘A Brasileira’, that was nice, a dessert wine. Above that to the left, a ‘Tawny’ Port wine, typical of Porto, this one was from the Sandeman winery and sampled during a nice lunch. Next to that, the typical Portuguese beer, Super Bock. Along with Sagres, this is what you will see everywhere, especially littering the sidewalks of Rua da Bica after a heavy Friday night. Just right of the Spain title, the red drink is Sangria, the very tasty Spanish drink made from wine and fruit. I had this at the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid while sketching. And finally, the churros dipped in hot chocolate, this was from the Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid, the famous chocolate cafe located right across from our apartment. Extremely tasty, and the chocolate is rich (you can drink it, but you’ll spend the rest of the day knowing about it).

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And so, the Francesinha, above. It means “Little French Girl” according to my Portuguese friends. I didn’t know what it was, other than you can get them everywhere in Porto. I went into one cafe on the Alfandega to order one for a mid-afternoon snack, but this was no mere snack. Now typically they come with meats like pork and steak, but I don’t eat those so I had to find one with chicken. A Francesinha works like this – two huge slabs of bread, filled with cheese, sausage, meat such as steak, maybe another meat, fried egg, then more thick cheese on top, finally covered in a thick tomato sauce in a bowl. This meal is DENSE. It’s also served with fries, to dip into the melted cheese. I could not finish my chicken one. And I don’t think I met another visiting sketcher who had one they could finish. People of Porto, I salute you for your fortitude. But there’s more. Another restaurant I went into had an ‘XXL Francesinha’, a huge one costing 35 Euros, that was only for one person, no sharing. The deal is, if you finish it all you get a prize. Now I was talking to a waitress in another restaurant who said that she had actually taken on this challenge and won, and her prize was…she didn’t have to pay. I hope she at least got a certificate or something. If I’d eaten an XXL Francesinha, I’d need a doctor’s note…

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