Allariz {Warning: may contain pulpo}

The towns of Ourense are famous for their rich (and rather strangecarnaval traditions, so my friend Kaitlyn and I posted ourselves in the capital city to partake in nearby celebrations and to do some explorations of our own. Phase one of exploration was, at the suggestion of Kaitlyn, Allariz.

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Never heard of Allariz? That makes two of us. Allariz is a bitty town (in the neighborhood of 5,000 people) located about 15 km from the city of Ourense. Along the coast of Galicia, towns melt into one another seamlessly; in the interior, separation is more distinct.

Due to some…complications with our Couchsurfing host, we arrived in Allariz much later than initially planned. Peppered with Galicia’s typical indecisive drizzle, we stared blankly at our new surroundings and started walking.

I have long held a suspicion that my nose operates reflexively; that is, it receives sensory input and routes it directly to my legs without first passing through my brain. I don’t hate it. So where did our first directionless steps lead us? To food, of course! Before long Kaitlyn and I found ourselves wandering up a hill and into a clearing of tents filled with pulpo (octopus) and churrasco (barbecue) stands. And so we ate.

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This marked the first time I saw the entire prep process for pulpo a feira, the octopus dish Galicia is so famous for. Using long, metal rods, the cooks submerged and then removed whole octopi from large metal boilers, placing them on a wooden planks lying across the boilers.

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Then, taking scissors, they snipped the tentacles into discs and piled them on round wooden plates, sprinkling the final product with aceite de oliva (olive oil) and pimentón (paprika). You will rarely see pulpo a feira on any other kind of plate, because (1) of tradition and (2) the wood absorbs water, but not oil.

The final product:

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This random square of tents in random Allariz gave me the best octopus I had in Galicia, period. The teachers at my school often told me that the province of Ourense boasts the best pulpo, and I wholeheartedly agree. Accompanied with a crusty loaf of pan rústico and a bottle vino tinto, Kait and I felt as fluid as octopi by the time we were finished.

As the town sank into its daily siesta, we slipped down by the river for a post-feast coffee. We settled into Café Bar A Fábrica, posting ourselves by the floor-length windows so that the Río Arnoia gurgled just feet below our feet.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking – by the muddy banks of the river, through the cobblestone streets of the casco viejo (old zone), up a grassy knoll overlooking the town.

Puente de Vilanova

Puente de Vilanova, a Roman bridge

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Iglesia de Santiago

Iglesia de Santiago

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Beautiful towns do indeed come in small packages.

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A Stop Byward Market

DSC_0767One of the most useful lessons I learned from backpacking through Europe is that the best feast for the eyes, ears, mouth, and wallet is to be found in the marketplace. With that in mind, we headed to Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Since we arrived in Byward in the late afternoon, time was extremely limited. We ate at an open-air pub just off the square and, as we ate, were spoiled by the classical guitar stylings of Tom Ward on the street below. Though I had never heard Tom, as a semi-finalist in Australia’s Got Talent, he actually has a bit of fame to his name. I daresay he is one of the most talented musicians (and the most talent street musician) I have ever seen. The fact that his guitar was riddled with holes made his music all the more riveting.

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Back on the street, we lost ourselves in Mr. Ward’s music for another twenty minutes before snapping to attention and exploring more of the market. The streets surrounding Byward have every type of store imaginable, including some excellent independent clothing and jewelry boutiques that my sisters and I dragged our parents to.

But when all was said and done, the clan just couldn’t stay away from food. We drifted back to the center of Byward Market as the produce vendors were starting to close up shop. Needless to say, we helped out by taking some berries off their hands.

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A few steps away from that divine berry supply was Aux Delices Bakery, which caught our eye with three small words: “Gluten Free Cookies.” As a long-time gluten-free eater, I was ecstatic about being able to eat cookies and brownies from a legitimate bakery. Aux Delices Bakery bakes gluten-free goods first thing in the morning to minimize the possibility of contamination. It’s the little things, folks.

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We were tipped off by our new amigo Karl (our favorite waiter at Chateau Laurier) that we could not leave Ottawa without trying their doughy specialty: the beavertail. Beavertails, essentially doughnuts in slab form, come in many varieties, including chocolate-banana, maple, and cinammon-sugar. Sibling Two flew cinnamon-sugar style. We passed back through Byward Market on our way out of Ottawa to try one.

With that, our car left Ottawa eighty pounds heavier.

Happy nomming!

-MB

The best part of waking up…

Porto hostel coffee

…is not Folgers in your cup; at least, not when you’re in Portugal and your hostel’s kitchen has mountains of coffee beans ready for the grinding. The food selection was otherwise spartan (artificial orange juice and foreign cocoa flakes), but hey, who needs food when you have coffee? (August 21, 2011. Porto, Portugal)

Food by the river

Salad in Porto

8.20.2012. Porto, Portugal. Salad with tuna, oranges, apples, shredded carrots, onions, tomatoes, olives, and green peppers. My first meal in Portugal set the bar quite high. I topped the meal off with the best fresh-squeezed orange juice I have ever had. Portugal is all about the produce.