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I love sobrassada. The first thing I ate on my very first visit to Barcelona was a toasted sobrassada sandwich and I fell in love with the spicy paste. This Mallorcan treat is a cured raw pork sausage that is soft and spreadable and flavoured with plenty of paprika. In Barcelona, you can find it plain, baked into pastries, cooked into dishes, and of course, as a sandwich filling; I’m sure I’ve left out lots of other things to do with this wonderful spread. Luckily, it is available here in London but you have to search for it. I buy mine at R Garcia and Sons on Portobello Road; actually, I purchase most of my Spanish goods there.

On Bread

It’s sold in two forms in the shops. The first is stuffed into an intestine skin, looking like a giant red sausage (pictured below). You’d usually buy thick slices of it, throw away the outside skin and eat the insides. The second form is just the cured pork meat in a small plastic tub. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’ve had excellent versions. The main thing you want to look out for is that it’s sobrassada de Mallorca.

Sobrassada

The next step on the sobrassada sandwich scale was an introduction to a hot sobrassada and cheese sandwich a couple years ago. I was introduced to Forn Mistral by another friend now living in Barcelona, a great bakery/cafe near the Universitat metro stop. It’s a great place to stop in for a treat and what I chose that day was a this thin little flute filled with sobrassada and cheese. Absolutely delicious.

A Snack

This past trip, at a tapas bar with Blai and his brother, we shared a toasted sandwich with sobrassada, cheese and honey. Honey! Oh, its sweetness goes beautifully with the salty, spicy fattiness of the sobrassada. Inspired by this, last weekend, I turned a can of refrigerated crescent rolls (don’t judge – it was on sale and I was curious and I was working all weekend!) into delicious sobrassada, cheese and honey crescents which we wolfed down in about 10 minutes flat. Of course, the filling ingredients would go together wonderfully in a toasted sandwich too.

Sobrassada, Cheese and Honey Crescent

Sobrassada, Cheese and Honey Crescents
makes 6.

For the pastry, I used one can of refrigerated crescent rolls but a sheet of puff pastry somehow cut into 6 triangles would work too. Along the short end of the triangle, lay out about 2 tsps of sobrassada, a bit of cheese (I used manchego) and a good drizzle of honey. Roll them up, pop them into a preheated oven (follow the instructions on your packet) and there you have it – hot yumminess. Eat.

Blai went to Barcelona a week earlier than I did and I had to spend that entire week hearing about how fabulous fartons were and how well they went with orxata and how I absolutely had to try them. (Go ahead and giggle at the name like a five year old – we did!)

As I was still in London, yes, it was a very frustrating week.

I made to Barcelona eventually where I got to fill up on these treats. We drank orxata out of wine glasses – ha! Actually, we didn’t want to dirty more glasses and so reused those from lunch.

Orxata in Wine Glasses

We’ll start first with the orxata (that’s in Catalan. Horchata in Spanish). This milky looking drink originated in Valencia (mostly associated with the town of Alboraia) and is made from xufes (in Catalan but also spelled xufles, or chufas in Castilian), or tiger nuts, a little tuber about the size of a large chickpea. It’s a drink said to date back to the Moorish presence in Valencia (8th to 13th centuries). It’s sweetened and creamy yet refreshing and slightly grainy and if you want a drink to compare it to, I’ll say it’s not far off from soy bean milk. Mexican horchata is another beast altogether – that’s made from rice and cinnamon. It’s a very refreshing drink and can be bought all over Barcelona in the summer (along with granissats – icy slushy drinks not unlike Slurpees).

Orxata

This is where Blai’s family purchase their orxata – Sirvent in Gràcia. You can drink it there or buy a bottle home. When you do the latter, the bottle is filled on the spot for you, by hand, using a ladle. This was the 2 litre bottle we bought.

2 Litres of Orxata

This year, Sirvent started selling fartons, which were invented in Alboraia. A fartó is a long pastry that was designed to be dipped into orxata and originated in the Polo bakery 50 years ago. They’ve got a good chew and a spongy texture and it’s the combination of the two that allows it to soak up copious amounts of orxata without breaking. There’s a thin sugar glaze on the surface.

Fartons Polo

When you eat them all orxata soaked, they’re deceptively light. You bite and squish and bite and swallow and bite and slurp and chew and all the while exclaiming how light they are! and the next thing you know you’ve consumed two of the great big things and your tummy is starting to ache with all the food sloshing around in there (mainly because we had this after a big meal already). Whatever. They are delicious.

Dipping the Fartó

In the summer, Sirvent also sells a wide range of homemade ice creams (Blai recommends the very Catalan flavours of llet merengada and turró). In the winter, they sell turró (and that’ll be a whole other post come December!).

Sirvent
c/ Escorial 100
08024 Barcelona
Spain

By the by, does anyone know of a place that sells fresh orxata in London?

Food products aren’t really something I’ve blogged much about but lately there have been a few things I’ve been totally obsessed with and want to share with everyone. For that reason, I’ve scanned through my old posts and placed them in a new category you can see to the right of this page – Products. Needless to say, if I ever decide to write about something that a company has given me to try, it will be very clearly stated. However, today’s was not given to me; it’s something that I could have sworn I saw on Umami‘s blog a while ago but I can’t seem to find her post anymore.

Crispy Prawn Chilli

In a nutshell, this stuff is like crack. Seriously. Tean’s Gourmet Crispy Prawn Chilli. As you would expect, there’s chili and dried prawns in there, all chopped up, and also shallots, garlic, dried anchovies, sugar, salt and MSG all mixed up and fried in oil. I’m not sure how they cook it or how they bottle it but it remains so so crispy. You can just about pick out the ingredients too – dark red chili, golden bits of garlic. It’s not very spicy but very savoury and incredibly addictive – I can eat it plain out of the jar but it really peps up plain rice and noodles and mediocre takeaway fried rice too. I bought mine at Wing Yip and I’m due for a new one: I can already see the bottom of the jar.

Recently, I was craving something on rice for dinner and Spam and eggs came up again as a suitable topping (I have a whole other post on my love of Spam). Now, you’re probably thinking – gosh, how could I better that? (Or I suppose you could be turning up your nose now and moving on from my blog…) Well, bring out a jar of this. Honestly, I could have skipped that egg and just gone all Spam and crispy prawn chili and rice (that should be considered one of the new classic culinary trios).

I reckon this condiment would also work in stir fries and other dishes. The first thing I did try to add it to was konlo mee – a dry noodle dish seasoned with various sauces (I think konlo is dry in Cantonese but please correct me if I’m wrong) – but I found that mixing it in with the moist noodles and wet sauces caused it to lose all its crispiness and hence, half its charm. I would suggest putting the crispy prawn chili at the very end and on top. Yum.

Ready for the Boiled Noodles

Konlo Mee

If you do want to make konlo mee at home, boil some fresh egg noodles (like the kind for wonton mee – or any dried egg noodle, even instant noodles), drain then toss them with your choice of sauces and oils to taste. May I suggest some combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, dark sweet sauce, kecap manis, black vinegar, shallot oil, garlic oil, sesame oil, lard (!) to taste? It’s all just practice practice practice to find that combination that you like – I’m not suggesting you put all those ingredients in there, just try a few and add and subtract as you see fit. As a general guideline, you definitely want least one of the dark sauces and one of the oils in there by default. This is quite nice with some wonton or choy sum soup on the side and some sliced char siu on top. So delicious and it really reminds me of what I ate growing up.

Put a spoonful of crispy prawn chilli on top though and it’s just divine!

This past weekend saw us girls have a picnic along the Thames in Richmond. The weather was gorgeous, wasn’t it? All that sun and warmth sure seems like a long time ago… Mirna, our friend who is Hong Kong bound, had recently returned to London from her native Croatia and had packed her suitcase full of food for our planned picnic – I think she packed half the shop in there!

The Spread

That afternoon, while waiting for a tardy picnicker, we paid heed to the rumblings of our tummies and started by tucking into these rich salty flaky pastries called čvarkuše. They’re traditionally drinking snacks (salty salty!) though I could have them anyday! Though flaky, they’re much denser than puff pastry and scattered throughout the insides are bits of pork scratchings. We were too nice – we saved one piece for the latecomer!

Porky Pastries

When the trio finally came together, we selected a nice grassy spot by the river and laid out our things. And what wonderful things emerged from Mirna’s bag! She’d brought burek, a pastry similar to phyllo but thicker wrapped around a filling and baked. We tasted three kinds: meat, cheese (made with a fresh farmers cheese) and zeljanica (cheese and spinach). My favourite was the meat, but perhaps mainly because there was cheese in almost everything we’d sample that day and I was getting a bit cheesed out. From that Wikipedia article, it seems that this burek shape originates from Bosnia.

Bureks

Another similar dish we tried was her mother’s homemade štrukli, a layered cheese and pastry dish (the leftmost container in the top photo). I do believe the cheese is mixed with egg and some cream too which again makes for a very rich dish! We added to that richness still by eating it and the bureks with dollops of creme fraiche.

Apart from these pastries, there was also a platter of cheese and meat that Mirna had lovingly put together that morning. There was a dry sheep’s milk cheese, paški sir, that reminded us of pecorino romano. There was a smoked cheese, dimsi, that was my favourite – very eatable in large quantities. The meat was a cured pork loin, pečenica, that was very lean and full of meaty flavour; it’s not dissimilar to the cured loin in Spanish cuisine.

Croatian Cheese and Meat Platter

A wild boar pate rounded out these cold treats – a most delicious spread that resembled pork rillettes.

Everything we ate with a corn bread (kukuruzni kruh) she’d also trucked back in her check-in luggage – that’s determination! This bread is entirely unlike the cake-like American dish of the same name – this is just a bread made of ground corn flour. That corn gives the bread a pleasing yellow tinge and tasted fantastic and not at all like maize. What a great picnic that was – thanks again, Mirna.

Corn Bread

But wait, that’s not all! Mirna has brought other treats from home in the past – all of which I’ve wanted to blog but just never got round to it. One was this chocolate/hazelnut sweet called Bajadera, made by Kras. It just melts in your mouth and reminds me of a cross between Nutella and a ganache – lovely stuff. I was quite pleased and surprised to find it recently at my local Middle Eastern shop too. Kras’ biscuits are equally excellent – there must be crack in them or something; I polished off half a bag in under 10 minutes once.

Bajadera

And how can I forget this fantastic dried fig and orange jam?! She’s never without a jar for us when she comes back from her trips home and I can eat this out of a jar with a spoon. So good. You’ve got the crunch from the fig seeds, the sweetness of the figs and a slight tanginess from the orange; this is seriously gorgeous stuff. If you do come across it, I’d seriously recommend you pick up a jar (there are other brands apart from this one, I think).

Dried Fig and Orange Jam

And about a month or two ago, Blai and I tried a little cafe in Acton that serves food from the Balkan region – Cafe Vardar. It’s not really a place you’d run into as though it’s on the main Uxbridge Road, it’s a little far off from any of the main shopping areas and is actually situated inside a pub building. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Anyway, we got in and ordered cevapi and sarma, all the while texting Mirna with updates and advice. Cevapi is their word for kebabs (cevapcici is the diminutive) and what came out was a small pile of extremely meaty small kebabs (like skinless sausages?) served with ajvar (I blogged about that here before) and chopped onions. Oh yes, it was good. We must’ve had gloriously oniony, meaty breaths after this lunch and I’m looking forward to ordering it again but with a side of chips! I’ve also been told to try the cevapi at Mugi in Ealing Common so watch this space.

Cevapi with Ajvar and Onions

The sarma turned out to be huge cabbage rolls, filled with meat and rice – tasty but very heavy things. Unfortunately, they got a thumbs down from Mirna when she saw the photos as there was too much of the rice filler. Homemade ones are mainly filled with lots of meat and very little rice. Still, they were cheap! This and the cevapi and two drinks came to only £13.

Sarma

Thanks again, Mirna, for all you’ve taught me about Croatian food. Something tells me I have lots more to taste!

Cafe Vardar
King’s Arms
The Vale, Acton
(corner of The Vale and E. Acton Lane)
London W3 7JT

I’ve been a big fan of Jing Tea since I first encountered them at the first Real Food Festival in Earl’s Court back in 2008. With a very striking (and apparently heavy) wooden table/water tray, they had a most impressive stand where I parked myself for about half an hour, sampling various high quality teas. I walked away with a few teas to drink later. I’ve always liked teas (my mother used to pack green tea for me to bring back to London) but I reckon it was that visit that really piqued my interest in high quality teas. In a way, perhaps this interest is similar to that of a budding oenophile. As I’m not fond of alcoholic beverages (partially due to the fact that my body cannot process alcohol very well), my drink interests turn to teas, coffees and various fruity concoctions. In general, when it comes to teas, I don’t like flavoured teas (with the exception of Earl Grey and jasmine and perhaps a slice of lemon in black tea) and never add sugar or milk.

Quick background: Jing Tea was founded by Edward Eisler in 2005 and the team sources some of the finest teas in the world. Their teas are all available online through their website or also at various hotels and restaurants. I love the way they give lots of information on their site, from explaining how the teas are processed to showing the best way to enjoy your tea.

Thanks to David at Jing Tea (we made contact on Twitter), I met him in The Botanist in Sloane Square (they stock their teas) for a tea tasting at their invitation. It was clear from the outset that David is very passionate about tea and I was quite excited to learn all I could from him. The restaurant knew we were coming and so reserved a large table for us in their quietest corner and very kindly emptied teapots and brought freshly boiled hot water over from time to time throughout the afternoon.

Making Tea

David had brought a few teas to sample as well as one of their Gong Fu teasets with a bamboo water tray (envy! want!). As he unpacked everything, we realised how odd we must have appeared with all sorts of paraphernalia strewn on the table! All the bits and bobs did have a function. Tea was brewed in the teapot and after David deemed the tea done, it would be strained into the pitcher from which the tea was poured into the tiny tasting cups. This prevents the tea from oversteeping as you enjoy it. When the tea is of this quality and price and the teapot so small, it may seem like this is a particularly expensive habit but the tea can be resteeped up to 4-5 times and so it’s not as bad as it seems.

Straining Tea

Now, I’m not an expert in teas; I’ll leave the descriptions and full reviews to the proper tea blogs. But I’m going to take a stab at it here anyway!

The first tea David brought out was a Lishan Oolong Tea (Taiwan Lishan Wu Long). As someone used to fresher green teas, this oolong was quite a revelation. It was…creamy. Not creamy like milk obviously but it did coat the throat in a rather soothing way. After brewing, the leaves unwrap and look to me like spring greens…so much so that I wanted to shove a few into my mouth. I held back; it wouldn’t have made a good impression.

Oolong

We moved on to a Jun Shan Silver Needle (Jun Shan Yin Zhen) Yellow Tea. This was my favourite that day. The tea is made up of just the buds, making it quite expensive (I feel guilty for drinking it!). The full process of its preparation is documented in that link above but very briefly, this is a wok-fired and baked tea – quite a lot of work goes into it. The flavour was quite exquisite – very smooth and fresh and not at all bitter.

His final tea sample was of Organic White Peony (Fuding Bai Mu Dan). If I had to judge tea on its beauty, this one would be quite high in the competition. The bud, still covered in fuzzy white down, and its closest two leaves are picked together, giving it a very close-to-nature appearance. The words melon and cucumber are bandied about when describing its flavour and I can see where that comes from – there’s a refreshing and crisp aspect to the tea. In terms of favourites, this was tied with the oolong in my opinion. They’re two entirely different teas but I enjoyed them equally.

Organic White Peony Tea

The final tea was ordered off the Botanist’s menu. The Organic Bohea Lapsang Black Tea (Wuyi Bohea Hong Cha) was chosen mainly because I’d had a lapsang souchong in the past (I think I was about 19) and took an instant dislike to the strong smokiness of that tea. This lapsang was an entirely different beast. There was a light smokiness, reminiscent of roasting chestnuts, but it was entirely drinkable. But while I didn’t dislike it, it was still my least favourite of the four we drank that day. That said, it definitely changed my opinion of lapsang teas.

We did have a bite to eat at the Botanist too. I had the double eggs benedict, which weren’t bad at all – the eggs were a bit small but the ham was generous and I liked their not-overly-tangy hollandaise. David had the salmon fish cake which he pronounced just the thing he wanted – and it did look good. The restaurant itself was very busy and so booking is probably essential. I just might return to try more of their menu.

Eggs Benedict

Thanks again to David and Jing Tea for the invitation. It really was an eye-opening tasting for me – in particular with the lapsang. David’s still looking for a new venue to hold their tea tastings (previously at their office near Oval) so watch their blog and website for updates.

Jing Tea

The Botanist
7 Sloane Square
London SW1W 8EE

The Botanist on Urbanspoon

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