Jemma Eat Escargot

New Year is a very special time for Edinburgers; or at least, for tourists pretending to be Edinburgers. Hogmanay usually means paying exorbitant amounts to stand in the freezing cold on our high street, listening to 80’s bands that everyone has forgot exist, whilst drinking  flat Irn Bru and vodka from a plastic bottle you’ve brought in with you.

Needless to say, I’ve never bothered with that nonsense. Usually I head to a house party where it’s warm and toasty, I can drink chilled cava, and not have to go outside: until my bloody friends decide it’s time to climb Calton Hill to look at some explosions in the sky. Urgh.

New Year 2010/2011
New Year 2010/11, on Calton Hill: The only reason I'm not an icicle is because my blood is 75% alcobooze by this point.

This year, circumstances forced us to something a bit different: we invited a few of our pals out to France. We only had space for four people, so once Sam, Euan, Jack and Shara bagsied them, that was it. Apologies to those of you who had to stay in Edinburgh, where I hear they’ve started charging for the Loony Dook.

What a travesty by the way, if I want to jump into the freezing waters of the Forth on New Year’s morning I shouldn’t have to pay!

The French believe that the more you eat on New Year’s Eve, the more prosperous you will be during the year ahead. I think something got lost in translation there, and the real meaning is “the more fat you will be during the year ahead.” James and I decided to prepare a feast of tapas, as we were still a little burnt out from making Christmas dinner for eight people.

Then James went off somewhere and left me to do everything myself, and so Euan (you might remember his scathing review of Chaophraya and that Indian restaurant in Corstorphine) swiftly took over. I stood in the middle with a glass of fizz and criticised James’s kitchen skills as the busy worker bees got preppin’.

Don’t worry readers; we soon stopped arguing and I chased our guests out of the kitchen once they’d done the majority of the work so that James could swan in at the end and take all the credit, like an American at the end of WWII.

We cooked lots of things: Euan made dauphinoise potatoes, I made a tandoori chicken, there were patatas bravas with the truly awesome Aioli Sud that they sell on the fish counter here, there were wee sausage roll things from Super U’s freezer section, some frog’s legs which were expertly breaded by Shara, plenty of crisps, pate and crackers, kir royales, mini black pudding sausages, atomic buffalo turds with chorizo instead of bacon…. but worst of all, there were escargot.

According to the hotels4u infographic I posted the other day, the French are mad for escargot. The only time I ever saw them in the supermarket was at New Year, but then we are in the South West where people go mad for gizzards instead. Gizzard pizza anyone? No? Tough.

Escargot? Escar "no thank you!" more like

The verdict? Boke. They were like gritty little meaty mushrooms, with not much flavour to distract from the chewy, manky texture. Worst of all, I had to eat three. Despite being an intrepid foodie, even Euan couldn’t stomach the escargots. I can’t stomach seeing good food(!!) go to waste, so I ate the one he’d left.

So if you find yourself in France and you think “mm I think I’ll order the escargot!” don’t bother. Try the frog’s legs instead: sure, they’ve probably been frozen and imported from Indonesia, but they’re less likely to give you the boke.

Rain and Pintxos at Cafe Urgain, San Sebastian

Form a queue, boys

The rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain, dear readers. Unless of course, San Sebastian is on the plain. Our first day in San Sebastian was lovely; we got to spend most of it on the beach. By the evening of our pintxo crawlwe were starting to hear the rumble of thunder (although I thought it was fireworks).

The next morning it poured with rain.

And it didn’t stop.

We hunkered down in our hotel room, made the most of the free wi-fi, and got on with some work. By 8pm we were starting to getcabin fever and realised we were going to have to leave the hotel at some point.

Thankfully we’d packed our winter clothes in preparation for our long winter house sit, so we dug out our rain coats and wellies and wandered down to see if we could find a nice bar to grab dinner in.

We were staying on the other side of the bay from Parte Vieja. Because it was chucking it down with rain, we couldn’t be bothered with the half hour walk. We wandered into Cafe Bar Urgain, the first pintxo bar we found; and had one of the best nights of our Pyrenean road trip.

The tapas were delicious. And not bad to look at, either! James is always a bit stingy with pintxos, so instead of having one each of everything we shared the following wee nibbles. I’m very proud how restrained I was. Just a few months ago I would have stabbed him with a fork for the lion’s share of these morsels.

Fried food make Jemma happy.
Garlic mushroom. Prawn. Chorizo. Bread. Per.Fec.Tion.
Grilled prawn skewer.

The atmosphere was buzzing, as the TV was showing a football game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The bar was busy; mostly with locals, which made a real difference from the Parte Vieja which was choca with American, German, and English tourists. The locals were cheering  when Barcelona scored, shouting in Spanish when Real Madrid tucked one into the net,  drinking beer, and having a great time.

I’m guessing James and I looked like a right couple of tourists, sipping our txakoli and tucking into a big portion of patatas bravas!

I could eat patatas bravas forever and never grow tired of them.

The next morning we popped in for a coffee, and there was no sign of the previous night’s rowdiness. The rain had finally stopped too, so we took our pastries and espressos al fresco, in the San Sebastian sunshine. I’m pretty glad it did rain the day before, however, otherwise we might have headed across town again and missed out on this hidden gem altogether.

What have been your best  ‘silver lining’ travel discoveries? 

The Hungry Traveller: Foodie Facts!

I’m pretty sure a few friends from my days in online marketing will be spitting their tea out to see me post an infographic. I can be a bit of a grinch when it comes to blogger outreach, but Hotels4U have produced a really nice wee piece of marketing material here. When I read it, my heart must have grown three sizes, because here I am sticking it on my blog.

Some of the statistics surprised me; I can’t believe the French eat 500,000,000 snails a year! My own opinion on escargots is coming up soon, btw.

One statistic that didn’t surprise me was the first one. 27% of UK holiday makers take tea bags abroad with them, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m one of those Brits. My love of tea is so strong that one of the first presents James bought me was a travel sized pack of Tetley to take with me on the spontaneous jaunts we used to book in the early days of our relationship.

Unfortunately, my friends seem to be part of the 73%  who don’t take teabags on holidays with them. When they came to visit me in France for a week they absolutely ripped through my cache of Typhoo. Guys, you’re only meant to use one tea bag per cup! We don’t have Morrisons in France, you know. 🙁

Thankfully they brought me some Irn Bru, so all is forgiven.

Anyroad, here’s the Hungry Traveller Foodie Facts infographic!

The Hungry Traveller Foodie Facts - Infographic by Hotels4U


So after reading that, who’s up for a trip to Goa? The beer’s are on me.

This post is sponsored by Hotels4U. Opinions, ridiculous as they may be, are mine own. Unfortunately so are the tea drinking friends: although if Hotels4U would like to make me an offer on them, I’m open to discussion…

Burns Suppers in Edinburgh, 2013

One of my favourite Scottish festivals is coming up: Burns Night! I love it because you get an excuse to eat haggis, drink whisky, and recite poetry by our national bard, Rabbie Burns.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I love haggis. Sadly, the French don’t share my enthusiasm for what I’m calling boudin Ecosse, and it would cost at least £20 to get a McSweens haggis shipped down from Paris. I don’t love haggis that much, but I also don’t grudge those of you in Edinburgh the chance to munch it til your heart’s content.

So here’s a list of Burns Suppers in Edinburgh, for 2013. Cheers to the Scottish Government’s Winter Festivals PR team, who sent this info on to me. Aside from the last one, which I threw in myself 😉

The Scottish Café on The Mound

The Scottish Café is throwing a Burns Night and ceilidh on Friday 25th January, from 7.30pm – 1am for £26.50pp. For a fine meal and a ceilidh, I’d say this is pretty good. I bloody love ceilidhs. I was almost falling asleep at my best friend’s wedding earlier this year, but once the ceilidh started up I got a new lease of life. James had to ply me with vodka shots to try and slow me down! (didn’t work).

Here’s the menu…

Starter: Cullen Skink: Traditional stew made of smoked haddock, potato and East
Lothian leeks

Main: Findlay’s of Portobello Haggis with East Lothian organic neeps
and tatties (plus a complimentary dram)

Dessert: Traditional cranachan with Scottish raspberries and Graham’s
Dairy double cream

And here’s a photo of the ceilidh master! AKA me.

Me ceilidhing like a mofo
Showing off my awesome ceilidh moves. Oh yeah.

Earthy at Canonmills

James’s younger brother works (or worked, I can’t remember) at Earthy, and I think any Edinburgh foodie worth their Maldon salt has been in to peruse their goods at least once! For both those reasons I reckon this one will be awesome.

Earthy is staging an alternative Burns Supper in conjunction with the Soil Association. From 7.30pm guests will be able to enjoy an alternative menu for £25 followed by speeches celebrating the land. Investigative food journo Joanna Blythman is one of the speakers.

Burns Night Supper, Whiski Rooms, Edinburgh

Coming in at £35 per person, this  traditional Burns Supper starts at 7pm with bagpipes, speeches, haggis and of course a tasty selection of whisky in the stunning world heritage location that is the Whiski Rooms. I’ve heard their whisky cocktails are rather good, too.

Find out more on the Whiski Rooms website.

Innis & Gunn Burns Supper, Angels and Bagpipes, Edinburgh

At £40 a head, this is the most costly Burns Supper. Although I’m sure it will be worth it, as Innis & Gunn (the foodies favourite independent Scottish brewer) will be hosting the evening. There’ll be a speech about I&G’s history from one of their marketing folks, who will then talk you through three tasty oak-aged beers as you enjoy a Scottish feast. There’ll be a bagpiper and some lovely Burns poetry, too.

Find out more here.

Your Local Chippy 

Or if you’re not feeling fancy, pick up a jumbo haggis supper with lashings of salt and sauce from your local purveyor of chips for around £4 pp. Head home, open a cold can of Irn Bru, and enjoy. You anti-social sod.

If you know of any other awesome Burns Suppers taking place in Edinburgh this year, let me (and my readers!) know in the comments.