Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Miles of Tiles

From Spain and France, Italy and Portugal, tiles were exported to building sites in Montevideo during the early 1900s.  Decorative ceramic tiles were commonly used for every surface - from floors to ceilings to patios, benches and walls.  Here are some examples I've found in our neighbourhood.

Floor tiles circa 1925

The front entry of this apartment building features a circular tile motif

The welcome mat in my hallway is a tile trompe l'oeil

Pinwheel patio tiles

Pink and black circa 1900

Arabic style courtyard tiles

Classic urn and tulip motif

Courtyard fountain

 Ceramic shrine with handpainted religious scene, rosette frame and tiled roof

Blue diamonds under the eaves

Pilaster with Spanish tiles

Curved benches in Parque Rodo

Tiles  frame the arch over the entrance to a house on Boulevard Espana

Antique tiles for sale at the Tristan Narvaja market

Monday, April 4, 2011

Medialunas in the morning

Breakfast in Uruguay is a minimal meal with coffee and medialunas providing the standard morning fare.  Not much to start to day with, but a big dinner consumed after 11:00 pm does tend to limit what the stomach can handle at desayuno.   

Every corner grocery store in Montevideo has an oven at the back for baking medialunas.  We've tried several versions of medialunas from various sources, but Fiori's on the corner of San Salvador and Joaquim Salterain makes the best.   First thing in the morning the place is bustling with early customers enroute to work or school and delivery men bringing crates of fruit and vegetables, but get your foot inside the door and the aroma of fresh-baked pastries greets you.  

The origin of the croissant, (ancestor of the medialuna) is not known for certain, but I do like the culinary legend that links its creation to the Ottoman Empire.  In 1683 the city of Vienna, Austria was under siege by the Turks, who were digging underground passages in an effort to reach the centre.  Bakers working at night heard the enemy's subterranean activities and warned the defenders of the city. Prompted by this tip, King John III of Poland organized an army that successfully defeated the Turks and forced their retreat.  To celebrate the victory, Viennese bakers created crescent-shaped pastries based on the crescent moon of the Turkish flag.   True or not, it makes a great story to accompany a mouthful of flaky, crisp pastry filled with dulce de membrillo (quince).


Each morning it's the same routine at Fiori's:   The medialunas are removed from the oven and placed on a cookie sheet. A sugar glaze is brushed on the pastries while they are still hot.  Six are placed in a paper bag.  The bag is weighed and priced. Payment is made to the cashier at the front of the store - only 32 pesos ($1.50).

From Vienna to Montevideo is a long journey, but the medialuna has travelled that far and successfully bridged the gap between Old World Europe and New World South America.