Travelling is all about bringing home a collage of memories, which may come in the form of postcards, photographs, or people. You have a whole range of souvenirs to pick up from every place you visit — from T shirts to key chains, from magnets to glasses, from figurines to dolls. The choices are many.
While I collect and gift virtually every trinket that I find, I often look for something that is really intrinsic to a country or a region. It could be arts and crafts or some cheese or wine , but these souvenirs are usually known to local people and they will tell you where to pick them up.
In Spain, a lot of friends bought ham while I , being a vegetarian decided to go on a sweet mode. I do have a sweet tooth and this time, I did not pick the chocolates but instead packed in a few local delicacies from every little town that I visited. The names of these pastries had a lovely ring to them and while we did find them mouth-wateringly delicious, the stories behind them are quaint in themselves.
I was in a lovely little town called Avila , walled in by the fortresses that surrounded us literally. As we walked around, the first shop that ironically met my eye is a colourful display of everything distinctly Indian . And the name was Taj Mahal. No matter how far you go, the spirit of India never leaves you. As I walked around in the square, my guide told me about a little sweet called “Yemas.”
Yemas often referred to as the Yemas de Santa Teresa is named after the saint whom the entire town of Avila reveres. It is believed to have been created originally by the sisters of the convent. Small little orange balls made of egg yolks coated with sugar are served with a citrus or lemon flavour and has a tinge of cinnamon in it. My guide however says that the sweet probably came from Andalusia in the medieval ages and arrived in Avila around the 19th century in a little bakery and became very popular that it is largely synonymous with Avila today.
You can never say no to pastries, sweets and desserts. In Segovia, the charming town with a beautiful cathedral and a fortress , you would find some ancient bakeries and confectionery shops, that date back to over a century. I went inside one of them , located near the cathedral . The shop itself had a quaint air to it as its walls were filled with old pictures of the town. And that is where I got to hear about the “el ponche segoviano”. A piece of cake , it is blended with egg, flour, marzipan and some alcoholic spirit and topped with cream and sugar. A traditional delicacy here, my guide says that the Segovian punch as it is referred to, would have been introduced here during the Muslim invasion of Spain as marzipan is a typical ingredient from those parts.
Sweets and souvenirs in Spain gave me a historic and a cultural perspective into the country. I went to a small university town called Alcala De Henares, near Madrid, when the itinerary included an old cloister convent. My guide told me that there are several of them around here and one cannot even get a glimpse of the sisters here. As I walked inside one, it turned out to be a small confectionery shop but there was no one around to sell the sweets. I could not see any desserts served either . A board above mentioned just the names of the sweets and the rates.
The guide recommended “ almendras”, referring to sugar coated almonds made by the nuns in the cloistered convent with “ just almonds, sugar and love”. I stood in front of a small tiled piece of furniture which had a small opening through which I requested for my box of almendras. I could barely see the sister’s eyes as she rotated a turn table in front of me and lo ! my delicacies were wrapped in a lovely box and served to me . I paid the money in a likewise fashion and left the convent without saying bye to her.
Most of these souvenirs may be a trifle expensive than your regular key chains or magnets, but they carry the stamp of the locals here and not manufactured elsewhere.