In a previous post I talked about how I'd never really made it down to Spain during my many trips to Europe; how I didn't really know it like I do France, Italy, and Great Britain. I have over the years heard raves about Barcelona and had always wanted to go. I'd say my expectations for the place were pretty high; we've all had those kinds of expectations, the ones so high that reality never quite measures up. I was afraid this might be the case but it was not. My expectations were exceeded. Barcelona is a magical place. Almost as if there's something in the air. There is something indescribable about it. It is in part: the geography - the sea on one side, mountains rising up on the other; the architecture and culture - Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia, the Modernist movement; the warm, easy going people - helpful, friendly, outgoing; the food - vibrant, bold and direct. But there is also that something that can't quite be put into words. So I think I'll stop trying. But let's do talk about the food!
I have to admit that I had always been a bit of a snob when it came to Spanish food. I'd eaten my share of tapas, and Spanish food here in the States; I'd also eaten it in Spain but it never really grabbed me the way French food did. The Spanish way of eating is so very different from the French; they eat later, often many small plates, or tapas, and often hopping from one place to the next. These concepts were opposite to my habits of sitting at table, whether at home or out, and eating several courses in a row. But I quickly embraced the Spanish way of eating on this trip. I understood it and enjoyed it for the first time.
Eating in Barcelona was easy. There are cervecerias and cafes on every corner. When we went out to eat at 9:30 or 10:00 o'clock at night most places were full, crowds spilling out onto the streets. Once we were seated we ate course after course of tapas. I was a quick convert to this way of eating. Two of my favorite things were patatas bravas and pimientos del padrón. Patatas bravas are olive oil fried potatoes served with spicy red sauce and garlic mayonnaise; now who doesn't like garlic mayonnaise with a spicy kick to it eaten with fried potatoes? I was in love. Pimientos del padrón are green peppers fried in olive oil and sprinkled with ground rock salt. The padrón peppers are native to Galicia; they are small in size, about as big as a thumb, and only one in ten has any heat. The act of popping one in my mouth - a slight pepper kick, the crunch of the salt, the taste of olive oil - sent me deeper in love. What potatoes? All the peppers we ate were mild but apparently you can get one with some real heat and it can be quite a surprise. Like biting into a fried jalapeño pepper. A sort of pepper roulette the Spanish like to play. Then of course, there was the ham. Lots and lots of wonderful ham. And more delicous ham. Did I mention the ham?
One of our favorite meals was the lunch we ate in La Boqueria, Barcelona's daily open air market, just off the Ramblas. I'd read in our guide book about a place in the market called Bar Pinotxo. The bar and the owner, Jaunito, are legends in Barcelona. It was among the best food experiences we had. Robert deftly scored us two seats at the small, crowded bar. People stood behind us waiting for a chance to sit. Over a glass partition in front of us was the tiny kitchen where Jaunito and his staff of four worked miracles. There was no menu; there were items in containers behind the glass partition we could look at. There were also dishes being prepared that we checked out. The young man behind the counter couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. After we got our drinks we watched, we asked, he told us and suggested items. The food was fresh, clean and so tasty. We ate squid with white beans, grilled shrimp, oxtail in a red wine reduction sauce, garbanzo beans with Catalan sausage, and a codfish salad with peas. We watched as each dish was prepared three feet away. The flavors of Spanish food pop in one's mouth. They're loud but not in an obnoxoius way. One tastes each ingredient seperately then together. Fish, meat, olive oil, garlic, salt, spices. Textures; soft, crunchy, smooth, liquid. It's a circus of sensual experiences. Our lunch at Pinotxo supplied it all. When I go back to Barcelona I will absolutely be stopping into La Boqueria for another lunch at Bar Pinotxo.
A final note: at breakfast we both adopted the popular tortilla, a type of potato fritatta. A slice of that with cafe con leche, and we were ready to start the day. Here's a recipe from Saveur Magazine.
From Saveur Magazine
Serves 4 - 8
- 3/4 cup Spanish olive oil
- 6 medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 6 eggs
Beat eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow. Transfer sautéed potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon to beaten eggs. Reserve oil.
Heat 1 tbsp. reserved oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add egg and potato mixture, spreading potatoes evenly in the pan. Cook uncovered until the bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Gently shake pan so tortilla doesn't stick, then slide a spatula along edges and underneath tortilla. Place a large plate over pan and quickly turn plate over so tortilla falls onto plate. Add 1 tsp. reserved oil to pan, slide tortilla back in (uncooked side down), carefully tuck in sides with a fork, and continue cooking over medium heat until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.
My Status: well, it's post 4th of July so summer is really here; enjoying all the summer produce, the great Southern California weather, writing, cooking, blogging and eating!
Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.