Culinary Adventures in Spain: Barcelona

After a few days in Madrid, we headed off to Barcelona. I was looking forward to what I'd heard was a "all around better" city from multiple sources. Barcelona is smaller (a measly 1.5 million to Madrid's 3.6 million), and from what others said, prettier, more hip, cosmopolitan, and the streets on a grid system. I'd never really thought about Barcelona as a city to visit before (odd, I know), so it was good that Greg was really keen to visit and had figured out great places to see.

We took the high speed train to Barcelona. Outside of the El or subways, I'd never taken trains any appreciable distance before. While riding the train is fine in and of itself, I was disappointed to find that my ears blocked up like I was on an airplane. Except worse. I can always unblock my ears on a plane, but I could not do it on the train--or afterward. I think my troubles were compounded by the fact that I caught a cold from someone on my flight to was a bad one, and it hit right about the time we were getting into Barcelona. I don't mind telling you that between one aching ear that I could barely hear out of, unstoppable amounts of nose goo, and the exhaustion that comes with a cold and traveling, I was not in great shape during my stay there. And nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the city. THAT should tell you something about Barcelona.

By the time we got in and checked into our hotel, we were starving. Very nearby was a restaurant called Organic. Organic can only be described as a warehouse of a restaurant. It is enormous. There are several options for meals, such as soup & salad, salad & entree, salad/entree/dessert, etc. All options are unbelievably cheap--I think our trip to the salad bar, entree and beverage cost us under 10 euros each. I believe that Organic changes its menu on a daily basis and purchases most of its ingredients from Mercat de la Boqueria. We made a trip to a highly stocked salad bar--whole hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, fruit, cottage cheese....everything you could want, and however much you could pile on. Greg opted for a delicious looking pizza as his main course, and I got tubular pasta with what seemed like a creamy pesto and a vodka sauce on top, finished off with copious amounts of parmesan. P.S. I'll tell you right now that between the fog of my cold and perceived technical difficulties, I didn't get pictures of a lot of the food we ate here. Very sad.

Our meal at Organic was so large (and was eaten so late) that we didn't feel the need for dinner later. Instead, we made the healthy choice of going out for a beer. We headed to Manchester Bar in el Barri Gotic. This is one of the most fantastic bars I've ever been to. They played nothing but British rock, punk, and new wave music. It was like an all-Brit version of my iPod. The whole place was outfitted in a way that I might've decorated my parent's rec room at the age of 16. Broken-in red velvet arm chairs, caution tape on the walls, nail polish on television sets, Robert Smith's face on the coffee tables. Two pints cost 3 euros and came with free crunchy snack mix. I would live at Manchester if I could.

The next day was a day of standing in lines for cool tourist attractions. We went to La Sagrada Familia (awesome on a grand scale) and Meseu Picasso de Barcelona (also awesome, but much smaller). We also walked all the way to La Sagrada Familia from our hotel (2.1 miles), then to the Picasso museum from there (another 1.5 miles). Needless to say, after we got done with the museum, we were too pooped to think about eating anywhere except the museum cafe. Luckily, Cafe Museo had a great assortment of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, desserts, and even fancy coffee drinks. We shared a big salad that I don't remember too well, except that it had pineapple on it, and "nachos," which were really just tortilla chips accompanied by warm guacamole topped with salsa. It was delicious.

Greg with his BFF, Pablo the Bread-Fingered Man.

On our walk back to the hotel for a much needed-rest, we went to make reservations at Cafe L'Academia for that evening. L'Academia was recommended to us by a few friends, and was lauded highly online. Since they only have 28 small tables, reservations are a necessity. The good thing about having a tourist's tummy is that you can get reservations for 8:30pm at any restaurant with absolutely no problem. It's worth mentioning that we also got gelato on our way back to the hotel. There are no calories on vacation. Anyone who tells you differently is a damn liar.

Being that there is infinite amounts of time between all the day's activities and an 8:30 dinner time, we went to take a closer look at Mercat de la Boqueria. Only La Sagrada Familia trumped the market in terms of amount of photos taken. I am intensely jealous of the residents of Barcelona for having access to this spectacular local food source. You can get pretty much anything you need here. It's amazing. I can only do it justice with pictures, so here you go:

The nice thing is that you don't need to speak Spanish or Catalan to know what kind of animal is in that package.

EstaciĆ³ de Formatge. Now that's my kind of EstaciĆ³.

Bountiful, colorful vegetables.

Couldn't you just bite into this photo? Num.

"It's like Willy Wonka threw up on the Mercat." - Greg

More candy and candied nuts. Mmm...candied...

Nuts of the un-candied variety.

I won't lie....I might've found the grand amounts of colorful, exotic spices the most alluring.

I didn't realize they were moving until I was too close. Scary. Also, duh.

Percebes (Goose Barnacles) are a Galician delight that are very expensive and hard to come by, thanks to the difficulty in harvesting them. I was tickled to see such a large mound of them, since I never expected to see them in person.

Yeah, I think I prefer them without eyes.

I just looked up "Escurpinas" yesterday and could find exactly nothing about them, except that they are a mollusk. Anybody else know about them?

Take a breather and enjoy one of many varieties of pure, blended fruit drinks for 1 euro or so. These were absolutely wonderful--very refreshing. And, frankly, we were sorely lacking in the fruit department during the trip, and these saved us.

Great gams. I thought the hooves at the top were a nice touch.

So many sausages.

This guy cracks me up. "Oooh, I wonder what I taste like? I think I'd be delicious!"

My brother-in-law insinuated that I would find many animal heads in this market. Sadly, I did not. Just this pig head, who, frankly, looks delighted to be there.

Cafe L'Academia was a delight. True to the "reservations required" bit we'd heard, we showed up to find a line of people waiting at the door. We'd requested an outside table (it had been lovely that day), but it was raining fairly heavily by the time we arrived that night. I was worried that we would be out of luck, but they let us right in and sat us down regardless. Hooray!

I had "Creamy Rice with Prawns, Squid, and Mushrooms." It was very much like a creamy paella--slightly tomato-y with tender chunks of seafood and mushrooms. Greg had a filet of salmon stuffed with mozzarella and tomatoes. What Cafe L'Academia drove home (but it was evident elsewhere) is that Barcelona's cuisine is more worldly--influenced not just by traditional Spanish fare, but by the flavors of Italy and nations around the Mediterranean. Like the little piggies we were turning out to be, we each ordered a dessert. I was dying to try Tarte Tatin, since I'd seen so much about it on various food blogs. It looks vaguely like a slab of raw meat in my photo (darn dim lighting), but it was glorious. Warm, spiced apples swimming in cream with a thin layer of light, flaky crust.

Greg had what amounted to cheesecake (but was not called that) with a ganache topping and an orange sauce. Both desserts were totally and utterly divine.

Our last day found us climbing to the tippy top of
Parc Guell. We somehow managed to avoid all knowledge that this park was on top of a hill that puts hills in San Francisco to shame. Since we didn't know any better, it required us climbing a positively obscene number of stairs. The park, of course, is also filled with stairs to climb. It was exhausting, but it had great views. My first photo on this post is from there.

Given that we probably burned off all of our naughty foods with the unexpected hike, we rewarded ourselves with sangria and chocolate croissants at Cafe de L'Opera on La Rambla. It's a bustling cafe with pretty much any liquor, dessert, or tapas your little heart could desire. It's ALSO one of the only places that gave us our bill immediately. That reminds me of another traveling tip in Spain: Eating and drinking are done at a very leisurely pace. The wait staff does not rush you. In fact, they kind of abandon you. When you want to get your check, odds are you'll have to flag the waiter down and ask for it.

Anyway, back to L'Opera: I had Sangria Cava--sangria with champagne. It gave me quite the little buzz, so I "had" to wash it down with a chocolate croissant. The croissants I'd had in Spain to that point were okay, but nothing special. This croissant was a thing of beauty. As you can see, I was (somewhat frighteningly) excited.

The sad news is this is when I had my 'technical difficulties.' I put that in quotation marks, because I thought it was my batteries failing, but really, I think I hit a button that made it switch to the viewfinder mode instead of the LCD. VERY sad because we later had a totally incredible dinner at El Cafeti. This is when we really got our "straight up Spanish cuisine" fix. In a restaurant that was completely without any other people (save one guy who came and left before we were done), with white table cloths and white linen-covered chairs, candlelight, and romantic classical music, we had Paella Mixta and white wine, followed by Crema Catalana. The Paella was fabulous and unlike any paella I've ever had (perhaps it was of the Valencian variety, because the rice was not yellowed with saffron). There were succulent chicken thighs, tender pieces of squid, and mussels that were not brackish like the ones in America, but delicate and sweet. I feel deeply, madly in love with El Cafeti. Even if we were wildly under-dressed for the restaurant's unexpectedly fancy atmosphere.

Barcelona: I give you two thumbs up.


Susan Lindquist said...

Jealous, jealous, jealous! Barcelona is such an incredible city! Love the hot chocolate, the jamon, the morcilla sausage, the paella in the places down by the Aquarium,love the city, period!

Veronica Gantley said...

Gosh that looked like fun! I had a neighbor that is spanish. She lived 20 minutes outside of Barcelona. SHe taught me to make Pinchitos, flan and sagria. SHe had a party and made steamed shrimp with the head on. No thanks.

Simply Life said...

spain is one of my favorite places ever! looks like a great trip!

The Cilantropist said...

WOW that market is fantastic!!! I dont think I have ever seen anything like that before, but I hope I can go there in the future! Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us, makes me want to go to barcelona soon! (especially to go the market...and get some beer, lol)

Jenny Eisen said...

Your pics are amazing. They remind me of a lot of the pics I took at markets in South east asia. You should look back at my blog entries from march to april.

Chris's Gourmet Fashion said...

I enjoyed every word of your post. Isn't Barcelona such a wonderful place ... the architecture, the food, the friendly people ... I wish I were there too :)

briarrose said...

Amazing market...just amazing. I enjoyed all the photos.

Mary said...

Your pictures are almost - almost - like being there. It all seems like a great adventure and I'm sure you enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

spinachandspice said...

I LOVE reading about your adventures through Spain! I'm (going to be) an Honors Spanish major in college, and though I've been to Mexico dozens of times, never to Spain! I'm hoping to get the chance in a study abroad program next summer. Thanks for the recaps :) You have a new regular reader!

Papa Serra - Culinary Adventures in Barcelona said...

Fantastic post - you definitely covered some gastronomic miles! La Boqueria is in my opinion the best market in the world. You definitely know you're in Spain no matter where you look! I am a chef and run Culinary Adventures in Barcelona and we always start with a tour of La Boqueria. Glad you had a great time and if you would ever like a food experience like no other, check out my website next time you are in Barcelona!

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