As some of you know, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Barcelona, Spain a few weeks ago. Trying to summarize all the food we ate is no easy feat, and in a previous post, I chose to focus on my first experience with paella. It was definitely good enough to warrant its own blog entry, but I didn’t want to forget all the other tasty things we ate. If you love food, Barcelona is the place to be.
Our first day started with a heavily jet-lagged trip to Mercat de la Boqueria, one of the city’s oldest markets. Aside from the gorgeous array of fresh produce, meats, fish, and cheeses, the Boqueria also contains several restaurants, most of which are lunch-counter sized and packed with people eating (or waiting to eat). I’d heard that Bar Pinoxto was a must-try, so me and the GF pushed our way through the crowd and luckily scored a couple of seats at the tiny bar. I was too tired and hungry to take pics of this meal, but let me just say that it was one of the best I’ve had anywhere. Grilled, fresh octopus with olive oil and a chickpea dish with blood sausage, pine nuts and balsamic were standouts, but we also had this amazing mini-wheel of pan-fried white cheese (not sure what kind) on top of what resembled a fried potato cake. Unbelievable. A great way to start the trip.
Dinner that night was the aforementioned paella. Awesome.
Day 2 had us back at the Boqueria, and this time, we hit another one of the lunch counters (Bar Boqueria). All of these places seemed to serve traditional Catalan cuisine, and no matter what we ordered, we never went wrong. If “lunch counter” makes you think of sandwiches and such, you’d be wrong here – this was food that any chef in Atlanta would be proud to serve. I opted for some fresh sardines in olive oil (salty, fishy goodness – very different from canned) and Spanish-style morcilla (blood sausage), which was unlike any I’d tried before. The GF got a quiche-like egg “tortilla” filled with squash (really light and flavorful), and we shared an order of fried squid. This was nothing like the heavy, over-battered calamari we’re used to in the States. This version was much lighter, and, of course, fresher. Outstanding.
It would be unfair to not expand on the market itself, and if you’re into food, it’s one of those places you need to experience before you die. I’ve never seen anything like it, and even though we visited 3 times, I noticed new things on each trip. Most noticeable was the ubiquitous, expensive Iberico ham, which was being sold by numerous vendors. Some of them only sold Iberico – that’s how popular it is in Spain. In addition, there were vendors of everything else imaginable. Seafood straight from the ocean, brightly-colored produce, every kind of meat product you can think of, fresh squeezed juices – the list goes on. Sensory overload, for sure.
We didn’t want to leave without having one fine dining experience, so after much research, we settled on Gresca, conveniently located near our hotel. Rather than pick and choose off the menu, we went for the multi-course tasting, and it was well worth it. Easily as good as any fine dining experience I’ve had, and the menu featured an interesting lineup of modern spins on traditional Catalan cuisine. I won’t describe each course in detail, but standouts included a delicate piece of salt cod with shaved cauliflower as well as an egg “omelette” wrapped in Iberico ham. The preparation involved with the “omelette” still mystifies me.
Day 3 found us back at the Boqueria for lunch (again). Why mess with a good thing? This time, we tried El Quim de la Boqueria, another lunch-counter style joint. As usual, scoring a seat involved some uncomfortable hovering behind people getting ready to leave, but it was always well worth the wait. Of course, the meal was amazing, and we tore through a grilled artichoke, patatas bravas (fried potatoes topped with a spicy romesco sauce), and some insanely fresh grilled asparagus wrapped with Iberico ham. Wow.
Despite leaving each Boqueria lunch experience totally stuffed, we still managed to stumble through the market and marvel at all the other food. One of the vendors was selling some awesome-looking candies, so one day we picked up a few of those to bring back to the room for dessert (we liked the “bombas,” especially the ones filled with liqueur). Don’t expect to have much room left for sweets if you visit Barcelona, though.
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the coffee – it was impossible to find a bad cup. They take their coffee seriously, and it seemed that every establishment we visited had an espresso machine and/or coffee bar. The coffee shops and cafes all had a beautiful selection of pastries – some of the best I’d ever tried. They put Starbucks and the like to shame.
There’s much more I could discuss about the trip, but doing it here would be difficult. Obviously, there’s much more to the city than food, and trying to cover the food in one blog post is really hard. If you’re thinking about going to Europe and want a food-centric destination, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Barcelona. I’d go back in a minute. Highly recommend.