Last weekend, I hopped over the border to the most famous city in Catalunya – a city that goes by the name of Barcelona. Catalunya is a region of Spain right along the Spanish-French border. Spain and France might be next door neighbors but their cultures and cuisines are worlds apart. This blog post is dedicated to the gastronomy I experienced over my weekend.
The Spanish eat a bit – er, a lot- later than the French or Americans. Breakfast is the same since all people have to eventually get up and go to work, but lunch doesn’t usually start until 1-2 pm. This is followed by the siesta (midday nap). Dinner doesn’t usually start until 9-10 pm. My Spanish cuilinary adventure all started with the Breakfast of Champions.
Saturday morning we walked down La Rambla, Barcelona’s most famous pedestrian zone and found a Granja-xocolateria (Chocolaterie-Patisserie) called La Pallaresa. We saw the most enticing pastries in the window; even the rain couldn’t stop them from looking delicious (above, left). We went in and saw many Catalan locals sitting there eating their breakfasts. We followed suit and ordered the drink they all had – a xocolata espanyola (above, center). This is a dark hot chocolate, too thick to drink without the presence of xurros (center). We Americans would call these deep-fried dough pastries “churros.” To eat: take a xurro and dunk it in a xocolata espanyola. Repeat until all the xurros are gone. Then, eat the rest of the chocolate with a spoon – yes, the xocolata is really that thick.
Lunch rolled around at 1:30 pm when my stomach started reminding me that it had been a while since breakfast. We ducked into a little café where we jamón serrano with manchego cheese baguette sandwiches served with an olive oil & tomato spread (above right). Jamón serrano is a dry-cured Spanish ham famed and eaten throughout Spain (above left); manchego cheese is a sheep’s milk cheese that comes from La Mancha in Spain. Put these two things on bread with a spread of tomatoes, olive oil, and green salad and voilà, a simple Spanish lunch.
For a midafternoon snack – read, in order to survive until a 9 pm dinner – we stopped in another xocolateria, this one called Granja Dulcinea. We passed on the hot chocolate and instead ordered mint tea. We also split a plate of pastries that resemble the French lady fingers. Unfortunately this is the only dish that I forgot to write down the name of in my travel notebook…
After leaving this xocolateria, we decided to do a little bit of candy shopping. We stopped in a confectioner known for its torró. Also known as torron in Spanish and torrone in Italian, this is the equivalent of the French nougat. In Spain, torró is made of almonds and is eaten mostly as a Christmas treat. Ooops. Don’t tell anyone I indulged on these in March…
Finally, after a long day of touring beautiful Barcelona, it was time for a late dinner. We went to a beer bar/tapas restaurant called Cerveseria Catalana. We arrived around 8:30 and it was already bustling with people. Tapas restaurants serve food generally a bit earlier than normal restaurants because the tapas culture means doing a round of tapas with a drink, repeat, and then maybe head over to a sit down restaurant. We opted to have an entirely tapas-filled dinner. The first thing we ordered were glasses of the copa rosado casa, a rosé wine from Catalunya (below left) along with the plato pan tomate (below left)- bread with the same tomato/olive oil spread as we had as part of lunch. Then we moved on to a plate with goat cheese over marinated roasted peppers (below center), pimientos de padron – fried small green peppers that were tangy and not at all spicy (below right) and brochetas langostinos – a shrimp broquette (below right). Unpictured are the patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce), chipiron andaluza (baby calamari deep fried), and the croquetas of chicken.
Then came dessert! I ordered a coca cabello de angel (below left), literally angel’s hair pastry. The filling is made of the stringy orange strands inside pumpkins and sugar, and covered with pine nuts. Served with a dessert wine, the cabello de angel pastry was delicious! Cecilia ordered a tarte mousse de limon (below right), which was a tasty lemon mousse pie. Can you believe our meal cost only 41.25€? Not bad for a night in Spain and of delicious tapas.
Sunday started with another Breakfast of Champions. We liked the Granja Dulcinea from Saturday so much that we decided to come back and try the there. I ordered a twist on the typical xocolata espanyola and instead got the xocolata suïssa – hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream on top. I figured that it would help with the thickness of the chocolate, and it certainly did. Since this was our last day in Barcelona we decided to go all out and split xurros, ensaimadas (below left), and ensaimadas filled with crema catalana (below right). An ensaimada is a pastry that reminds me of a French brioche, but it’s covered with sugar. Crema catalana is the famous yellow cream that can be eaten as dessert, or stuffed in an ensaimada for breakfast to be dunked!
Finally it was time for the Last Meal in Barcelona. We wanted a place that had tapas and paella. We found a cute little restaurant named “Mar de la Ribera” off of Via Laietana/Carrer de L’Argentina. And…we dug in. We started with a half bottle of cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, not to be confused with the French champagne (top right, below). We ordered our paella, which, contrary to popular belief, is not really the national dish of Spain (top left, below). It comes from the Valencia region of Spain and is a rice dish with saffron and delicious seafood. We also ate more patatas bravas (bottom left, below), pan con tomate (bottom right), and chipirones – fried baby calamari.
Recounting these culinary delights makes me want to go back to Spain. Right. Now.