There were a few things I wanted to see in Barcelona, the second time around. I wanted to go back to the Sagrada Família. I wanted to laze around Park Güell in the sunshine. I want to take Jake to Casa Batlló to see if it was as quirky as I remembered.
But really, in Barcelona, I wanted to eat.
On our first morning, we wander down Carrer de Tallers, peering into the many cafés and restaurants to see if there’s anything we want to eat. We’re starving, though, so can’t afford to be too picky.
We meander into a small place halfway down the street and are greeted with an impressive display of empanadas and small tarts topped with cheese. We choose four items – empanadas with spinach, soft beef and sweetcorn and bechamel followed by a sweet potato and goat’s cheese tart – and order a coffee and a fresh juice. It is raining a little, and cloudy. We wait as our food is heated up in the little oven and apple, pear and mint are blended together to make our juice before finding a little table near the window. We share everything, in order to try more.
The tart is sweet, so sweet, in fact, that I wonder if it is full of honey. The juice is fresh and delicate, adding an appreciated burst of sweet fruit flavours into an otherwise heavy meal. The green empanada is full of spinach and cheese, while the soft beef is delicately spicy and delicious. This is our first meal in Spain.
A few days later, as we prepared to eat our last Spanish meal, Jake put forward his plan. “So, here are my ideas for this afternoon…”
I turned to him.
I waited for a second. “…that’s it? Just jamón?”
“What else is there?”
What else is there, indeed. Jamón ibérico is one of Spain’s finest delicacies and as we wandered around La Bocqueria market, we snagged a few cones crammed full of ibérico ham, other cured meats and fresh manchego cheese. The jamón ibérico was salty and firm, while the serrano ham melted in your mouth and the chorizo had a sharp kick. We found fresh oysters, strawberries drizzled in dark chocolate and candied oranges, along with cases and cases of cherries, apricots, prawns, nuts, spices and cheeses that we didn’t get a chance to sample.
Between our first bites of empanada and our last bites of ham, we spent much of the weekend dropping into tiny tapas places and sitting in squares, playing cards and ordering drinks: beers, sangría and order after order of sharp Spanish cocktails, for only three euros a piece. We wandered around the squares on Saturday evening, having put our name on a blackboard waiting list at a tapas place nearby, and decided to spend the half hour until our table was ready grabbing a drink at another local place. It is almost 10pm, and the dinner shift is only just getting started. I get a glass of sangría, all fruity and sweet, while Jake orders a perfectly powerful caipirinha along with a plate of patatas bravas. We will come back to this place for dinner the following evening and discover that the patatas bravas are by far the best thing on the menu. But this first night, we sit in the early summer warmth and absolutely devour this perfect plate of fried potatoes, doused in paprika and aioli while throwing back our drinks. This was the Spain we were hoping to find.
The rest of the evening continues in similar fashion, after our table is finally ready. The kitchen is still overwhelmed, so we spend some time savouring salty and sharp margaritas, the glasses encrusted with chilli flakes and pink salt, before being brought plates of roasted peppers and goat’s cheese with rose jam, toast with jamón, brie and flakes of sweet almonds and tender lamb adorned with various herbs. By the end of it all, it is past midnight, the kitchen is closing, and I am drunk.
As our trip continues, we seek out small markets and supermarkets for fresh cherries and peaches, which drip down our arms as we eat them on a public bench before heading to the sea. Later, we sit in a small restaurant near the beachfront, hidden from most of the crowds, and order crisp glasses of white wine as the chef cooks up some of the most tender and delicate seafood we’ve ever tasted. The place is small, so small that the kitchen is crammed into the corner and we can see the chef juggling pans of sizzling prawns and garnishing dishes. The menu is one page, all seafood apart from a couple of simple greens. The waiter helps us order and the dishes come out slowly, meaning that you couldn’t rush this meal if you tried.
There’s fresh chard sautéed in butter and saffron sauce, which manages to be the perfect balance of fresh and decadent. There’s tuna tartare followed by cuttlefish with black polenta and more saffron followed by beautifully presented chunks of bonito, the sauce mopped up by fresh bread. There’s more sparkling water and wine and bread, every time a glass or basket falls empty.
We are spoiled with fresh, delicious, savoury dishes in Spain. We are spoiled by funny, thoughtful waiters who advise us on menu choices and mix up special drinks as we wait for outdoor tables. And after feeling thoroughly full of amazing meat and fish and glorious fried potatoes, we move onto the sweet.
We walked along La Rambla in the late afternoon light, dipping sugar-encrusted sweet churros into hot chocolate that came out of a machine. The hot drink is cheap and the churros had been sitting out, but it doesn’t matter. The dough is springy and soaks up the hot chocolate, melting in your mouth. After dinner, we wander the streets looking for somewhere to eat crema catalana and grab a nightcap. The dessert is so creamy and light, with a hint of tangy lemon that distinguishes the dish from its French cousin. Jake orders a glass of vermouth, just to try it, and we drink that as people laugh and eat around us. Food is as much an experience in Spain as any of the museums or cathedrals or parks that adorn every list of things to do. We spend hours trying small plates, ordering tangy cocktails and grabbing samples at any number of small markets. It is bliss.
And yet, there’s still so much we didn’t try. We missed paella, crammed with prawns and mussels and tomato; a perfect flan, shimmering gently in the sunshine; one euro smoothies crammed with fresh fruit and the many types of cheeses, meats, olives and sweets that we just didn’t have time for in only one long weekend.
Never mind, though. We’ll be back.