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Barcelona 2013 – General Travel Log

24 Jul

Finally, after many distractions and false starts, I’ve have gotten around to this post!

A few months ago, as a vacation, I was in Spain for 10 days visiting both Barcelona and Madrid. There will be a few other posts on some specific culinary experiences that I had while I was there but I figured I would start with a overview post about my time there food-wise – specifically in Barcelona. When one talks about Spain from a culinary point of view, we think about Tapas, Manchego cheese, Iberico and Serrano Ham, amazing seafood and wine. Well… I got to enjoy all of that and then some while on this trip.

We made a concerted effort to try and follow Spanish timeline food-wise and get the true experience. We seeked out tapas bars, markets, cafes and terraces in order to try Spanish food. We weren’t in Spain to eat French and Italian. We didn’t do much research beforehand to plan anything. Starting in Barcelona, our hotel was located just off the Ramblas – the main tourist throughway – but more importantly, just a couple of minutes away from the Gothic Quarter, the old district of town where there are numerous small but amazing joints without any of the tourist-gouging prices or bad food.

In our first night in town, we tried a tapas bar just off the Royal Plaza (Playa Real). It’s called Bodega Biarritz and is insanely small. My apartment living room is almost bigger than the seating space here. Their menu is one of pretty “classic” tapas dishes so a perfect way to start the trip.

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We started with an order of Patatas Bravas, a stuffed puff pastry and Cod Fritters. Patatas Bravas are fried potatoes covered with a spicy tomato “Bravas” sauce. The sauce is really the thing here…. tangy at first but quite spicy in the finish. The puff pastry is good as well but nothing special. The cod fritters were wonderful – nice, fresh cod meat with a nice crispy exterior.

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Next up, we ordered meatballs on top of a potato tortilla, grilled sausage and smaller meatballs covered in bravas sauce. Both meatballs were moist and tender. The sausage had a nice kick to it and the potato tortilla was great. Soft interior with a crisp exterior, the texture was much flakier than your usual corn or flour tortilla. Add to all of this some beer and a great Mojito and you have a wonderful introduction to true Spanish tapas.

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The following day, we went to the famous La Boqueria Market to check out Pinotxo Bar. This tiny bar counter located inside the market doesn’t look like much but it has been showcased in a number of publications worldwide including Food & Wine and the New York Times. Once we actually were able to grab some seats (there are only about a dozen stools present so expect to wait a bit), I was ready to dig in. Upfront, it amazes me the quality of food that comes out of a space that small. The pictures probably don’t do it justice enough. Every tiny inch of space is used to its maximal capacity. Somehow 5 cooks and the owner, the very jovial fellow in the pink and blue vest, fit and crank out great stuff.

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First up, a chick pea salad with some garlic, parsley and a few other spices that I didn’t catch as the owner who ended up serving really doesn’t speak English. Amazingly fresh and flavourful, I am really not a chick pea fan but this dish turned me around. The chick peas were cooked to the right consistency and the mix of spices and herbs really enhanced their natural flavour. Great starter.

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Next up, a plate of snails cooked with a mixture of tomatoes and garlic amongst others. Once again, great combination of freshness, texture with simple but strong flavour. I have never eating so much snails at one time in my life and it was great to try them in a preparation other than one involving tons of garlic butter.

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Following that, we got a plate of fresh grilled squid with some chick peas, olive oil and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The squid was perfect, the chick peas provided a nice earthy balance to the squid and the balsamic added a nice touch to the whole time. Great plate of food.

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Lastly, we went with fresh langoustines boiled, slightly grilled and with garlic butter. Simple but perfect overall. As was true throughout my time in Spain, the seafood was amazingly fresh and of high quality, so the natural flavour of the langoustine shone here beautifully. All in all, a great experience that I highly recommend anyone who goes to the market check out. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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The next day, we got to check out some more tapas places. First up, big props to the corner cafe that serves the following plate of Manchego cheese.

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Honey, pecans, fig sauce and huge pieces of Manchego…. there is a reason why we went back again a few days later. The quality of each component was wonderful and really made me wish I could get a similar plate at my corner cafe! For now, I will do so at home.

That evening, we did a mini tapas crawl. The first location was Euskal Etxea which specialize in pintos which are snacks like items usually skewed on a piece of bread. All the items were laid out on the bar where you make your selections. Once eaten, you keep the toothpicks from each and that is how they add up your bill. Totally a different set-up then I am used to. The items here were mostly meats, pates or cheese. All good but nothing really exciting.

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After that quick stop, we went literally across the street to a more typical tapas bar, El Xampanyet. This tiny bar was cramped, loud and had tons of paper napkins on the floor a.k.a a good tapas bar from all appearances. Once we wiggled our way up to the bar, we dove in. Ham on breadsticks, mini spicy sausages, roasted potatoes topped with cheese and tomatoes, marinated fresh anchovies and goat cheese stuffed mini peppers. All fresh and delicious. Add to that a couple of pints of beers and we’ve had ourselves a great night.

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I have a few more places to showcase but as mentioned initially, that will be done on a few separate posts that will appear shortly (I hope…). Having now had the true tapas experience in Spain, I found a nice appreciation for that style of dining. Every Tapas place we went to, I left feeling satisfied but never completely stuffed to the point of inactivity. Hopefully this mini tour has given you a sense of the kind of food one can experience in Spain. Now… I just want to go back!

Cheers!

Bodega Biarritz. Ciutat Vella, 1881, Barcelona, Spain. 08002
Bar Pinotxo. Mercat de la Boqueria, 466-470, Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 171 731
Euskal Etxea. Placeta Montcada, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 10 21 85
El Xampanyet. Carrer de Montcada, 22, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 197 003

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