A food nirvana if ever there was one. The heart of Catalonia, a city on a beach – my kind of place.
We visited late summer on this occasion while the mid day heat haze still hangs heavy in the air and the Mediterranean sea retains it’s welcoming warmth after several months of sunshine.
Something about that time of year across the landscape of Northern Spain and South West France means summer gives way to Autumn without fanfare and becomes evident not during the daytime but rather in the whisper of early morning chill and the golden tone of the evening sunshine. We have spent years on the other side of this particular border marked by those most majestic of mountains, so it felt good to venture to the otherside!
I did make a foray to this great city previously (and holiday regularly in a town outside of Barcelona with our friends, The Traveling Wilburys) but I can’t help thinking that my being there on a hen weekend somewhat curtailed my cultural exploits. I did, however, become intimately acquainted with the infamous Port Olympic and that, my friends, is a whole other story, for a whole other day… Back to the tale.
Ensconced on a houseboat, the ‘good ship Kennedy’ in the heart of the port (yes it was very ‘vibrant’ and no we did not get any sleep!) we explored this pearl of a city, uncovering it’s culinary and cultural pleasures over the course of a few days. It wasn’t long enough, I can’t help thinking that you couldn’t tire of Barça.
At the heart of the culinary scene are small (and some larger, more glitzy) bars serving a variety of Tapas and Pintxos which are the Catalan version of small bites, often served on bread. We have enjoyed Pinxtos around the Pyrenees and across the Basque country where they are a prolific snack.
As one of life’s bizarre coincidences my brother and sis- in-law were passing through Barca on our second night there and we had a bite to eat together at the iconic Ciudad Condal https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ciudad-Condal/168195233218836. The cod dish at the top of this piece has since been faithfully replicated by my bro and before too much longer will likely be the feature of a guest post by Karl-Heinz himself.
Later that evening, beneath a canopy of stars, we set the world to rights… the night became sultry as we sipped our liqueurs upon the deck of our rather rickety abode. Late on, we were accosted by the Port security who wondered if we had stolen on to the deck illicitly, as so many leaving the local night clubs must be prone to do.. a group effort on sort of Spanish/ French/ English saw them leave us in peace). The best nights are like any great meal, the blend of the perfect ingredients; great company, atmosphere,spontaneity and lots of laughter…
On our first day, we made straight for the Boqueria, nestled in the heart of the city, a staggering display of produce sings loudly of Catalonia, Spain and it’s influences. Words cannot do justice to the sheer scope of the place, this is a market in which to immerse yourself, to wander, imbibe and to bring away treasures… ‘Come live with me and be my love and we shall all the pleasures prove’ (an extract from a Kit Marlowe poem read at our wedding…). Back to the tale.
Akin to the feeling of my 6 year old self on opening up a brand new packet of rainbow coloured felt tip pens, we discovered all the pleasures…from paper cones filled with top quality iberico ham, to the freshest of seafood, burgeoning stalls of fruits, vegetables, spices…. then a light lunch sat on high stools beside the chefs as they deftly worked away at their craft. The cava and the beer were obligatory.
One evening, wandering through the city’s old town, Barceloneta, we stumbled across a quirky little place on a tree lined square where, in the heat of the early evening, children frolick outdoors with parents and grandparents watching on from nearby benches – a stop off on their promenade. Later, the same families pop in for a dry vermouth and small morsel before wending their way home for their supper.
Repairing to the bar, because it would be rude not to, Rocket and I thought to have a glass of wine and then pick up our meandering once again.
Rebelot http://www.rebelotbcn.com/en/operates a slow food ethos, with their wonderfully varied menu arising from organic produce some of which is grown in their very own garden, local seafood and a fascinating offering of biodynamic wines.
They describe themselves thus:
“Rebelot is part of the international Slow Food movement, which strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. We work directly with the farmers, fisherman and livestock in Catalunya, which means there are no intermediaries involved. Our chef Jordi Limon works close together with the producers of all the ingredients we use in our kitchen.”
These values speak loudly to Rocket and I. The ceiling was decorated with egg boxes, and the atmosphere at the 5 or 6 tables was convivial, served in candlelight by staff with the relaxed charm that arises from knowing they have a very special establishment.
The list of small plates etched on a chalkboard provided our talking points as we sipped away on some truly delicious wine and after a time… we felt a little peckish and well, guess what?
Heavy on the produce they grow themselves and with many veggie options as a result, the offer is a dish of courgette flowers stuffed with the bacalao (salt cod creamed with mashed potato) sundried tomatoes, olive soil and garden vegetables. We added the local seafood with black rice (I always think black rice dishes look less appealing but can report this is a trick of the eye for the flavours were delightful) we added some patates braves and a plate of Catalan cheese and were replete in both appetite and contentment. During our trip we sated our hunger in fancier places, dining in all sorts of eateries… but this little corner of the old town resonated with us, for it’s honesty perhaps and that illusive quality of being very comfortable with what it is.
The joy of any trip, for us, is being able to just do what we want, whenever we want to… not adhering to the timetable that often rules us, not having to make a reservation but rather stumbling through a day and taking up the opportunities it brings forth.
There is a vibe in this city along with the wonderous Gaudi architecture with the awe inspiring ‘in progress’ Sagrada Familia, we learned how the communities and the local government are fully engaged in constantly aiming to improve the environment, facilities and space for those that live in Barcelona and those that visit. This shows. The green spaces, the thoughtful way the cycle paths have been embedded into wide walk ways, how the centre of the widest boulevards are filled with gardens and play areas for children, the markets, small and large, filled with locals demanding and enjoying the very best of Catalonia…
Wandering back along the beach later that night, passing the beach bars and those languishing on the floodlit shoreline, still chatting with their friends late into the night, we know we will return to Barcelona… time and time and time again.