Ok, so I was in the sunny Mediterranean city of Barcelona over the past week. Since this is a food blog, I shan’t to bore you with details of how the providential confluence of 7 completely accidental events culminated in me fortuitously getting tickets to the epic, once-in-a-lifetime football match between FC Barcelona and AC Milan. Before going on, however, it’d be prudent to make a disclaimer: this post would probably end up like my hair – not a mess (as Rach would say) but lengthy.
I was recommended this place by the backpacker’s hostel where I was putting up. Apparently it is a restaurant chain well-known for its affordability. Let’s see, I thought to myself. Hang on. Actually I couldn’t see it. Initially, at least. Its location at the corner of some poorly-lit intersection, especially with no proper signboard, was inconspicuous to say the least. Thankfully my eyesight was as sharp as my wit, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a post on montaditos – traditional Spanish toppings on a piece of bread/baguette.The list of different dishes on menu was both expansive and inexpensive. Most of the montaditos were priced at €1 per piece. I ordered 3 sandwiches: (1) Serranito shoulder of Iberian cured ham, loin of pork with garlic and green pepper; (2) Potato omelettes and Iberian spicy sausage on ciabatta and (3) Duck mousse. The first thing I realised was that the sandwiches were rather petite; I reckon the time taken to pronounce some of the sandwich names is longer than the time you’d take to eat it. My favourite was the cured ham with loin of pork sandwich. The ham was salty enough whilst the pork loin was tender and added to the mix a different kind of savoury taste that stood out despite the relative saltiness of the ham. The bread was really well baked, crunchy outside but not too hard and very fragrant. The other 2 sandwiches were decent but nothing special. The potato omelette was a novelty to me and I liked how it tasted – basically it was an omelette with the powdery texture of potatoes. Somehow, though, the fact that there was spicy sausage was lost on me – the sausage was neither shaped like one nor was it spicy. The texture of the duck mousse sandwich was very smooth, almost akin to eating foie gras. However, with the kind of aftertaste that plagues most mediocre duck dishes, it proved a bit of a dampener to my initial excitement. The food was decent, with some sandwiches clearly superior to others. For its value, however, at €1 a dish, I consider it a steal. Add in the fact that a huge serving of crisps and mug of beer are also priced at €1 each, it’s a nice place to hang out till late or for supper. Also, I’d recommend it to peeps keen on tasting of a variety of toppings. Additionally, I would point out that the restaurant was impressively packed, even at 1045pm, as I entered; interestingly, majority of the patrons appeared to be locals. Compare it to an eatery across the street and the crowd appears even more remarkable. Yet considering how affordably priced the menu is, I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that the restaurant was packed with locals spoke more about the authenticity of the food or the state of the Spanish economy.
8010 Barcelona, Spain
The next morning i went to the famous Boqueria Market. Joining me was a new friend I made on the trip – Englishman, Paul. The market was really crowded and it had an aura of freshness that we somehow don’t get anywhere here in London. The market had everything you’d fathom in a market. It had a fresh food section which was further divided into wet and dry areas, as well as a cooked food area. The selection of food there was amazing. The seafood smelt especially fresh, having probably been that very day’s catch. It sorta reminded me of home when I used to accompany my mum to the wet market every Saturday morning, maybe back when I was in kindergarten. Other things that caught my eye were the huge full legs of ham, or what the Spanish call Jamón. They were huge and came in different colours. After that we made our way to the cooked food section where there was tapas, pizza, sandwiches and what not. The agony of choice is not one that I deal with easily so out of everything on show, I settled for a simple piece of burchetta. The burchetta here was really delicious. There are many restaurants in the UK that serve burchettas as a starter for meals and, of all that I have tried so far, I would go as far to say that the one at Boqueria was not just a class above but several semesters. The tomatoes were juicy and grilled to perfection, while the topping of cheese was liberal in quantity and melted in my mouth. In fact the pieces of cheese were so thick that I initially thought they were pieces of calamari. Perhaps after just one night in Barcelona my eyesight had degenerated. The bread, complemented by an optimal dosage of fragrant olive oil, was wonderful as well – characteristic of the bread I’d been having in Barcelona thus far. One last thing about the market: despite the colossal amount of fresh produce on display in the open, flies were few and far between – impressive. I would recommend La Boqueria to anyone visiting Barcelona. That locals also go there for their grocery shopping and meals probably bear greatest testament to the quality of the food available.Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
08002 Barcelona, Spain
Next up Paul and I decided to go in search for authentic paella – since that was the dish that people had recommended coming to Barcelona for most frequently. A few enquiries around and we were led to Senyor Parellada, a restaurant on the ground floor of what looked like a boutique hotel. One glance into the restaurant and we were apprehensive about stepping in. It looked so chic and had an aura of EXPENSIVE about it. However, we decided that if we were to try the highly recommended paella, we should have it at a highly recommended restaurant. Our gut feeling was right. The paella costs €14.95, before tax and service – not cheap at all. Hence we decided that – just to taste it – we’d order one serving to share. The waitress taking our order appeared unable to comprehend our order of just ONE paella for both of us. We felt like black sheep in the restaurant, especially as hordes of well-dressed professionals and business-people sauntered in, ordering multiple main courses and more. We were clearly the third estate in a customer base of aristocrats inside the restaurant. Service included a pack of black olives and bread. But the main attraction had to be the paella. The rice had a brownish tone, unlike the yellow kinds you find at your regular farmer’s market in England. Also it was much wetter than the regular ones you’d find around and did not look exactly elegantly prepared. Its taste, however, was divine. The seafood was as fresh as you’d expect and the selection of meat vast, including loin meat and sausages. The meat was cooked to perfection and every bite was juicy. The French beans in the mix contributed to the dynamic combination of ingredients as well. Also, the rice grains were so fat and flavourful – absolutely Chuck Norris-ing the rice we had at Jin Kichi last week. The base stock was also very fragrant, to the extent that we resorted to dipping our bread into the residual sauce/stock; that was nice, at least until the waitress came and cleared our paella pan. With the amount of paella sauce left, it felt like at least €2 cleared off our table. In general, the ambience was pleasant, and despite having our only dish over-zealously cleared, we did not feel rushed or under pressure to order more. Looking again at the menu, I came to realise why the paella served here was different to our prior conceptions of it – this restaurant professes to serve traditional Catalan food and what we were served was paella in Catalan-style. No wonder it looked and tasted different from the kinds we see everywhere else. If you want to experience a uniquely Catalan palette I would recommend this place to you. However I also imagine that there are other restaurants out there that also serve great-tasting – though not necessarily Catalonian – paellas with equally generous servings of meat and seafood, all for less than the price we paid at Seynor Parellada. Seynor Parellada
Carrer de L’ Argenteria, 37,
08003 Barcelona, Spain
The last culinary stop of this post is called La Rita. My friend from Singapore, Jon, who’s living it up in Barcelona for the month, recommended this place for its €9.95, 3 course set lunch. On top of 3 courses, the set also came with 0.25l of red/white wine or a bottle of still water. It appeared like great value, and I was hoping the food was as appetising as the deal sounded. Hence Jon, Alejandro – an Argentinian and another new pal made on this trip – and I trudged down to this restaurant, just off Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s Champs-Élysées. We were fortunate we had Ale there with us as the menu was worded in only Catalan and Spanish. For starters we all ordered the lasagne. It was delightful. The layer of pasta was thin and light whilst the amount of cheese was judicious. What made the lasagne so special was that it didn’t just contain mince beef but boiled spinach as well. The meat was minced so finely that it was as thought the chef had done the chewing for you. I guess if you prefer chewing the meat yourself and experiencing the tactile joy of the meat being gnashed between your teeth then you will not appreciate the finesse of the mince. However, the meat was seasoned really well and went excellently with the spinach. Lastly, there was also – to my surprise – lots of cream on the lasagne. It was light and helped the different flavours of the ingredients complement each other very nicely. Indeed, more light cream and less cheese than usual made this lasagne extremely palatable and not overly salty. For our mains, Ale and I ordered the pork chop whilst Jon ordered the fish with tomato and potato. I tried a bit of Jon’s fish and found it really fresh and liked the way the fish was grilled very lightly. The flesh was firm yet juicy at the same time: a result that – I am told – is particularly difficult to achieve with fish. The pork chop was really well seasoned. The first bites of the edges were tender and succulent; I thought to myself – this could very well be eaten plain, without any seasoning. However, as I got to the middle portion of the pork it became less moist and that made me add some salt to the meat in an attempt to ‘expand’ and ‘bring out’ its flavour. The veggies served with the meat were well cooked – the brinjal particularly. It had a nice soft bite to it and the subtly grilled outer layer augmented the natural taste of the brinjal; at no point could I taste the powdery aftertaste you get with poorly cooked brinjal. For desert we all had the walnut cake with chocolate sauce. The walnut cake was above average. What I liked about it was the decently sized nuts in it which you could actually crunch on – typically giving the feeling that you’re getting your money’s worth. The highlight of the dessert, however, was the chocolate sauce. It was delightfully rich in taste yet extremely bouyant in texture. It was like the walnut cake equivalent of a sunny day with clear blue skies complimented by nice cool, light gusts of wind. I guess this sweet-tooth nirvana – with regards to the chocolate sauce – explains why I polished off every drop I could. The restaurant has a nice ambience to it and service was attentive, especially considering that most tables were occupied during lunch hour. This particular day’s menu was fulfilling. However, it could have been a case of us having been lucky on the day as the menu changes every day of the week. Despite a few issues with the pork chop, and considering that it was only €9.95 nett for the selection available, I doubt one can realistically complain; to do so would be NICpicking. Indeed I would say that this meal was possibly the best during my time in the Catalan capital.La Rita
Carrer d’Aragó, 279
08009 Barcelona, Spain
The food on this trip was delightful. Perhaps my only regret was that I didn’t manage to try as many seafood-specific dishes as I would have liked. On the flight back I was thinking of a word to sum up my trip. I thought to myself: if aw-FUL is bad and aw-SOME is good, to continue the pattern, this trip to Barcelona definitely had to be aw-EMPTY.
Nonetheless, now that I’m back in London, and hopelessly resigned to hall food on a daily basis, there certainly is an emptiness inside me – and it resides not just in my stomach. Barcelona is a delightful city with delicious food and I will definitely return one day to quell this emptiness. In the meantime, however, I guess I’ll go back to the incessant verbal diarrhoea people know me for; after all, empty vessels make the most noise.