Yes, this is my first trip to Europe as I wasn’t privy to travel in my younger years. So, after almost 4 decades, I crossed the Atlantic, landing in Barcelona, Spain. Having spent the better part of two days there, I made the following observations:
1. People in Spain walk slow.
2. Wifi is difficult to find.
3. Everybody wears scarves.
4. A beer and sandwich combo is cheaper than a soda and sandwich combo at the airport.
5. The architecture is fantastic.
6. You need your room key to turn on your lights.
7. You can buy almost anything on the street including beer, umbrellas, street food, flowers etc.
8.The food is pretty good.
Since this is a food blog, I will focus on the latter. The food choices are endless. Every nook and cranny is jammed with small eateries, each promising a special variety of decor, personality and of course, food. The restaurants range from off the menu to choosing off a tray under a pane of glass. I can best describe it as simple. No garnish, no explanation, just the food.
A Tale of Two Tapas.
Ciudad Condal had a long wait but I was seated within 30 minutes.
Their flauta was probably the simplest yet the best thing I ate in the two days I was in Barcelona. Simply, it’s chorizo inside a small loaf of bread for about three euros. The crunch of the bread followed by the rich chorizo was perfect. I put a little machego cheese inside my second one which added some saltiness as well.
The patatas bravas are Spain’s version of poutine. They are basically potatoes covered in a creamy aioli and hot sauce. Also of honourable mention were the fried Padron peppers, simply prepared with salt and olive oil. The nature of these peppers are generally mild but a few on the plate pack a hot punch, leading to the term “Unos Picans Otros No” meaning some are hot, some are not. I was lucky to get a few biters. A great dish was the potatoes topped with fried eggs (Huevos Cabreados). It is a simple but delicious dish; matchstick fried potatoes topped with soft fried eggs cut table side.
I’m a huge flan fan. The creamy spanish flan was a nice ending and was not overly sweet despite the abundant caramelized sugar.
The service was fast, friendly and efficient.
I’m always drawn by places with good reputations and high Zagat ratings. Tapas 24 fit the category in both regards. Much different than Ciudad Condal, Tapas 24 is situated in a basement just off the beaten path of the tourist section. It was about 11 pm and the place was packed. When I was seated I noticed a much smaller, yet more expensive menu than Ciudad. It was certainly more run down but was filled with character. I was seated at the bar so I could see the open kitchen which was run old school, with orders called from paper tickets stuck on magnetic boards and run like a well-oiled machine.
I started with the standard patatas bravas which were shaped like fries and looked a bit a bit dismal compared to the chunky potatoes at Ciudad. It was followed by the bikini (a bit of an ironic name given it’s a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). In this case if was flavoured with some shaved black truffle which was subtle as opposed to overpowering (it’s a fine line when it come to truffle). However, it was a bit imbalanced since the smoked ham I so enjoy was drowned out by the buffalo mozzarella. It was basically a nine Euro fancy grilled cheese. I finished with calamares (squid) recommended by a guy who looked and dressed like he should don a red cape and run away from bulls. It was simply presented, seasoned with olive oil and when mixed with the bitter, leaking squid ink provided a good balance. Not sure it was worth 16 euro, but it was certainly unique.
I didn’t realize Spain would have such good ice cream. In particular was a place called Belgious. Situated in what seemed to be a shady back alley along the goth section of the ramblas (maybe it was also the fact it was past midnight), my broken Spanish saw the word exotic and ice cream together and I was sold. I was able to sample a number of flavours including gin and tonic, szechuan pepper, curry and cannibus..yes cannibus. I ended up settling on a combination of thyme (my favourite spice) and Modena vinegar with raspberries. Delish! No picture though..a bit too shady to pull the Blackberry out.
On another note, there are great markets in Barcelona. I managed to visit two during my travels. La Concepcio is located not far from downtown Barcelona. It’s a smaller market with a wonderful seafood selection (the meat and chicken isn’t bad either) . In fact, you don’t even smell the fish despite the fact you’re surrounded by it. Both offered a wide variety of meats, chicken and some of the best fish I have ever seen. La Boqueria is perhaps the most well-known and busiest market and was certainly bustling when I was there. Once again, the seafood was amazing, complete with huge oysters and fresh fish butchered on the spot. There was a variety of prepared foods such squid on a skewer and fresh juices. I quenched my palate with a mango coconut juice for a couple of euros.
I hit the George Payne bar as well which offers great soccer, confusing drink specials and not so good food.