I was torn. I didn't want to leave Paris! Five days was definitely not enough to immerse myself in what the city had to offer. On the brighter side, I was on to my next adventure; Barcelona. I didn't really know much about the city except that it was the host for the 1992 Olympics. Friends and family have told me how amazing the food was. In my head, it was going to be hard to beat the French cuisine in Paris. And I was actually shocked that the food in Barcelona was top notch. Tapas is the key word here. Everywhere I turned, restaurants offered different varieties of tapas. My server at the first restaurant I went to kindly filled me in on the origin of these small plates. The word tapa came from the spanish verb tapar. It literally means to cover. The tradition was to cover one's sherry glass with bread or meat to keep fruit flies away. The meat they used was ham or chorizo. Salt was important. It not only warded off the fruit flies, the saltiness encouraged patrons to drink more. It, in turn, made the bartenders more money. It has since then evolved into a Spanish tradition in which patrons order a drink and a tapa would accompany it. Some restaurants specialize in tapas. And in Barcelona, it seems to be the norm. So here are a few restaurants I absolutely recommend when you visit.
1. El Quim
This tiny food stand with a cramped and always busy bar is located in the infamous Boqueria. It is located on the very busy street/promenade of Las Ramblas de Catalunya. It is a very old
food market where you can find different kinds of cheese, desserts, seafood and cured meats. The small restaurant itself is somewhere towards the back. Trying to find this place just added
to the anticipation and excitement of tasting the apparently amazing food. When I finally came upon it, I was lucky enough to find a seat to squeeze in at the bar. Priorities were made. I ordered
a beer. I was tickled to find out that they offered San Miguel beer in Spain. Evidently, the very popular Filipino beer branched out in the mid 1900's in Spain and got a license to brew San
Miguel beer. Talk about coming full circle eh? After getting my beer, I noticed that every plate they put out looked incredible. I read the menu and I almost ordered everything! I told myself to
keep it together. I had 3 more legs on this European tour. Spending all of my money in one restaurant was not a good idea. I finally ended up with the fresh whole steamed artichoke with some kind
of balsamic vinegar based sauce. I could tell that the vegetable was super fresh. The sauce was great as well. It had tinges of savory notes. I then had the pickled sardines. It was out of this
world. Fish and acid just go so well together. And the olives on top were delectable as well. Man! Olives in Europe are on another level. They are so much tastier than the ones in the States. I
finished my meal with a Butifarra served with white beans and grilled tomato. A very important cuisine in the Catalan region of Spain, this sausage is made with pork and spices. The actual spices
were classified. I guess the cooks didn't want to give out their secret recipe. Upon doing some research, the link is based on an ancient recipe derived from Rome. And there are variations of
this dish and the ingredients in it in Italy and Portugal. All in all, an excellent place to have a meal. I just don't know where they cook it. The whole food stand is 10' x 10'. The efficiency
these guys have back there and the way they use the actual space to cook food is very commendable!
For more information, visit www.elquimdelaboqueria.com
2. La Boqueria
This isn't a restaurant but I wanted to include this venue because it's a must see when you go to Barcelona. You will see different kinds of candy and dessert as well as a variety of different fresh mediterranean fruits. You will see a plethora of seafood ranging from tiny sardines to enormous squid and octopus. But as a meat lover, the tour de force was the cured meats. Several sections of the market was dedicated to meat stands with pig legs hanging from the ceiling. To an American, this might not be the most appetizing visual. (Not me though. True Filipino over hear. These stands were after my own heart). But looking through the glass shelves, they showcase the most mouthwatering of cured meats. In particular, the infamous well marbled Jamon Iberico thinly sliced with it's intense red color was always begging to be eaten whenever patrons passed by.
For more information, visit www.boqueria.info
3. Cerveceria Catalana
This next venue was suggested to me by my dear friend Narina who I haven't seen in ages. But when she saw that I checked into Barcelona on Facebook, she had strong feelings about the restaurant called Cerveceria Catalana. When she mentioned it, I wasn't going to go. I already had a long list of places to check out, I couldn't possibly squeeze in another restaurant. It was too late to put a suggestion in the drop box. But thank God I changed my mind and went. She is a foodie after all. My accommodations was in the center of Old Barcelona. This was further inland about a 15 minute walk away from Las Ramblas.
I tried to go the night before. I got there around 10:30pm and the whole place was packed. The next day, I made sure to go earlier. I went around 6:30pm. I was nervous. Cerveceria Catalana seemed like a very popular place. I wouldn't be surprised if I still couldn't find a seat at the bar much less a table the second time around. To my surprise, there was no one in there. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. Priorities always come first right? Hehe. Then, I asked where everyone was. The Filipino bartender said it was too early for dinner. In fact, the rush doesn't start until 10pm.
I forgot about that! I've been forewarned numerous times that Spaniards eat much later than anybody else. They also take naps called siestas in the late afternoon. Clubs and most bars don't even open until 12pm and don't get busy until 2am.
Well I was fucked! In retrospect, either I shouldn't have been day drinking the way I was, or I should have taken siestas. Because by 12am, I was done. Stick a fork in me. Daddy needed to go to bed. I learned my lesson when I arrived in Madrid though. So my experience of the Spanish night life wasn't a total disaster.
Then I asked him why I see so many Filipinos in Barcelona. His initial reaction was that there weren't that many of us. Then his barback came out of the kitchen and asked him if he needed anything........in Tagalog! Case in point! Then I looked for the bathroom and Filipino servers where helping me find it. In fact, the other 2 restaurants I've dined since I got to Barcelona, I had Filipino servers. What gives?
My bartender finally gave me an answer. It applied more to him, but I'm sure other Filipinos felt the same way. The cost of living wasn't high. It didn't get too cold. And most Filipinos that come already know Spanish and English; a benefit for any Spanish employer. All they had to learn was Catalan. From what I hear, it's not too hard to learn. To add to that, Filipinos are hard workers and good care takers; a perfect recipe for the Barcelona service industry.
But I digress. Let's get back to the focus of food. I sat at the bar and started with razor clams. I've never seen or heard of them before. I was curious. I love all kinds of clams. This one is shaped lengthwise and is different from your usual one bite and it's gone kinda clam. They take it out of the shell and saute it, put it back in the shell for aesthetic purposes and sprinkle some herbs before serving. It was flavorful and just cooked enough so that it's plump and juicy. It was yummy! Then on display behind a glass case, they had a skewer with a thick piece of pork belly followed by a scallop, followed by an octopus tentacle. I ordered it. I have to tell you, this was the best thing I've tasted in Barcelona by far! All three were perfectly cooked. The scallop was medium rare. The pork belly was well marbled and just enough fat to make it melt in my mouth. But I was flabbergasted at how superbly cooked the octopus was. Octopus is hard to cook right and Cerveceria Catalana did it!! #speechless. I will rave about this particular tapa for a very long time. Finally, I had a skewer with bigger that usual calamari rings filled with arros negro and a deep fried shrimp in between. Arros negro is a traditional dish from Valencia and Catalan. It was made with rice and squid ink and was out of this world delicious! I finished my round of tapas with some slices of Jamon Iberico on a toasted piece of baguette. Forget the bread. I could eat a ton of these slices of cured meats forever. By a landslide, this place was my favorite restaurant in Barcelona.
4. Cal Pep
I mentioned this last restaurant in my previous post about Flamenco. I will save you the redundancy. If you missed it, please read my post "Viva la Andalucia" to know
For more information, visit www.calpep.com