Tales of Spain: Eating like a Catalunyan
As I mentioned in my previous post, Barcelona was having a fiesta when we arrived that weekend (celebration of Catalonia, I believe). This means that, like every other fiesta, all stores and places worth wandering into are closed. But, lucky for you, I have created a formula for determining whether or not a shop is going to be open. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Before the hour of 10:00?
- After the hour of 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)?
- Between the hours of 14:00 and 16:00 (2:00-4:00 p.m.)?
- Any day in the month of Agosto (read: August), plus or minus 10 days on either end? Mostly plus . . .
- A “special” occasion?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then . . . guess what? More likely than not, the shop you’re looking for is CLOSED.
- Chinese/Indian/Ethnic minority – owned shops
- Burger King
That’s . . . pretty much it.
Depressing? Yes. A nice way of life? To Spaniards, for sure. To poor, naive tourists who have no idea what’s going on? Eek, not so much!
Anyway, this meant that P and my plan to eat at St. Josep Mercat was shot. What to do? We wandered for a while, feeling a sad malaise at our plight. But after circling the empty stalls of the mercat for half an hour, I finally resolved to use my 3-year-old level Spanish to ask some folks in a back alley bar where to eat (literally, back alley– kind of shady, really, but we figured they’d be locals and wouldn’t point us to the nearest Burger King).
I realized how poor my Spanish must be when the first guy stared at me blankly and just said flatly: No entiendo. (Translation: I do not understand.)
But a little old lady who was enjoying a drink next to him quickly came over to me and looked at me encouraging. Donde podemos comer? (Where can we eat?) She smiled. She understood me!!! SWEEET.
In rapidfire Spanish (thankfully not Catalan, because I would have died), she told us about a restaurant across La Rambla (that huge-traffic-jam-of-tourists-La-Rambla) that served authentic, Catalonian food. Is it going to be open? It’s fiesta, I asked. She nodded emphatically. Yes, it would be open.
So we wandered over.
It was closed when we arrived at 12:45 p.m., but after a ten second panic attack, we realized that it was early for lunch, and it was actually not going to open until 1:30 p.m. Excellent. We stopped at a cafe nearby for some flan and orange juice (heh), then came back.
It was open!
We had hit the jackpot. It was a place clearly favored by locals (the average age of the clientele was at least 3x my age), and although we drew a few looks (being two young, 20-something Asian girls will do that in any Spanish city, unfortunately), we enthusiastically dove in.
The fried baby calamari, which was something we had been eyeing once the nice lady across the room ordered it, was delicate, juicy, and delightfully tender and flavorful.
Then our main course (all shared between the two of us, with, of course, a bottle of white wine) was a plate of “mariscos,” or shellfish/seafood. Omigod it was delicious. Not overcooked or overseasoned, it was absolutely perfect. Up until that point, I had been in Spain without having tried any seafood. And I live in Bilbao, the capital of the Biscay region– a place known for the Basque people, who are seafaring fishermen. What is wrong with me, you ask?
Good question. I’m wondering the same myself.
To finish off the biggest meal I had consumed in Spain up until that point, we had dessert. Crema catalan! It’s the Catalonian take on creme brulee. It is sweet, creamy, and still a little bit bitter from the burnt sugar. Good lord, my tongue died and went to heaven.
Midway through our meal, a woman came by and enthusiastically tapped on our table. Oh! It was the same lady who directed us to find the restaurant! Turns out, she worked there! So, of course she knew it would be open and the food was good!
We found her at the end of our meal and thanked her profusely and took a picture of her. I asked her name. Montserrat, she said, like the mountain.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Filed under: desserts, Eating Out, friends, photography, restaurant, Spain, Travel | 2 Comments
Tags: Barcelona, Can Culleretes, Catalan, crema catalan, Food, fried calamari, mariscos, photography, seafood, spain, Spanish food, Tapas