I was excited to explore Spain with a more refined palate and *ahem* relatively more money than when I studied there in undergrad. I had already been to the southern part of Spain so we headed north and settled on Barcelona, Donostia-San Sebastián, Bilbao, and finally Madrid. Food was the driving force behind our choices. The truth is, if I had to watch another rerun of Anthony Bourdain licking his fingers after eating shrimp or see Gwyneth and Mario sink their teeth into another tapa, I was going to jump into the tv screen, elbow them aside and order myself a tinto and some jamón. It was too much to take so I had to go.
It was a relatively last minute decision, the fortuitous result of a random escapist search of travel sites by Baby Fig. The flight costs were ridiculously low and the recession exchange rate started working in our favor. After the hell of the past year with the j-o-b and other odds and ends, I figured why not? So what if we just got laid off. “Unemployment be damned!” said Neen, and off we went to Spain.
The last time I was in Barcelona, I was only there for an afternoon en route to Nice and Venice so I didn’t really get a chance to truly experience the city. This time, we allotted 4 days for it and planned to meet up with The Korean there as well. Barcelona is a quintessentially cosmopolitan city pulsing with life. With a convenient metro and wide sidewalks, it was easy to get around. One of our first stops was La Boqueria off Las Ramblas. It is THE market of Barcelona with a dizzying and abundant array of foodstuffs to overwhelm all the senses. Everywhere I turned, there were fresh mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, cured meats, fresh seafood, candies, and fruit. La Boqueria it seemed, had everything a food lover could desire. They even had mangosteen and ramputan, tropical fruits which must have been imported. I could have spent hours there poring over their offerings.
La Boqueria had several bars and we plunked ourselves down at Pinotxo for breakfast. The guy serving us was great. He asked us what we wanted and pointed what they had in the display cases –“quereís tortilla, butifarra, pulpo…”. Our greedy response was “Todo!” He laughed and said okay. We also saw the razor clams(navejas) that Baby Fig had been wanting and ordered a plate of that as well and prepared to fortify ourselves for the active day ahead.
The first dish we had was warm chickpeas sauteéd with crumbled morcilla and minced onions, drizzled as everything else was, with good olive oil.
He then placed a plate of octopus in front of us and thus began my love affair with pulpo a la gallega. The tentacles were cooked and sliced over waxy, boiled potatoes, then topped with a coarse sea salt, a sprinkle of paprika, and a healthy dose of olive oil. I’ve never had octopus so firm yet tender and it went really well with the potatoes. Heaven.
Our next dish was the long awaited navejas, lightly grilled and seasoned with salt and olive oil. I had seen Andrew Zimmerman eat this dish (at La Boqueria no less) on one of his shows and he said it tasted of the ocean. He’s right. It was firm, chewy, briny, and of course oceany, if there is such an adjective.
The last dish was butifarra, a fresh light colored sausage. Again as with all our dishes, it was simply prepared and seasoned lightly.
It was great way to start the day. The the next time I go back to Barcelona, I’m renting an apartment so I can shop and cook.
We went back to La Boqueria right before our 8 hour train ride to Donostia-San Sebastián to purchase bocadillos and snacks for the trip. In the spirit of trying new things, Baby Fig decided to purchase some mystery fruit for which we have neither the Spanish nor English names. She bought a palm-sized fruit that on the outside looked like a giant loquat on steroids but felt stiff and hollow.
We wondered and wondered about it all the way to Basque Country and finally on the morning before we left San Sebastián for Bilbao, we hacked it open with a plastic spoon in the hotel room and it revealed a mass of filmy seeds convered in thin membranes filled with fluid. I scooped the some seeds into my mouth and sucked off the outside and spit out the seeds. It was lightly sweet and fragrant. I couldn’t place the flavor, maybe melon like? We asked our pension owners and they didn’t know either but since we couldn’t eat it all before our bus trip, we left it with the mom to enjoy as she was just as adventurous as we were.