"I think I've died and gone to heaven. I'm not coming back. I love you, have a good life."
So went the text I sent to fellow food dorks Kopibren and Melf the first time I stepped into Barcelona's massive La Boqueria market on La Rambla a couple of years ago.
I can't believe I let myself leave. (Who leaves heaven?!) Twice now. On both departures, the ever-unfolding cornocopia of treats both in the market and the neighbourhoods beyond left a growing, grating, gnawing feeling of unfinished business.
The only comfort - this means I'll have to come back. Again. And again. And again.
Chances are, you'll get to go before I do, so here are some highlights from what stood out most from my grazing haze. I know there's plenty more I've yet to try, so let me know what made it to the heavenly spheres of your list and I'll prioritise it for my next pilgrimage.
The first thing to do in Barcelona (and possibly also the 2nd, 3rd...and last thing) is to do a slow stroll along all the aisles of La Boqueria. The most cunning of visitors (e.g., my parents) rent a short-stay self-catering flat near the market so that their stomachs as well as their eyes can enjoy a VERY well balanced diet.
Above, left: I'd always wondered what those little caps at the bottom of jamon legs were for. Up in Las Alpujarras, I learned that it was to catch dripping fat. Mmmmmm....
Above, left: These strange looking tubular-with-a-beak shellfish are called percebes, or gooseneck barnacles. They thrive only on rocks heavily pounded by surf, so harvesting them is quite the task. They're considered a big-time delicacy in Spain, usually steamed or served in soup. Apparently the Spanish have eaten through their domestic supplies, and now are heavy importers from Canada
Above: Nice work if you can get it, being surrounded by a mushroom mountain all day
The done thing is to have tapas in the market, but you'll need to get there early, or else be very patient, or else put sharp elbows to good use. To boost your civility batteries, consider digging into some paella on the perimeter on the market. It also helps you to tour the market without going completely mad or bankrupting myself... I mean... yourself.
This time around we went to Bar-Restaurant Galdric which served an excellent and generous paella for 2 for €22. Last time around I plonked down at a stall in the same area but I forget the name. You can't miss it if it's open -- look for the colossal paella pan outside.
Crazy about Chocolate
There are plenty of smoothies, fruit salads and sweets at the market to tempt you for dessert. Or, you could wander a little east along Barri Gothic to Meson del Cafe, and indulge in a little churros and Spanish hot chocolate...the type that's so thick you could pick it up it with a knife...
The Spanish take their hot chocolate pretty seriously. We learned at the Chocolate Museum in Bruges that back in the day when chocolate was the fashionable and exotic import from South America and available only to the aristocracy, Spanish ladies had their servants bring them hot chocolate even during mass. This to-ing and fro-ing caused so much disruption that hot chocolate was banned from church. Church attendance promptly plummeted.
Right. Tapas. Whatever list I put together for now will be grossly incomplete. And the thing is, there are plenty of marquee names that will charge you an arm and a leg (e.g. I'm still working up my wallet's nerve to go to Cal Pep) and there are plenty of holes in the wall who will serve mediocre bites, microwaved after sitting on the shelf for a wee bit too long.
So, let me just send you to Cervesceria Cataluna in the Eixample distict, my favourite place for variety and value for money. There's always a waiting list for tables, but the real action is up at the 2 bars. Stalk a bar stool, pounce fast and mercilessly (the locals will give the tourist no quarter) and rotate the 1 barstool among your group if you need to. As long as someone has access to the staff to order food, you be so distracted by the food you'll barely notice you're not sitting down.
I particularly enjoyed the grilled cuttlefish, grilled mushrooms, miniature sirloin steaks and burgers.
I found Papabubble quite by accident, by following the delightful scent of burning sugar down a few doors from our charming Hostel Blue on the bohemian C/ Ample. All the candy is made by hand onsite and make smart looking and tasty gifts for those who didn't make it to heaven.
Walking it Off
In between meals, the best thing to do is to walk and soak in the art and the energy of the vibrant city.
Above: The ongoing building of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia; youths playing football at Parc Guell, also by Gaudi.
Above: This nstallation down by Port Vell gets a cheeky toilet-paper response on Rambla de Catalunya
Below: My personal favourite, even if I'm the the one being railed against
Passatge Virreina 2
08001 Barcelona, Spain
+34 685 580 922
Meson del Cafe
C/ Llibreteria 16 (Jaume I station)
08002 Barcelona, Spain
C/ Mallorca 236
08008 Barcelona, Spain
+34 932 160 368