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Back from Barcelona and Missing the Boqueria

June 16, 2008

I can hardly believe how quickly my ten days in Barcelona passed. Coming back to Boston…well, I’ll be honest. It was a bit of a let down. Barcelona is just so coooool. The streets, the people, the food, the cava (and cava, and more cava), the bars, everything just overwhelmed me with awesome. We stayed with a friend in the Barri Gotic, the old part of the Barcelona, which is all narrow, windy streets, old buildings, sweet little bars tucked into tiny corners, walking into unexpected plazas, people watching on the Ramblas, and best of all, the Boqueria. We were only a few blocks away and we visited more than a few times.

The Boqueria is a sensory overload of smells, colors, people, and food items you’ve never seen before. The closest thing to it I’ve seen in the States is the Ferry Plaza Marketplace and Farmers’ Market, but even that isn’t even close. The Boqueria seems to mirror the area in which it’s situated: a labyrinth of narrow aisles that twist and turn and make it very easy to get lost among the jamon. But I could think of worse places to be lost.

And jamon! Man, Sean and Crystal were not kidding. The Spanish are really into their pig products. Everywhere you turn, in the Boqueria and out, you can find big pieces of cured pig hanging from the ceiling, ready to be cut up and eaten. And it really is some delicious ham.

Oh, and did I mention expensive? Yes, that sign does say 160 euros per kilogram.

But cured meat isn’t the only meat product sold in the Boqueria. They eat parts of animals I’ve never actually seen: tongue, testicles, hearts, and, oh yeah, whole heads.

Just be glad I did not take a picture of the goats’ heads, they were far more disturbing. I’m not quite sure what one does with a pig’s head. I’m not quite sure I want to know.

Tacos clearly means something different in Spain. I’m not even sure what these are, though it seems to be the cheapest way to get some Bellota ham.

The Boqueria isn’t all meat, though. The produce stands were abundant, and while they did seem to all sell the same produce (red peppers, eggplants, zucchini, lettuce, lemons, and green beans, with some variety here and there), everything was fresh and unblemished, and as we later learned, locally grown.

You can get everything in the Boqueria. Not just pig and produce, but fish of all sorts, nuts, dried fruit, spices, cheese, freshly made pasta, and some truly incredible olives.

We tried one variety that were marinated in lime and mint, and I think I have never tasted such a unique and delicious olive. If I had any idea how one would go about making marinated olives at home, I would be mixing these up in a heartbeat.

And eggs! So many egg stands! So many eggs!

Sitting here in my apartment, thinking about last night’s trip to the crappy hippy mart across the street, where they were nearly out of produce and something smelled suspect and unpleasant, I am getting very sad and longing for something like the Boqueria. And I didn’t even realize how great it was until our last day in Barcelona. I wanted to visit a supermarket, out of curiosity, as I always love to check out foreign food products. The supermarket was nearly empty, and not just of people. The meat and produce aisles were cleaned out, and signs indicated that, due to a transportation strike in France, the Carrefour (a major supermarket chain) was unable to stock produce, fish, or meat. That’s when I realized that everything in the Boqueria must be at least relatively local. They are not trucking in asparagus from Argentina or fish from France. And knowing that, why would anyone shop at Carrefour?

So we shopped at the Boqueria a lot, and even cooked a few meals at home during our stay, which I’ll definitely be sharing soon. But one of the best things about the Boqueria is that it’s full of tiny kiosk bars where you can pull up a stool, order some vino or cava, and enjoy tapas cooked with the freshest ingredients imaginable. We ate at a few little Boqueria bars, but the best was by far El Quim de la Boqueria.

We tried to go on our first afternoon in Barcelona, but found it mysteriously closed. I’m awfully glad we thought to go back and try again, because Bar Quim serves seriously some of the best tapas I had in the city. And I had a lot of tapas.

There are about four guys behind the bar, working quickly in a very tiny space, and managing to produce excellent food and attentive service all at once. That alone is pretty impressive.

(As an aside, at almost any bar in Barcelona, with maybe the exception of the Irish bars, you can order a glass of excellent cava for about 3 euros. This is just not true in the States, and I think that is a shame.)

Almost all the tapas bars serve asparagus, cooked with just a bit of olive oil and sea salt. These were some of the best we had, grilled and charred in some places, perfectly tender, and incredibly fresh.

Of course we ordered jamon. But better than the jamon (at least to me)?

Perfectly seasoned, juicy meatballs, with potatoes, a bit of green bean, and just enough jus to sop up with a crust of bread. I didn’t see meatballs at many other places we visited, and I think that, too, is a shame.

And finally? As if we weren’t stuffed and sated enough? We had to order a slice of the perfect looking tortilla espagnol.

This was different from the tortilla I had elsewhere. Rather than being a dense brick of potato and egg, this was light, fluffy, and filled with zucchini and carrots, and just enough potato to hold it all together.

This was the best tortilla I had the whole week.

The whole way of food and eating in Barcelona suited me so well. Everywhere you go you can get a small bite to eat, as little or as much as you want. The streets are lined with bakeries, too, selling savory empanadas (a spinach empanada at Forn Gotic was a standout), croissant, and bocadillos. Bocadillos I will, perhaps, miss the most. They are small sandwiches, made with baquettes, sometimes smeared with tomato and olive oil, with just a bit of ham and cheese, or, my favorite, a slice of cold tortilla inside. I want to make tortilla just so that I can have bocadillo con tortilla at home. And I want the Boqueria, or something similar: a place I can find fresh, local food everyday, and priced reasonably (well, except maybe for the jamon). Maybe I have no need for a pig’s head, but it’s pretty cool to know I could get one if I wanted one.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2008 1:42 pm

    Excellent write-up! Although I have no plans to visit Spain anytime soon, I still enjoyed reading about your foodie fun.

  2. Heather permalink
    June 17, 2008 10:36 pm

    As I was looking at the photo of the pig head (ew) I showed Brad…
    His farm boy response was ‘Yeah, so? You’ve never heard of head cheese??’

    So..FYI, if you ever see anything that says head cheese on it, think of that pigs face.
    He went on to explain that head cheese is the meat of the head of the animal… thats where I shut him up. Say NO MORE!

    Looks like you had a fabulous time, I am uber jealous. Cant wait to see more photos!

  3. kim e. permalink
    June 19, 2008 12:19 pm

    The Boqueria and Barcelona is magic! I’m so happy that you loved traveling and I love hearing that you want to travel more! Here comes Italy!!! :)

  4. July 17, 2008 2:51 pm

    I just stumbled upon your blog and was instantly drawn to this gorgeous photo! Oh man, how nice Barcelona must’ve been…but then I saw that you were disappointed when you got back to Boston! I’m actually about to move to Boston from Austin in 2 weeks (well, Cambridge, actually). So it’s nice meeting another foodie from there. I’ve actually been wanting to start some kind of cooking group over there (I posted about it on the BakeSpace forum, and even Yelp!) but so far I haven’t found too many folks who are interested, not more than like one or two. Anyhow, it’s nice to meet you! If you’re interested in starting a Boston foodie group, or know of anyone who is, drop me a line on my blog some time :).

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