meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Barcelona by the Sea

Monday, March 14, 2011

Barcelona by the Sea

It's been a busy month. A very busy month.  Walls coming down, tile going up. Time spent in trains, planes and yes, automobiles.  Lots of miles, lots of photos, but no writing.  I was just too busy using my left hand to pick up my fork. Especially in Barcelona, Spain.

Stuffed roast peppers, chicken empanada and tomato rubbed bread
Barcelona is a confused city.  I was there about 15 years ago, before the post Olympics 'Renaissance' (ie: the demolition of entire older neighborhoods) and the building of high-rise, pastel colored, apartment complexes began.

Many of these projects have been abandoned mid construction and so they sit, fenced, with their cranes inactive, waiting for the economy to improve. Historic neighborhoods have been impacted as well; their lively streets scarred by abandoned, yet still fabulous buildings with the ground and first floor windows all bricked up. 

The upper floor windows gape, randomly open, giving a view into crumbling ceilings while pigeons fly happily in an out.  It is odd indeed, yet the spirit of the people is lively and the food remains glorious.

A market stand featuring only pork products
There is one thing that the citizens of this former capital of Catalonia are not at all confused about: eating. Barcelona is a food lovers paradise. It is a city of bustling covered food markets, tapas bars and cafes, a city where people enthusiastically snack all day and night.

Honestly. I needed three stomachs to eat all the tempting things available at every turn. We would finish snacking in one great place and then stumble onto anther, and another.  Plus, it was impossible to just try one little plate at a cafe (and then move on to the next place) as each was overflowing with tempting platters of local specialties. The seafood is out of this world!

Grillled sardines and shrimp (both live moments before)
My favorite aspect of Barcelona is the half a dozen or so lively markets scattered throughout the city. The largest and most famous being MERCAT DE LA BOQUERIA. 

Main Boqueria entrance off the Rambla
We thought it would be best to start our visit of Barcelona at the Boqueria, plus, it was nearby and we were hungry.
Mercat de la Boqueria
It's best to arrive early (if you want to avoid calling up those expert slalom skills) or you'll have to weave your way through the crowds who, like you, are mainly here to stare and take snap shots of food.  The vendors are very tolerant but the eateries get crowded after about 11:30am (that would be 2nd breakfast, as lunch in Barcelona begins after 2 pm)

Kiosk Universal

Fried Spring Artichokes
We stopped to eat at the Kiosk Universal, and liked it so much we returned early the next morning for breakfast.  

Our next stop was the MERCAT SANT ANTONI which, according to the guide books is just a 15 minute stroll west of La Rambla down picturesque narrow streets.  Built in 1872, it is a huge iron and glass building in the form of a Greek cross that occupyies an entire city block. A true locals market, promising fresh food stands, market cafes, a few antique book and coin vendors, kitchenware shops and NO tourists.  Boy, was I ever excited! 

Mercat St Antoni looked so encouraging as we approached
What the guide books and the information I dug up 'on line' failed to mention is that this market was shut down and gutted for renovation about 2 years ago.  According to a couple of local ladies walking their dogs under the covered walkway, no one knows when it will reopen.

This was very sad.  A few vendors have set up on the side streets, but still, the neighborhood and the businesses facing the now closed Mercado are visibly suffering. 

We didn't linger long, heading off instead for a glimpse of the recently opened SAGRADA FAMILIA (and the enormous line of people wrapped around the block).

Gaudi began work on this cathedral in 1886 dying 40 years into his unfinished masterpiece.  Amazingly, this is Spains most visited monument which they hope to complete by 2026 for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Feeling a bit snackish, it was easy to be tempted once again by the sights and smells of a small cafe. 

Because, after all, we had to gather our strength before walking back to the hotel, and then, walking all the way to dinner.

Dinner promised to be a treat.  We had been advised to go early since CAL PEP does not take reservations, early in Barcelona is anytime before 9pm and nothing (well, nothing good) opens until 8.  We arrived at 8:30.

Every stool was taken, but the place wasn't packed... yet.  It took about 15 minutes to get a seat - which could not be said for those who arrived after us. 

There is no menu at Cal Pep.  The regulars knew what to order but we were lost - so the waiter took charge - asking only if we eat "pig, cow, chicken and fishes" and how many dishes did we want.  The first thing to arrive were the clams with jambon.

Next these teeny, tiny fried fish tossed with a poached egg... at this point, the camera got put away.  Sorry.

Dessert was a Catalan custard

Chef Pep (in the photo on your left there, in the white chef's jacket) and his crew are proud of the food they put out and they go out of their way to make pretty certain that when you leave after a meal, returning is the only thing on your mind.
We walked out the door about an hour and a half later having eaten and drunk just enough, and having seen (and smelled) many more dishes we wanted to taste. We left knowing there was a very good chance we'd return the next night.

Seems there is a small private room in the back for parties of 4 or more (by reservation only).  Reservations are about a month out, but it's only March...

To be continued...


Gail Casale said...

Simply,a great post!

Marlene Lockett said...

Great post. Thanks, Marie.

We are planning a trip to Barcelona in the fall, so I really appreciate this information.

Marie Z said...

Thank you Gail...

And you too Marlene... I am working on part two of this Barcelona post, where there will be links and addresses. Fall in Barcelona should be fabulous!