On the surface, Barcelona doesn’t seem so different this time. Yes, certain areas have too many tourists. That was true two decades ago, but then there are more people on this planet so what can I say. One can’t help noticing the signs of conflict going on with all the Catalonian and Spanish flags hanging from apartment windows and balconies, but I’m trying to escape politics on vacation, so that can be another conversation.
We have an apartment on Carrer Parlament which is a block from the Sant Antoni food market, sterile-looking on the surface when compared to other huge food markets around the world, but only because of its new renovation. You still can’t take your eyes off the food displays. Your hands want to touch all the produce and your tastebuds want to leap out of your mouth. (Why else is my mouth hanging open?) One vendor was selling absolutely gorgeous looking Catalan dishes and another had prepared paellas that made me immediately regret eating breakfast. There were cheeses, olives galore, rows of oysters begging to be shucked, stalls with mounds of nuts from all over the Mediterranean, trays of thinly sliced fresh sardines, beautifully displayed meat stalls, and massive bowls of prepared beans, all sizes and colors. There are barnacles, octopus (Dean’s favorite seafood with squid a close second), fish I recognize from cold waters and others totally unknown to me but still gorgeous to look at.
The mother of all food markets in Barcelona is La Boqueria Market which dates back to 1217, when it was just a meat market. Located on Las Ramblas, a mecca to tourists, La Boqueria has become so clogged with foot traffic that it is starting to get a bad reputation. Keep in mind that locals are doing their shopping there, many carrying on the tradition of shopping for that day’s main meal – just like their great-grandmothers did for their families. Foodies beware. Taking photos and clogging up the aisles will not be appreciated by the locals. Beware of the old women in black: if you slow them down they will treat you like you kidnapped one of their kin and you’ll find yourself being elbowed down the aisle to stale spices and cheap knives before you even have a chance to cuss like Tony Bourdain.
However, At the Sant Antoni food market, shopping is more civilized and probably cleaner, but I am not telling you to avoid La Boqueria, which is considered one of the best food markets in the world. Just be careful with your wallet or purse. Be respectful of the locals. Go as early as possible because the crowds of serious foodies or tourist gawkers can only be described as extreme and intense. Serious sensory overload can be expected.
RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS: I should mention that Parlament Street, which is a short street, still manages to have one restaurant after another. On our first evening, we dined at Basseros, right across the street. The cuisine there is Spanish with an Argentinian influence. If we had time we would go there again. Last night, we did a total flip at the restaurant Pepe Tomate that is located next door to our building. We sat down at a table, looked at the menu and decided to go with our gut or I should say gut feeling. We walked out and ventured down an alley and found a wonderful place to dine, Benzina, which means gasoline. (The space used to be a mechanics shop.) The service and food were fantastic. We ended up talking to a couple seated next to us who were celebrating their 45 anniversary. They moved to Barcelona 13 years ago to be with their grandchild and have no plans of returning to the States. Fun evening.
The other culinary surprise was Hawker 45 (Carrer de Comerc 1), an American-Chilean fusion little, totally casual restaurant that made two kick-ass dishes that we will never forget: Philippine-style pork street tacos and a Vindaloo veal stew. Don’t ask questions. Just go there if you are ever in Barcelona.
Tomorrow night, we have booked Dans Le Noir for dinner which I will only say will be a unique experience that requires us eating with ALL our senses. It is called the “blind dinner”, and I’ll be telling you about it soon.