Just back from Spain. It was about a few months ago that I ran into Fernando Heredia Noguer, Consul General of Spain in Mumbai. Fernando is a fine gentleman who has embraced the people of this city just as the people of the city have appropriated him, and he is such a good ambassador for his country. I met him over dinner at a cousin’s, trying to carry on a conversation over the noise of a party and loud music, thus creating the romance of Spain in that rather high-decibel conversation. Then I decided that our still undecided summer vacation would be in Spain.
After getting our Schengen visas from a refreshingly friendly, encouraging and efficient Spanish Consulate, we set out for this warm Mediterranean country, which also boasts charming people, an easygoing lifestyle, a vibrant nightlife, centuries of history and a vibrant and spectacular cuisine. We landed in Barcelona, checked into our apartment which overlooked designer and architect Antoni Gaudí’s iconic but unfinished masterpiece. The menacing, modernist cathedral, still being completed after construction began more than 120 years ago. We were hungry and I wanted a good Spanish breakfast. We hopped in a taxi and headed for Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, Las Ramblas. The 1.3 km long tree-lined broad road, packed with tourists, locals, street performers, shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants that connects Plaça de Catalunya, a bustling square with breathtaking Modernist architecture, sculptures, magical fountains and monumental buildings, connects to the large old port of the city.
Just off Las Ramblas is the Mercat de la Boqueria or Boqueria Market. An expansive space filled with food, food stalls, meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables. It’s a sight to behold as whimsical oysters and silvery sardines await you on beds of ice. Cuts, garlands, slices and organs of scarlet charcuterie await you on slicers and cutting boards. While several hams hang, waiting to be served. Huge pans of paella embellished with mussels and shrimp sizzle on fires and stuffed empanadas fly from their heated trays and shelves.
Since I loved eggs for breakfast, I chose El Quim, the iconic eatery of the Boqueira Market. We battled the crowd, quickly grabbed a coveted stool at Quim’s and ordered what they’re famous for, fresh anchovies doused in oil and vinegar and fried eggs with baby squid. Swallowing the eggs and resisting the urge to order an early morning Sangria, I decided to treat myself and ordered a portion of the slow cooked pork rib and grilled garlic shrimp. All for breakfast, with some crusty warm bread. Sometimes just being surrounded by food is like it’s not more fun than just eating.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Spanish food is Tapas. The word ‘tapa’ hangs from words of yore when it meant ‘lid’. A lid that was absolutely necessary to cover small dishes meant for sharing, to protect them from the swarms of insects and flies that inhabited the cheap, dark bars they served. Today, tapas is an urban culinary movement and even chefs who are both star and star chefs are using their imaginations to create these bite-sized, yet substantial, hors d’oeuvres.
In a very small street, a few minutes walk from Plaça de Catalunya, by the Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel, a pedestrianized shopping square, is Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats). An old cafe in Art Nouveau style, where regular guests include Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí. At these tables, wine-fuelled debates on theories of modernism and art. There are an endless number of tapas and some exceptional grills. Patatas Bravas is a must, as is the Sirloin Steak Tartare, which is only cut with a knife when you order it, Tagliata or Entrecôte with roasted potato, grilled vegetables and pickled tartar sauce, grilled octopus and king prawns flambéed with absinthe and volcanic salt. And this was just the beginning of my Spanish journey. The weather was rather warm, but the food was delightfully delicious.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer from Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of this publication.
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