Catalunya, the current center of the gastronomic universe. I hadn’t been there since 2001, when food meant to me whatever the closest restaurant was offering at the moment. This time I walked through Barcelona with a culinary eye, and found (and ate) many a wonderful thing, if only for a short couple of days.
What The Locals Eat
Within hours of arriving in Barcelona, I was eating at Tickets, Ferran and Albert Adrià’s tapas restaurant. Quite the re-introduction to the city. I had arranged to stay the evening with a couple I didn’t know. They were incredibly generous, giving me a clean bed and use of their clothes washer. The next day we did a short drive outside of town for a tour of Montserrat, the mountain top monastery.
Lining the road up to the monastery they had stalls selling various nuts and cheeses. We had miel y mata, or honey and cheese. It was simple, it was delicious.
When we came back to their place, they served up a traditional Catalonian meal of Catalan meatballs, white asparagus, potatoes, salad, olives and bread. Eating at someone’s house has always been a huge highlight for me when traveling, even before I was into cooking. For a person to allow you into their home and take the time to cook and feed you, it is an incredible gesture, and one that I am always grateful for.
Then dessert – ice cream, cheese and fruit. They have the lifestyle thing down in Catalunya, I’m telling you.
The next day I went to the Sagrada Familia, witnessed its majesty, and from there walked aimlessly through town to the beach. Along the way I found many interesting things.
For instance, I stumbled upon a Thermomix store. They are very common in Europe, but not at all in the United States. C’mon, who doesn’t want a blender that cooks?
Also, I discovered that Next restaurant in Chicago had opened up another one in Barcelona. Or maybe not.
I made it down to Las Ramblas and stopped in at Cafe Zurich. I had sat there eleven years earlier and it seemed a good a place as any to rest my feet and take in the hustle and bustle of the area. I had what is probably my favorite Spanish food – anchoas. I cannot get enough of them. Love them, I do. Yes indeed.
I had them again while at another place too.
At this particular stop, I also had a tortilla, which is a potato omelet. It was served with two slices of bread with fresh tomato paste. I hesitate to say paste, because it was fresh and not the thick canned variety, more like blended tomato I suppose. The plating was funny- it looked like a little cartoon deer or something.
Olives, anchovies, potato omelets, what could be more Spanish? Jamón ibérico, perhaps? Well, how about jamón flavored Ruffles?
As I said, they have the lifestyle thing down in Catalunya.
So, I was enjoying the day. But there was one thing on my list I had to accomplish. Find the elBulli Taller. And so I did.
The elBulli Taller
The elBulli Taller was the brain to elBulli’s heart. For six months a year, the chefs worked on the next season’s menu in this workshop, experimenting, testing and perfecting each dish until it was ready for the restaurant. Even though elBulli is now closed, I had to give myself the opportunity to see it if possible. Perhaps it is still in use – the menu at Tickets and 41º has to be developed somewhere, right?
I had to do some major Internet sleuthing to find the address (which ended up killing me on my roaming charges. Bah.), but I was able to locate it. It resides on the top floor of a building in a tourist trap side street in Barcelona. The door was shut and no one answered the bell. I kept nearby, and finally someone came out, and an older, heavy set man was at the door. He was the security, I guess, or the concierge of some sort.
Using my meager Spanish, I asked if this was the building where the elBulli Taller was located. He said yes. I asked if there was anyone there. He said no, and there hadn’t been for awhile, from what I gathered. I then asked if I could come in and take a few pictures of the lobby of the building, to which he replied sure. Hey, it’s something, right?
Barriga llena, corazón contento
My trip to Barcelona was short but lovely. Great hospitality, delicious food, historical sights, and, of course, some full on Adrià worship. To bring the memories back home with me, I even managed to find a porron, a Catalonian wine pitcher. Tony Bourdain partied like a Spaniard, and now I can too.