I have to confess. I'm ever so slightly obsessed with food. My preparation for the gastronomy of Barcelona began months before I was about to depart when I discovered that none other than the orange-clogged Mario Batali, along with pals Mark Bittman, Gwenyth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols had done a whirlwind tour of Spain in 2009, eating their way from one end of this magnificent country to the other. I'm not sure if it was watching Mario cooking gambas in a vineyard on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, or sampling tapas in Barcelona with "Bitty" or watching Claudia eat jamón iberico in a square in Salamanca, but somewhere along the way, one thing became abundantly clear.
Spain was going to be a great place to eat.
No matter where you go, you're not far from any assortment of delicious things to eat; tapas and their little brother the pintxo, bocadillos and tortillas, sopas and pa amb tomquèt (Catalàn for a crusty rustic bread topped with tomato, garlic and olive oil) and of course, the ever popular paella. Restaurants and cafés are everywhere, and whether it be one or two tables, or more than a dozen, sitting down and enjoying food together is an activity Spaniards cherish.
Yesterday, we took a guided tour of two of the big "markets" in Barcelona, the Mercado Santa Caterina which is right next to the cathedral, and the quite famous Bouqueria, the large market just west of La Rambla. Every neighborhood has it's own version of the marketplace, a place filled with people. From tourists enjoying a cup of fresh fruit to Spanish grandmothers filling their shopping trolley (a canvas bag on wheels that everyone brings to market), the market is a wonderful kind of madness. The sight of the fish monger putting out the day's catch, the smells of fresh baked breads and the sounds of the venders hawking their wares is truly intoxicating.
I'm a bit of a food snob. While I'll eat just about anything, I hate spending my money on crappy food. It's always so disappointing to fork over a dozen or more euros if the food hasn't measured up and lucky for me, it hasn't happened very often. We've had some great food since we've been here; magnificent sweet white anchovies pickled in vinegar that melt in your mouth, a crispy pork and rouquefort flauta (a sandwich made on a finger thin baguette), a to-die-for menu del día in San Sebastian that included quiche Lorraine (San Sebastian is very close to France), baccalao (salt cod made in a creamy potato sauce) and an apple tarte with queso helado (cheese ice cream) that was out of this world.
We've sampled some amazing rioja while munching on freshly made cheeses, drank crisp txacoli in the Basque country, and sipped some incredible cider in a café in Girona that was served in ceramic teacups. There's gelato on every corner. And don't get me started on the pastry. There doesn't seem to be anything that the Spaniards won't dip in chocolate.
But despite the gastronomic successes we've had so far, there's one thing that's been missing. I'm still searching for the perfect paella. Stay tuned.