Schell: Visit Barcelona for the ham, though beaches not bad either

Following London, our culinary adventures continued after a short flight to glorious Barcelona.

Following London, our culinary adventures continued after a short flight to glorious Barcelona. It was my first trip to Spain and this Mediterranean seaside city and I fell madly in love.

What differentiated this European city from other favored destinations like Paris or Rome, was the surprising tropical white sand beach just a quick 15-minute jaunt from the old part of town.

Like many of the great cities, Barcelona (BCN) offers art, fashion, culinary adventures and history—but a fabulous beach life too? Heaven.

The architecture, of course, is very famous and a huge draw for visitors to BCN—the Gaudi creations will leave your mind reeling. The people are colourful, strong and gracious and the city has an ease to it that is very welcoming and quick to fall into pace with. I was shocked at how many do not speak English, so before you venture there I suggest learning a few phrases.

And then there is the food. As many experts from the foodie world will tell you, Spain has surpassed France as a culinary leader thanks to chefs like Ferran Adria of El Bulli. Considered by some as the best chef in the world, Adria introduced molecular gastronomy to the international food scene.

Tapas, tapas, tapas. This well-known style of eating small plates heralds from Spanish roots. Although not a local Catalonian specialty, they are delicious and tapas bars are everywhere. After our first awkward visit to one of our neighbourhood tapas bars, we finally learned that customers are expected to help themselves and when it is time for the bill, they count the toothpicks on your plate. Rather dubious and strange for our customs—what if one pocketed some of the toothpicks? BCN residents are obviously very trusting or they have eyes at the back of their heads.

Tapas offerings include small plates ranging from my favourites like cheese and ham croquettes (dangerously delish), chunks of amazing canned tuna with pimento, olives wrapped in anchovies (I never knew I loved anchovies) to small wedges of their traditional potato tortilla (like a layered potato pie), fried baby squid, cheese stuffed red peppers and our absolute favourite Peixets fregits (whole tiny deep fried whitebait fish) and, of course, Iberian ham.

Iberian ham is a marvel and sadly a product that we cannot get here. Surpassing its cousin prosciutto by leaps and bounds in flavour, this delicacy is offered everywhere with prices ranging from affordable to astronomical depending on the piggy from whence it came.

In Europe, the ham (jamón ibérico) price can range from $50 per pound for the lowest quality, to more than $120 per pound. It is a type of cured ham and is at least 75 per cent black Iberian pig, also called pata negra (black hoof, or black paw). The hams are labeled according to the pigs’ diet, with an acorn diet being most desirable. Pairing well with the ham, Manchego cheese is a local favourite as well as olives (did you know that Spain is the biggest olive oil producer in the world?). Thankfully we can get both of these delicious products here.

Spain is also the third largest producer of wine in the world with over 400 varieties planted, though 80 per cent of the country’s wine production is from only 20 grape varieties including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha. Although we enjoyed many different wines, as well as the exquisite sherry, our favourite was the Cava. The Spanish equivalent of Champagne, these luscious bubbles pair with everything any time of day.

A perfect destination for all—from singletons to families, we loved Barcelona and cannot wait to go back.

Where To Stay: We rented an amazing apartment right in the old El Born neighbourhood. Our apartment was Attic B—not sure how the other ones were but it was super quiet, comfortable and perfectly located. The company is www.insidebcn.com and they also provided an amazing concierge service.

Where To Eat: Tapas! There are three great tapas bars that we hung out at within two blocks of our apartment.  Sagardi, Taller Tapas and the local fave: Cal Pep where they also offer a tasting menu. Bestial Restaurant is right on the beach and is sexy fabulous.  Must order the fried whitefish, a bottle of cava and melt away the afternoon while staring out under palm trees to the Mediterranean Sea—sigh.

Boqueria Market is Barcelona’s most famous market located on La Rambla (the hideously touristy crowded main drag). There is a seafood bar in there near the entrance and the fried baby squid are to die for.

7 Portes is a beautiful old restaurant near the beach. We peeked in but did not get there unfortunately. Too bad, as we were told later by a reliable source that they had great paella which, believe me, is very elusive.

Other Tips: We lucked out and were there during their annual La Merce Festival—the biggest Catalan festival of the year. Human castle building, live music, a giant puppet parade and our favourite, the running of the devils—crazy people dressed as devils running through the streets with serious fire wands and crackers flaming. It was amazing and really unsafe.

Next week I will talk about our next stop in San Sebastian. Adios for now.

Jennifer Schell is editor of B.C. Wine Trails Magazine.

jennschell@shaw.ca

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