The Great British Partake-Off: Eating So Güell In Barcelona!
Back in November, we had an upcoming long weekend and were debating where to go. Amsterdam? Lisbon? Edinburgh? Athens? Flights to all these places were actually ridiculously expensive since we were booking so last-minute, so after much Expedia and Travelocity searching, we finally settled on Barcelona. I hate to say "settled" but that's how I kind of felt returning to Spain after a mediocre trip to Madrid back in 2010...however I am absolutely eating my words now as we had some of the most amazing eating experiences in Barcelona. If you have not eaten Catalonian cuisine, you are missing out on life.
After the flight and travel from the airport, we finally arrived in the center of Barcelona around 2pm. Guess who was on the path to hangry? Me! One of the hardest things for me about traveling to an unfamiliar place is getting hangry and not knowing where to get food immediately. Luckily, we had a list of recommendations from a Barcelona native and that turned out to be some of the most valuable information for us that weekend. I've since passed that list to several people who are also heading to Barcelona, so thank you to our Barcelona friend (hi Pilar!)
To satisfy my hanger, we went to the closest recommended restaurant: Casa Alfonso, right off Placa de Catalunya. When you first walk in, there are dozens of thick jamon hocks hanging from the ceiling. What a good portent of things to come! There walls and furnishings are warm worn wood. There's a guy behind the bar preparing tapas and bread. We were led to seating in the back room, which was decorated with avant garde artwork from local artisans - it was a fun juxtaposition of tradition and modernity. We ordered some tomato bread, a meat and cheese plate, crispy pigs ears, and patatas bravas. Oh, and a pitcher of red sangria.
Let me tell you, our late lunch at Casa Alfonso was one of the best meals of my entire life.
The tomato bread - toasted baguette bits rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt - was stunning in its simplicity. I was afraid the bread would be soggy under all that tomato, but it was so crunchy and delicately flavored with sweet tomatoes and fragrant olive oil and just a touch of salt.
The charcuterie plate was various goat cheeses covered in various goodies (raisins, pistachios, olives, etc.), a creamy brie-like cheese, pate, jamon, slices of sausage, and...slices of cured tuna? The tuna wasn't my favorite (a little fishy, a little too funky for my taste), but everything else was great. The goat cheeses and pate were my favorites: a nice sharp goat cheese paired with a little bit of raisin or olive from the crust, and a very liver-y smooth pate.
My absolute favorite thing, however, and possibly one of my favorite dishes ever, was the pigs ears. I was shooting in the dark when I ordered this, but it paid off. The waiter brought me a dish heaped with chunks of fried pigs ears and I swooned at the first bite. They were crunchy and soft at the same time, owing to the thin piece of ear cartilage running through the center (sorry if you are squeamish about these things, not sorry) and the meat and fat on either side. Every once in a while, a bit of sea salt would burst onto my taste buds and complete the whole meaty-savory party going on in my mouth. I've been on the hunt for something that even comes close ever since.
To me, the epitome of our weekend in Barcelona was the pigs ears at Casa Alfonso, but the rest of the trip was wonderful as well. One down side to putting so much in stock by our recommendation list was that a lot of these places wound up being booked up for the night because they were very popular. We wanted to go to some upscale restaurants for dinner but there were huge waits, and especially with the Spanish propensity to eat long and late, the only available tables were like 11pm and beyond.... As a result, we had to settle for some average meals in Barcelona, but they were overshadowed by Casa Alfonso and others.
For example, we had a great lunch at Sol Soler on the Placa del Sol with croquettes, a rustic cabbage and potatoes dish, Spanish omelette, and chicken wings. Everything was simple yet delicious! Since the Placa del Sol is a little farther out from the main area of town, it had much more of a local vibe. Definitely non-pretentious, well-cooked, and very tasty!
On the last meal before our flight, we went to Ciudad Condal, which was more of an upscale tapas bar. It was packed with people at the bar and at tall cocktail tables; we were lucky to snag a table! I wasn't too hungry so we just had some patatas bravas, Galician octopus, and sausage sandwiches. We probably ordered patatas bravas at every meal but the patatas bravas at Ciudad Condal were my favorite of all: the sauce on top of the cubes of roasted potatoes was creamy and garlicky and I wanted to bottle it up and eat it with anything and everything.
The most special thing about lunch at Ciudad Condal was the atmosphere and people watching. It was a Sunday afternoon and we watched locals sitting at the bar and ordering the dishes they know to be delicious. It was also fascinating to watch the service: the bar was a stout glass case that wrapped around the bar with all the different fixings. One of the most memorable scenes was watching a family of young parents and their daughters (maybe 8 or 9 years old and both with really neat box braids) sitting at the bar and enjoying all the diverse foods Catalan cuisine has to offer. I think in mainstream America, kids are adverse to anything that's not chicken nuggets or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. It was refreshing to see these young Spanish girls eating sardines and squid and all the weirdest parts of a pig, and I was partly jealous that they could enjoy such delights in their hometown.
Aside from the awesome meals, we also got to experience and understand the Spanish love of food while walking through the various markets. There were several enormous markets that sold fresh seafood (shrimp, funky flat fluke and flounder, glistening little silver fish, squid and cuttlefish, etc.), big white cakes of bacalao (salted cod), brightly colored produce, and of course giant and expensive jamon iberico and jamon serrano.
Oh Barcelona, you lovely lovely place!! Not only were we fed so well, but we saw some beautiful unparalleled sights like the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell and petanque clubs. It was an amazing trip and I highly encourage anyone looking for a recommendation of where to stop by on a Eurotrip to spend a few days in Barcelona. Hit me up for that list of restaurants and other Veritasty travel tips! And if anyone is heading there anytime soon...please bring me back a few plates of Casa Alfonso pigs ears!