Friday, November 09, 2007



Hola! That's how you are greeted in Catalonia - wherever you go. It has such a nice ring. Hola!

So let me tell you about the food there. It's much different from the rest of Spain - although I think of Catalonia as a different country - as, indeed, do the people from there. I recall eating much more meat, more vegetables as part of a meal and different kinds of soups, especially sopa de ajo (garlic soup) in the rest of Spain. The tapas (tiny one or two bite snacks) are also different. In Catalonia the tapas are more sandwich-y things - small pieces of crusty bread with spreads and that delicious Serrano ham and sausages. There wasn't a day at breakfast that I didn't have some of that ham and sausages.

Off the Rambla there is a market - "Mercat de La Boqueria" - which has stalls of the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables and meats and fish and spices. At the very back of the market is a restaurant - or rather a three-sided counter, where one perches on high stools, on the fourth side of which is a grill where the food is prepared. Only fish and shellfish, great bread for sopping up the sauces of olive oil, garlic (lots of garlic) and fresh parsley, Crema Catalan (the ubiquitous custard dessert) and beer, or wine or Cava - the Spanish sparkling wine. The restaurant is called the "Central Bar".

The menu is written on a chalkboard which hangs on the wall - and changes every day according to which fresh fish they have. As I didn't know what to order, I simply walked along the counter and looked at what people were eating and then chose. Three locals sitting next to us ordered a plate of the tiniest clams I have ever seen - each clam no larger than my thumbnail - simply done on the grill with the olive oil, garlic and parsley. The clams were piled high on the plate - and were absolutely delicious. A lot of work for a lot of clams - and absolutely worth it. We also ate fresh dorado and shrimp and razor clams - and drank Cava.

One night we ate patatas bravas - roasted or fried nuggets of potatoes with a spicy sauce, and the best grilled cuttlefish I have ever eaten....this time we drank sangria.

During the course of our stay we ate three kinds of paella - the usual seafood kind - one with black squid-ink tinting the rice and shellfish and a paella particular to Catalonia - fideua - made with tiny noodles instead of rice. When I came home I tried to replicate the paella using chicken instead of the shellfish - but it wasn't nearly as good. I think you really need the shellfish in the dish.

In Bilbao we ate in the Old Town at a famous old restaurant called "Victor Montes". We originally went there just to have some of their famous tapas and Cava - but the food was so good that when we saw them setting up for dinner we decided to stay on. The place was filled with locals - there was one table of fifteen celebrating something - and a number of smaller tables. We ate warm salt-cod salad, beans with foie gras and sweetbreads Catalan style - and, of course, Cava.

The next day in Bilbao we were exhausted from our five hours in the museum and decided to try the restaurant in our hotel - it wasn't part of the hotel, they just rented space there. The restaurant - "Zuria" - was absolutely first rate. It was decorated all in white - very striking - and the food was heavenly. We started with Zuria Croquettes - deep-fried little fish balls filled with salt-cod and cheese - ethereal. Then we went on to main courses of monkfish and cod - which we shared so we could taste more of everything - a cheese plate, bread pudding and coffee - and, of course, a crisp cold white wine.

I won't detail every meal - just more of pulpo (octopus), seafood, paella, great fish soup, salt cod, really good bread - one evening we stopped for oysters and Cava before going on to dinner - sangria, wine, surprisingly good coffee all over and imaginative tapas.

With all that good food available, just imagine how shocked I was to hear a couple near us asking someone for directions to the closest McDonalds!!! Can you believe it?

Yalla, Bye.

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