Tapas in Barcelona

On my last trip to Barcelona a couple of months ago, My good friend Gabriella who is always in the mood for good food and wine, joined me for a self-guided tapas tour one warm Saturday evening. After we got sidetracked at some fun shops on the Rambla de Catalunya and the Passeig de Gracia, we stopped at Cerveceria Catalana. If you are new to the idea of tapas and don’t mind being with others who are too, this is a great place to start. Its big, there is plenty of seating (not always common in tapas places) and it has great food, menus in English, many traditional options some with a modern flair, and great service! I was skeptical as I knew this place might be touristy but I was pleasantly surprised by the food and won over by the friendly staff.

Ceveceria Catalana

anchovy tapa with peppers

Our next stop was pure fun. I had heard of Tapaç 24 as it is overseen by Chef Carles Abellan from Comerç 24 and I was looking forward to trying some of his inventive cuisine. Sitting on high stools, surrounded by colourful painted walls and fresh vegetables hanging between the bar and the glass through which we could watch the chefs at work, we were not disappointed. Practically everything on the menu is based on traditional Catalan dishes and ingredients, some with inventive twists, and everything made with the best fresh ingredients. We started with the Tapa D’Or – or Golden tapa for 2.50€ which was a plate of quality extra virgin olive oil with tomatoes served with crusty country bread. Next we ordered the restaurants version of Bombes called Bombes de La Barceloneta for 3.50€. Bombes are a type of croquette, always round. Our other tapa was the Tapas 24 version of the Catalan “Coca” which is like a pizza topped with fresh vegetable goodness with some caviar sprinkled on for fun. We of course enjoyed our tapas with some local sparkling cava and vowed to return someday soon!

La Tapa D'Or at Tapas 24

Bombes de la Barceloneta, Tapas ,24

Tapas 24

Soon we were off again. To reach our third destination we took a 10 or 15 minute stroll down to the Born area near the Picasso Museum and stopped in at a packed Basque pintxos bar called Euskal Etxea, or the Basque house. Not just a source of great pintxos the Euskal Etxea is also a sort of Basque cultural center which offers activities and basque language classes. We stood at the bar and as is the custom here, were offered a plate and allowed to take what we wanted from the heaping plates of pintxos and kept our toothpicks in good faith in order to pay at the end. A weeknight might be better to stop here as it gets pretty crowded but no one really seemed to mind, and since this is the norm here in Spain, we were quite happy to enjoy our txacoli and pintxos elbow to elbow with our fellow diners.

The details.
Cerveceria Catalana

C/ Mallorca, 236. Between Rambla de Catalunya and Balmes.

93 216 03 68


Tapaç 24

Carrer Diputacio, 269 (just east of Passeig de Gracia)

http://www.carlesabellan.com/

Euskal Etxea

C/ Montcada 1-3, Barcelona 08003 (next to the Picasso Museum)

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Filed under Pintxos, Places, Spain, Tapas, Tapas Bars, Uncategorized

Tapas of the Week #17 – Percebes

Menu shot

Last month to celebrate my birthday, and that of a friend, we went to a modest Galician restaurant in our central-eastern neighborhood of Madrid which is locally popular for its low prices and great food. Their cider is brought directly from Galicia in barrels, and the tapas in this basement restaurant are generous, and delicious. However, this was not a day for only tapas, we were going to have a feast.
Among plates of octopus with potatoes, patatas bravas, morcilla with pimientos de padrón, we treated ourselves to what is considered a delicacy in
Spain, Percebes or “Gooseneck Barnacles”

An interesting and strange food, its said that before the 18th C its unlikely people actually ate these crustaceans, considering them as appetizing as rocks, or even imagining them to be small monsters with many, very ugly, feet. Some accounts state that they were thought to be the early form of Barnacle Geese, birds which to the medieval eye seemed to appear out of nowhere. The geese don’t of course, but in an age before mass transport, people had no idea that these birds migrated and therefore hatched their eggs elsewhere.

Percebes in Spain are found along the rugged coasts of Galicia, especially near the dangerous cliffs of the appropriately named “Costa da Morte,” or the Coast of Death. It’s a beautifully striking landscape, with jagged cliffs with the cold Atlantic waters pounding the huge rocks below. This creates the perfect habitat for these barnacles who attach themselves permanently to the rocks beaten by the surf and feed off the plankton and other small crustaceans that the waves bring them. Fisherman risk their lives as they swim to harvest the Percebes, thus explaining the high prices Spaniards will gladly pay to indulge in this delicacy.

Percebes, Goose Barnacles

Percebes are cooked for just a few minutes in salt or sea water. As the Galician saying goes, “auga a ferver, percebes botar” When water boils, take out Percebes. Nothing else is added to the water or the Percebes once they are cooked as to preserve this special, sought after flavor except maybe a bay leaf.

But how do you eat these strange looking critters? The head, well, I think it’s the head, is covered with a strong shell which is easy to twist off from the body, exposing the moist, soft and yet firm meat within the tube of the neck or body. With every bite its like getting a squirt of the delightfully salty sea.

Where to try Percebes? If not in Galicia they can be had in many Galician restaurants around Spain. Madrid, although landlocked, is an excellent spot as well because of the enormous amounts of fresh seafood arriving daily. Try a Galician restaurant such as Maceiras on Calle Huertas, 66.

Or if you want to try my neighborhood place, its called “De’Galicia” and located near Metro Manuel Becerra on Paseo Marqués de Zafra, 8. Tel 91 356 91 69.

For more formal dining, with higher prices try:

El Pescador: High quailty fish and seafood at a Madrid standard.

Combarro – bills itself as Galicia in Madrid.
Que Aproveche!

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Filed under Food, Madrid, Restaurants, Spain, Tapas, Tapas Bars

Tapa of the Week #16 – Cogollos al ajillo

Lettuce hearts with garlic

 

A wonderfully simple tapa, Cogollos al Ajillo, or “garlicky lettuce hearts”, were something I discovered in Cordoba at a neighborhood restaurant outside the historic center which served fantastic pincho morunos for 60 cents each. We were also served cogollos al ajillo and I made a mental note to make them myself when I got back home in Madrid.  These lettuce hearts are so fast, easy, and delicious, I don’t know why I had not discovered them before! This dish makes a great side, tapas party anyone?, and its a big hit with garlic lovers.

Preparation for 3 to 4 people:

3 lettuce hearts

White wine vinegar

4 to 5 cloves garlic

olive oil

salt

First carefully cut off a thin slice of the sometimes discolored stem, making sure to keep the stem intact so the lettuce layers do not seperate. Next cut the lettuce hearts into quarters or thirds, wash and pat dry. Arrange the pieces on a plate as above. Mince the garlic and heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a fryng pan and when hot add 4 or 5 cloves of minced garlic. Meanwhile, while watching the garlic so it does not burn, drizzle at least a tablespoon of white wine vineger over the lettuce hearts and then sprinkle on a pinch of salt. When the garlic is a golden toasted color, remove from heat and immediately pour over the lettuce hearts, with some of the olive oil that now has a wonderful garlic flavor infused in it. Drizzle on more extra virgin olive oil if needed and it’s ready to serve. I always make this dish last and serve immediately so the lettuce stays crisp. The lettuce can then be picked up by the stem, no utensils necessary. Enjoy!

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Tapa of the Week #15 – Brains

Brains, sesos

After a winter of little tapas activity, I am back with some more Spanish food to taste and places to visit. I thought I would share a tapa I had last weekend. I tried it more for the sake of a post for the blog than because I really wanted to. No, “miento,” that’s not true, I was curious as to what brains tasted like. We were in Cuidad Rodrigo, a beautiful walled in town full of renaissance palaces in Western Spain not far from Portugal. There is also a lovely Parador in a converted in a 14th century castle.

As luck would have it, on our walk through the city it suddenly it starts pouring down rain, and none of the six people in my group had thought of bringing an umbrella from the car. So we ducked into the first bar we came upon, which had only one patron, who I think was the grandfather of the girl working there. We ordered Cola Cao and tea and began to warm up. I notice that one of my friends is looking into the glass case on the bar, wondering to himself and all of us, just what kind of meat this was? “Sesos” replies the girl behind the counter in an uninterested voice.
Brains, sesos

So my friend Carl and I decided it was time we tried sesos, and with the slices of garlic we saw around them in the dish, I thought, at least they won’t taste too bad.

I have to say, I probably won’t be eating too many sesos again in the future. The taste was not bad, a fine meaty taste, but I didn’t enjoy the soft and slippery texture. Of course I would happily eat them if I had no other option, and many people really do enjoy them. Anyone like brains?

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Tapa of the Week #14 – Octopus – Pulpo a la Gallega

Pulpo a la gallega
One of the more difficult dishes for me to convince visitors to Spain to try is octopus. I have given many tapas tours and it’s a rare occasion that someone says “YES, I’d love to try octopus!” Maybe its the texture, maybe its the shape, maybe because its not chicken, but I suppose its fine if people don’t want to take the chance and actually have to feel the shape of a sucker on their tongue. It means more for the rest of us! Octopus are caught off the north and east coasts of Spain, and although they are diminishing in numers they are still an important component of the Galician diet, and one of the most popular dishes in Galician restaurants. Both pictures are examples of “Pulpo a la Gallega” – Galician style octopus. The octopus is boiled and served with boiled potatoes and sprinkled with olive oil, paprika and sea salt.

Pulpo a la gallega

In Madrid, there are several places to try octopus. Usually you can’t go wrong at a Galician or Asturian restaurant. Around the Plaza Mayor octopus is usually present on the menu but I find those places to be expensive for the quality of food generally served.

One of my favorite Galician restaurants in Madrid is Maceiras on Calle Huertas. I like its informality, wooden chairs and tables, handwritten menus, the sounds of Galician, Celtic influenced music, and even the gruff yet efficient wait staff. Don’t expect lots of smiles, patience or overt friendliness, but they are quick. The food is simple, traditional, inexpensive and most importantly, good! There is a nice selection of red and white Galician wines which you will drink in the traditional way, in white ceramic bowls. The decoration with nets, barrels, reminds you of the rural fishing communities found in Galicia. Notice the “Nunca Mais” flag on the wall and at the back the sign that warns “NO hay Coca-cola” - There is no Coke. So don’t ask. No problem, we will settle for a nice Albariño. As far as food, besides the pulpo, try the clams, mussles, empanadas, pimientos de padron, Galician sheeps-milk cheeses, patatas bravas. Finish your meal with an almond cake which tastes just like a Galician grandmother would make, the “Tarta de Santiago.”

Maceiras Restaurant

Maceiras is immensely popular so if you go for dinner on a weekend do not even think of arriving after 9pm unless you don’t mind waiting over an hour for a table. There is a waiting list, but no pre-reservations are accepted.

Maceiras in Calle de las Huertas, 66 and around the corner on Calle Jesus.
Huertas is a popular street with several bars so you won’t have to look far to find some nightlife. Its not far from the Prado Museum, and just a few blocks downhill from the outdoor caf’és and bars of Plaza Santa Ana.

Address: Calle de las Huertas 66, 28014 Madrid, Spain – +34 914 295 818

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Tapas in Lugo, Galicia

Concurso de tapas Lugo

Last month I was fortunate to be in Northern Spain for a weekend. We travelled to Lugo, in Galicia, for a wedding which was held in the beautiful Romanesque and Gothic-style cathedral nestled in the center of town inside one of western Europe’s best-preserved, intact Roman city walls. Storybook wedding aside, we also spent quite a bit of time in Lugo’s various tapas bars with thirty or so friends getting reacquainted, catching up on each others lives, and eating tapas. Lucky for us, Lugo was holding a tapas competition with thirty five bars participating. Each bar offered a special tapa for the occasion under one of two categories; traditional or creative. I was able to try three of the contending tapas, along with several others acompanied by excellent Galician wines.

bacallau con pure duas cores

At Taberna Daniel, among a tapas style dinner of octopus, squid and mushrooms we tried the “tapa creativa”- The name in Galician is: “bacallau con pure duas cores“. Served in a glass it was a puree of cod, sweet onion and a garlicky tomato sauce which tasted like salmorejo. It was tasty and interesting, but I think I prefer not to eat my tapas out of a glass with a spoon. I would give it 3 out of 5 stars though.

tortilla á mariñeira

At 101 Vinos, along with a beautifully tart Albariño we were served the “tapa tradicional” of “tortilla á mariñeira” which is a square slice of tortilla española, drenched in a marinera shrimp sauce. Very good. My favourite thing at this bar however were the pimientos de padrón. 4 out of 5 stars.

ameixas ó Antas

My favourite tapa was at Cafeteria Restaurante Antas de Ulla. Their own style of clams “ameixas ó Antas” included six clams for 2€ with a spicy vinaigrette sauce served with toastettes topped with a dried red pepper and gulas (imitation baby eels) and drizzled with olive oil. Our group ordered lots and lots of these. 5 stars!

 I can’t find information yet on the winners but I do know I didn’t participate in the contest the correct way. You are supposed to have the waiter stamp your card proving that you in fact did try their tapa. After you have visited at least twelve bars you can deposit your stamped map in one of the boxes provided at each establishment for a drawing. You could win something too! A case of wine from the local D.O. Ribeira Sacra or a night in a luxury hotel in Lugo.

So next year, mid-September for about two to three weeks there will be another tapas contest in Lugo, I highly recommend checking it out!

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Filed under Food, Galicia, Places, Spain, Tapas, Tapas Bars

Tapa of the Week #13 – Lomo from Guijuelo, Salamanca

Lomo Embuchado

One my favorite “embutidos” or cured meats in Spain is Lomo Embuchado, or cured pork loin. Don’t tell anyone but I like lomo almost more than cured iberian ham, or jamon. If I have both sitting in front of me the lomo dissappears a bit faster.  A few months ago when I was with my boyfriend visiting his parents in northern Spain they served lomo along with an apertif before lunch. They announced that this “lomo” was from the Denominacion de Origin of Guijuelo, which is acclaimed around the world for its highest of quality Iberian hams. The lomo was exquisite, and as I enjoyed the compelx flavors of this beautifully marbled iberian lomo I soon managed to have everyone laughing at me when I attempted to pronounce Guijuelo. Its supposed to be “Gee-HWAY-low” but I forgot that and said something like “Gwee-hell-ow”. You try it!  I am constantly reminded of this slip and my good-natured Spanish family has now taken to prouncing it my way. They have made such a joke of it, now I sometimes forget which way was right. But least I know what to look for at the market!

Guijuelo, known locally as the “cradle of Iberian ham,” is a town of around 10,000 people, located in the southeast of the province of Salamanca, about 3 hours west of Madrid. It is the center of the Denminacion de Origen of Guijuelo and its producers are prize winners known for their excellent quality and the artisinal nature in which the hams are produced. At one thousand meters above sea level, the climate is optimal for the curing of hams during the cold winters and mild summers. Guijuelo’s most famous resident producer, Joselito, who has recieved nothing but the highest of worldwide critical acclaim, simply announces that their hams are “The Best Jamon in the World.” Try it and you will most likely agree. Austrialians can now rejoice for it has been announced that Joselito hams have received approval for import. I have not been able to find any information about the current status of if any Guijuelo hams are avaliable in the US. (might be a good time to make a trip to Spain!)

If you visit the town of Guijuelo one of my Madrileno friends highly recommends eating at an award-winning Guijuelo restaurant, La Barbacoa de la Amistad. The logo, a friendly pig with the body of a prawn, claims that you will be served the best “seafood” from the pigsty.

Barbacoa La Amistad / Calle Tedo de la Feria, 8 / Guijuelo (Salamanca) 37770/ Tel. 923580402 / GPS coordinates +40° 33′ 35.87″, -5° 39′ 59.69″

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Filed under cured meats, Food, Guijuelo, Ham, jamon, lomo, Spain, Tapas