Catalan Cuisine

I didn’t take my camera with me for the past couple of trips I made. It needs cleaning and I’ve been too lazy to get to the service center to have it done, which means that I have to rely on my phone camera for pictures. So you’re going to have to excuse the not-so-great quality of the pics below, which do absolutely no justice to the food I had in Spain.

Of course, we started our journey with sangria. Any self-respecting traveler knows that the first rule of travel is to sample the local brew, be it beer or wine, or arak, or absinthe even (if you ever meet my friends, ask them what happened in Mallorca, cos I don’t have a friggin clue! Absinthe took for me that night).

Sangria. Loads of it!

There was sangria. And loads of it!

Anyhooo… let’s talk about food shall we?

mmm!

Breakfast in Barca

Have I mentioned my new-found love for tapas? You just get to try a lot more things than with one main dish, which makes so much sense!

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Fried jalapenos, and that’s artichokes & patata brava in the bg. All delicious!

This one tapas bar we went to in Barcelona was self-service. You just go to the bar, take as many tapas as you like, go back to your table and tuck in. While we were eating, we wondered how they were going to keep track of our consumption.

Tapas Bar. Best concept ever!

Tapas!

Turns out, the little toothpicks that were on the bite-sized food was not just for our convenience. They’d count the number of toothpicks at the end of the meal and charge you accordingly.

Of course, the concept of tapas is only in the big cities. Once you enter the countryside, the restaurants are rustic and homely, serving up food that is delicious, but with massive portions that were impossible to finish (for me anyway)!

On my first day in Cordoba, the owner of the B&B my friends and I were staying at asked us if we’d like to try the “Andalusian breakfast”.  It’s fresh tomato paste on warm bread with olive oil. The flavours are simple, yet delicious and rustic, though it’s not something I’d have on a regular basis.

Andalusian breakfast

Andalusian breakfast

This of course was just part of the breakfast that included cereal, fruits, chorizo, cold cuts, preserves and fantaaaaaastic cheese that you have to grate using a rotary device that makes the cheese come out in little florets.

best cheese ever! And chorizo

pretty cheese!

The orange juice was one of the best I’ve tasted. I think it only compares to the one I had in Cappadocia. I guess food just tastes better in the mountains.

food tastes better int the mountains

food tastes better here!

Speaking of mountains… I had my first brush with real snow (I’ve been to Ski Dubai and see the manufactured variety) only this year when I went to Sierra Nevada. I’m not much of a skier obviously. Once I fell down when I was simply standing around talking, just cos I had skis on and somehow lost my balance. So I spent more time building snowmen and throwing snowballs than actually skiing, but it was a fantastic day nonetheless.

But playing in the snow is hard work too, and it is only when you get back down on level ground you realize how ravenous you are. We went to this cosy little cafe called Cafe Vertical and wolfed down hotdogs and hot chocolate and churros like it was going out of style!

Hearty meal after a day in the snow

Best. Hotdog. Ever!

 

Food memories always have a special place in our hearts don’t they? I think it’s cos it takes us back to those wonderful moments when we first had a bite of something new or delicious and everything around that moment is brought back to us, if only for a fleeting instant. It’s more than just about eating, wouldn’t you agree?

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Time Travel

Did you know that long long ago, a Spanish prince ordered almond trees to be planted on the mountains so that his Scandinavian wife, who was pining for the landscape of the snow-covered white mountains she grew up in, would feel less homesick?

Then, the people were left with so many almonds that they didn’t know what to do with them. And that is how turron came to be! Our guide Catherine told me this story as I was tasting turron for the first time in one the shops tucked into a narrow lane in Barcelona. She gave more details, like names and times, but I always forget those very easily. I remember the essence and the romance of the stories, everything else is a little hazy.

Catherine was our guide for this walking tour of old Barcelona we’d signed up for. She’s an Irish art history student and had lived in Spain for 4 years, which I thought was wonderful, cos it’s long enough to know things from a local’s point of view and yet, not that long ago to remember the things that fascinate you about a new place.

 

lanes

exploring the narrow lanes of Barri Gothic

 

She took us around the Barri Gothic and the Roman barracks (what was left of it), down narrow winding lanes and past massive cathedrals, telling us wonderful and sometimes sad stories about it all.

I listened in horrific fascination about 13 year old Eulalia who was tortured in 13 different terrible ways by the Romans who wanted her to stop following Christianity. One of the tortures involved putting her in a barrel filled with knives and broken glass and rolling it down the street. When she told us that story, I was standing on the very same street the barrel rolled down on! It felt odd. Seven centuries separated me from that incident, and yet, I felt bad for that poor kid, and marveled at her strength, of the faith she had at such a young age that helped her endure so much. I wondered if it was  precisely because she was that young that she held such conviction.

We later went to the cathedral that held Eulalia’s crypt.

eulalia

Cathedral of the Holy Cross & Saint Eulalia

It was beautiful and cavernous, sad and mournful, busy yet silent, peaceful if you wanted it to be, bustling if you didn’t.

Usually, when I walk past ancient streets and monuments, I wonder. I wonder at their history, the stories those walls hold. This time, I heard the stories, and it was an uplifting experience. Never had history come alive for me like it had in those ancient streets. Almost like I’d gone back in time. It felt a little strange afterwards to shake hands and part with Catherine, figure out a place for lunch, take pictures, drink sangria, clink our glasses together, be happy, be present.

If you’re in Barcelona, of course you must go to the Sagrada Familia.

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia

Marvel at the weird genius of Gaudi, the wonderful play of light and colours that he worked with.

inside the Sagrada Familia

 

Go sit on the longest bench in the world at Park Guell, check out the Hansel & Gretel gingerbread-style houses he built there.But if you’re like me, you’ll love the Barri Gothic the best. I realized I love exploring new places, but I especially like them when they’re old. The Barri Gothic was where the magic is, where you feel like you’ve gone back in time and history is coming alive around you.

step back

Keep on Walking!

Have I told you about the time I went to Spain? About how I stood at the edge of the cliff at Formentor and stared in wonder at the magnificence of the ocean?

The aquamarine of the Mediterranean Sea is something that cannot be explained, it’s brilliance cannot be captured by the photos (though God knows I tried!)

It is breathtakingly beautiful, and a bit frightening. Frightening because it’s so massive  and overwhelming that you feel dwarfed and insignificant standing there, at the edge of the cliff, with the wind whipping around you, threatening to throw you off. You’re suddenly stripped of the facade which has been carefully constructed throughout your life to give you the impression of control.  You realize how small you really are in the universe that is all-powerful, all encompassing… beautiful and terrible at the same time.

I stood there for a long time, not quite knowing how to express what I was feeling, not even quite sure of what exactly it was that I felt. Somehow it was vaguely comforting to know that I was only as important as a grain of sand might be to the beach. I was meant to be what I am, and that’s okay! I almost felt tempted to jump off into the ocean, not because I was suicidal, but cos it was so beautiful and somehow I felt like I wanted to be a part of it.

Well, of course I didn’t jump, or else I wouldn’t be here, writing about it.

And talking practically, I think when I die, I’ll have my ashes thrown into that ocean! My sister can make a trip of it- go to Mallorca, drink some sangria, throw my ashes into the sea… you know! :P  (That’s how *i* talk practically!)

While in Mallorca, I carried my Lonely Planet around the whole time, checking the phrases at the end of the book and trying to recall whatever was taught to me in my Spanish language class! The trouble of course, is that in class you’re taught by someone who speaks slowly and enunciates with a lot of gesticulation, while in real life, you’re hit in the face with  volley of vowels that you can’t make any sense of and you’re left frantically turning the pages of your phrasebook to where you last saw ” please could you repeat that SLOWLY?”, all while your friend is standing next to you skeptically, muttering about you wasting money on lessons that clearly hadn’t come to any use!

It was fun though, trying to speak a different language, embracing a new culture, living like the locals, eating their food, drinking their cava (oh! How I miss cava!).

I loved their joie de vivre, and for the longest time I thought I’d like to go live there! In fact, I still believe I’d like to die there. I feel it’d be a magnificent way to end it!  But there’s so much more of the world to see before that! So for now… just keep on going I guess!