Friday, May 15, 2009

Walking the Gourmet Way

As a special treat, I decided to book myself a place on the "Gourmet Walk" offered by Barcelona Walks through the city's TI. A group of around 30 people met at 10:30 and were given turquoise earphones and a little white transmitter that mimicked an Ipod in shape and color. Once our guide, Bernard, had determined that everyone could hear him, we were on our way.

This was my first walking tour in Europe on my own, as I'm usually keeping a discreet eye on all the group members for one of the Rick Steves´ tours whenever I'm in this kind of situation, making sure no one loses the group. This time, I only had to listen to Bernard desribe the many mouthwatering foods we came across on our walk, along with a few tidbits about the local architecture and history, and a simple recipe for that classic of Barcelona dishes, pan con tomate. I can't wait to try it at home.

But more than anything, we saw chocolate - lots and lots of chocolate. Unfortunately we didn't get to taste any, but we were given delicious fresh fruit salads from La Boqueria market and a ticket for two tapas and a drink at our final destination, the Saint Catherine's market. I also made a quick stop during a free time at La Boqueria to take the obligatory photo of Juan, owner of the Pinxto Bar, smiling while giving the thumbs-up signal, just like in Rick Steves' show. I also bought an absolutely amazing pastry from him, crisp and flakey beyond any French pastry I've had, and filled with just the right amount of cream.

All of this coincided perfectly with the fact that I was starting to feel a little better, bringing back my interest in food. At the bar in the market, I sipped on red wine and enjoyed two Basque-style pintxos, one topped with sausage and carmelized onions, the other with eggplant, peppers, and a creamy goat cheese. Pintxos (pronounced peenchos) consist of any variety of toppings served atop a slice of baguette, usually with a toothpick stuck in the middle, enabling you to pay when finished by counting the number of toothpicks you have acquired. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to enjoying a great many pintxos next week while in San Sebastian, the gastronomic capital of the Basque region.

Along the tour we also were able to see a working 150-year-old oven used for roasting nuts, the only one of its kind in Europe. I bought some samples to bring home, so we´ll see how this technique works. Tonight I headed back to one of the shops Bernard had pointed out on the tour, this one specializing in hot chocolate with churros. Ah, heaven! The chocolate was like a silky, molten pudding, and the fresh churros only lightly sweetened with a sprinkle of sugar were the perfect accompaniment. But I really could have used a partner to share the chocolate; not that I wasted any of it, mind you, but such a rich dessert is, in my opinion, best appreciated in a few small bites to savor.

Following dessert with some tapas, I chose patatas bravas and pulpos (octopus) at a bar in La Ribera. Only here again I was confounded by enourmous servings that filled me up and were clearly ideal for sharing. If only Michael were here (although there is no way he would touch the pulpos - I'd still have those little creatures all to myself)!

Still, I feel as if I am finally getting into the foodie world of Spain, and it just whets my appetite for more. After a good night's sleep and an early train trip to San Sebastian, let's hope I'll feel even better and ready for the gastronomic delights ahead. And if you enjoy food and are ever in Bareclona, take the gourmet tour; it's two hours very well spent.

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