Thursday, April 17, 2008

Barcelona: Foodie Paradise

In Barcelona the holy trinity of bohemian culture meet – art, food and wine. There is the sipping of sangria. The munching of fried, juicy ham croquetas oozing cheese and the pure pleasure of lounging beneath the shadow of medieval buildings in the Gothic Quarter. Street performers and artists line the sidewalks. Laughter bubbles up from outdoor cafes. It's impossible not to be seduced by the beautiful people, savory food and striking architecture everywhere you turn.

We set out early to view Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona’s most distinctive landmark. Afterwards, we pop into the Picasso Museum, a surprisingly intimate gallery housed in two 15th century palaces. Exhibiting a wide range of art, including the Las Meninas series, it’s a powerful tribute to Picasso’s talent and offers glimpses at many of his earlier, lesser known works.

Afterwards we hit up Bar Pintoxo, an outdoor tapas stand housed inside the Mercat de la Boqueria. With no written menu and even less organized ordering, we mercifully take what the chef brings us - plates of meat, enormous crawfish and glasses of sparkly cava. He cooks for a huge crowd of admirers and as we’re seated a foot away from his tiny stovetop we’re able to marvel at his talent in the kitchen. The confines of elbow-to-elbow dining results in pleasant chatter with friendly locals and plenty of chances to practice our Spanish.

At Irati, the mood changes from frantic to romantic. Professionals speak softly, langouring in the dimly lit, modern space. The glass-topped bar brims with plates of every toothpickable snack imaginable. Bacon wrapped prawns! Warm mozzarella and roasted pepper slices on baguette! Sizzling chorizo! Patrons are charged on how many toothpicks are left on their plate before they exit (of which we have plenty, after discovering the fried seafood). Several glasses of Rioja later, we amble over to Bodega La Plata to drink humble homemade wine out of barrels while grumpy old men gossip loudly and wolf down fried sardines from a giant can on the counter. We're the only tourists here, which makes it worth the walk. (Tip: Try the sardines. Although they look scary they taste awesome, and they're a local specialty. There are only 3 types of wine to choose from - red, rose and white so don't expect bells and whistles but that's part of the fun.)

Forging onwards with full stomaches we hit Taller de Tapas for chilled sangria, laced with floating orange slices. The calamari is perfection, though they come with eyes, antennae and all. Beer lovers should make a pit stop at Bar del Pi for local cervesas (Bock Damm and San Miguel), as this place stocks plenty of choices. If you’re a foodie, an oenophile or enjoy nightlife – this is a city you’ll love – and when you’re not eating and drinking your way around town, there’s enough architecture, art and atmosphere to keep you occupied for days.

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