Seriously, Europeans eat a lot of bread. White bread. With every meal. They seem to live on permutations of cheese and ham sandwiches, mostly without tomato or lettuce or anything juicy. So that, dear friends, was my dough-weary battle cry one chilly morning as I stomped my foot on a pavement in Ibiza. No more bread! The señor just laughed because it was also my first unbridled attempt at Spanish after three weeks in the country.
BUT… then I had pan con tomate – bread with tomato – a Catalan classic that is greater than the sum of its parts. Plus it’s hands-on messy. Serve this at the beginning of a meal or with cold beers while the sausage sizzles on the grid. You’ll need good bread, toasted, a ripe squishy tomato, whole unpeeled garlic cloves, good olive oil and salt.
Slice the garlic in half and scratch the bread with it. Do the same with the tomato. Really wreck it. Then drizzle with as much olive oil as the bread will hold and sprinkle with salt. Be liberal.
It’s the taste bud equivalent of a great family reunion and I urge you to try it. My buds have been battling the last few weeks. There are many many restaurants in Barcelona and most of them should be avoided. Food can be very oily and if you love fresh zingy flavours, winter food in this town will break you. Barcelona has incredible culinary aces up her sleeve but the likes of Tickets and Dos Palillos are a far cry from what the average Jose eats. I had this gem at a lovely tapas restaurant, Casa de tapas de Cañota, owned by the Iglesias brothers who also co-own Tickets with the famous Adrias. Casa de tapas serves traditional tapas, made well. At affordable prices. Patrons are invited to rate individual dishes and the results are displayed.
Tapas isn’t really an option if you’re eating solo. The idea is to have one or two bites off each plate and not a whole plate of say, croquetas. But the tacos de cochinillo caught my eye and I mistakenly assumed ‘tacos’ meant, well, tacos. They way Mexican restaurants in South Africa do them. But in Spanish it also refers to little blocks of meat. Although the pork didn’t look the way I expected, it was delicious. Rich, succulent and crispy on top.
Most of my food woes this time around are simply due to not knowing. Almost no Spanish and even less Catalan. When I visited Barcelona the first time as a tourist I took taxis and ate at some of the best restaurants. Now I live like a local, taking the metro and hunting for cheaper but good ways to feed myself. Everything’s different, of course. I have yet to see a loaf of rye bread. And Spanish supermarkets are a far cry from the Americanesque food cathedrals we have at home. There’s a lot less packaging in the veg section and meat is not as fussily clipped and stripped of all indication that it once was animal. It’s all pretty darn real. Sections of my local market are downright scary. And when I hit the fish aisle I’m ever so grateful I can block my nose from the inside.
I’ve also realised that my perception of Spanish food was just plain wrong. I’m holding back on any sweeping statements until I’ve eaten the North but at this point, suffice to say that not only is their food not spicy, they actually dislike it. Which is why I’m really excited about a little restaurant we’re going to on Friday. Mexican street food by real Mexicans. Come to think of it, it’ll be the first time I ever eat Mexican prepared by Mexicans.
Living and learning.
If anyone’s still reading, please hold thumbs that we find a really nice apartment soon – with an oven – because I’m craving bobotie! Although I suspect the señor won’t like it…