(By Chloe Gunning) The history and culture of a place is best told through its cuisine. So, what better way to get to know Barcelona inside and out, than with a long weekend of food-based adventures?
From Willy Wonka style treats, to a neighbourhood tour with a difference, to the most exciting, theatrical meal of my life… these are my top tips to satisfy your inner foodie!
Escribà is the most famous patisserie in Barcelona, dating back well over 100 years. With stores on La Rambla and Gran Via, it is a cake shop with a difference. Christian Escribà and his team are masters of making awe-inspiring sugary masterpieces. Over the years they’ve made exploding cakes, signature red lip truffles, sugar jewellery, chocolate walls, edible landscapes, and more. Nothing is impossible! When I spent the morning at their home on Gran Via, I felt like I was entering Willy Wonka’s famous factory, and I didn’t even have a golden ticket!
In one area, a chocolatier was creating edible stiletto shoes, while across from him was a conveyer belt of chocolate covered apricots… then there was the pastry area and another section where someone was busy customising birthday cakes. I listened in wonder to Xavi Marco – Cap de Projectes at Escribà, who said the aim of their pieces of edible art was to generate a feeling of surprise, invoke emotion and create an unforgettable experience. He explained their attitude to business. “If someone phones and asks us if we can do something, we say yes, then work out how to do it!” There hasn’t been anything yet that they haven’t been able to achieve, given the right budget of course!
My time at Escribà made me feel like a little kid again, lost in a fantasy world. I left with a full stomach (you would too if you’d sampled a delicious Mallorcan pastry with crema pastissera and their signature red lip truffles!) and a feeling that ‘anything is possible’. It would be hard to find a company with a more positive, inspirational attitude. I just hope there’s someone to continue the family business for another hundred years…
Devour Barcelona Food Tour
For a completely different view of Barcelona, I indulged in a food tour through the lesser-known Gràcia neighbourhood with Devour Barcelona Food Tours. I was promised 12 tastings, and would learn the story of the area via its cuisine.
With the expert musings of tour guide Renee, I learned about everything from olive oil production, to Catalan architecture, to why the locals drink vermouth and more! One of my favourite things about the day – being introduced to the local characters at the centre of this community.
Gràcia wasn’t always a part of Barcelona – it started as a small village on the outskirts of the city but was swallowed up in 1897. However, to this day, it has retained its village feel. Over four hours I visited the market, the key plazas, encounters several businesses with hundreds of years of history, giggled my way through a glass of cava, sampled many staples of the Catalan diet (beans, cheese and botifarra sausages) and learned some useful Catalan phrases “Estava bonissim! (That was delicious!)
I queued with the masses for one of Baluard Bakery’s sought-after almond croissants, eavesdropped on the locals as they chatted over a midday glass of vermouth at Bodega C’al Pep, sampled olive oils at Oli Sal like they were shots of vodka, ordered the “best cheese in the world” at Mercat de l’Abaceria Central, learned to make the region’s famous pa amb tomaquet (tomato bread), and sampled the oldest custard dessert in Europe at Pastisseria Ideal.
I gazed up to see Gaudi’s lesser-known designs, stepped foot in bars I would not usually dare, and came away realising that at the centre of all of the amazing, traditional food, is a close-knit community, full of individuals who are proud of their Catalan roots.
At Barcelona’s hottest new restaurant Disfrutar, two “olives” are placed in front of me. One black, one green. They are glossy with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. However, nothing is as it seems at this restaurant.
Launched in late 2014 by three head chefs at Ferran Adria’s former-best-restaurant-in-the-world elBulli, this restaurant could set Barcelona as the next culinary capital of the world. I ate my way through 25 courses, and enjoyed a truly theatrical, delicious and very memorable evening.
There were so many highlights… A frothy melon caipirinha was poured over a cup of crackling ice, providing a refreshing, light, and rather boozy start to the meal! A single transparent pesto ravioli made from a transparent pasta bag containing pine nuts, Parmesan and basil leaves, which when dipped into the Parmesan dipping sauce, created the perfect pesto flavour.
Then came the olives. This was a signature dish at el Bulli, and uses the spherification process. When eaten whole, the outer layer made from cocoa butter bursts, filling your mouth with an intense liquid. One was filled with olive flavouring and the other with a citrusy-blood orange. I started to question every course that followed – would anything be as it seemed?
The crispy egg yolk with mushroom gelatin was another highlight. The tempura battered yolk oozed truffle flavour as it sat in an egg shell concealing a delicious mushroom consommé. The combination of flavours and textures was heavenly.
After 20 courses, it was time for a breather… and then on to the sweet section of the meal. ‘The Tangerine’ – a signature dish at Disfrutar was a complex and refreshing dish. Two tangerines, surrounded by leaves, arrived at the table in a Disfrutar box. It immediately smelled like Christmas! Inside the skin of the tangerine were layers of rose jelly, a granita, a cream made from green mandarin and Cointreau and a delicious parfait with cinnamon dusting. It was beautifully sour with an elegant sweetness.
One of the final courses was described as chocolate peppers, oil and salt… again – all was not as it seemed! The inside of the jelly skin was in fact a rich chocolate cream. Two more desserts followed and after the final course I muttered “I’m not a dessert person, but I’ve eaten five desserts!”
After 25 courses I left with a stomach full of amazing food, and a head full of incredible memories. I look forward to returning to Disfrutar for another dose of magic and theatre soon, no doubt when it will have a few Michelin stars to its name and I’ll probably have to wait a year for a booking.
Source: Huffington Post.