As touched upon in my last post, Spanish is not a world cuisine that I know very much about. Although since I wrote that I started to wonder if I know a significant amount about any world cuisine and concluded that I probably don't. Especially when you start to take into account the massive regional variations that are going to occur in any country - even a tiny little island like Britain. But I am always eager to learn, and the best way to do that is to go abroad and, basically, eat as much as possible in an open minded spirit. In fact, the first time we went to Barcelona, D and I took to wandering in to little tapas joints and just pointing at words on the menu with no clear idea of what we would get. That is much harder to do now since it seems that most places hand over an English menu as a matter of course, and, equally, with the rise in popularity of tapas chains such as La Tasca, the lingo has become a bit more familiar.
An old favourite that we were determined to revisit was a restaurant that has been a bit of a tourist destination since it opened in the first half of the nineteenth century. Los Caracoles is a cool, dark, heavily panelled place - full of squinting diners who have just stumbled in off the sunlit street. The menu is, from what I can tell, very traditional. The restaurant is named after its signature dish - snails, in a delicious, heavy ragu sauce that comes with a curl of bread, shaped like a snail shell, for dunking.
It is incredibly moreish - although be prepared to spend some time fishing out bits of snail shell - we are not in Michelin land now. Incidentally, that is a starter sized portion. If you're my husband, you follow this up with a huge plate of arros negre, a rice dish coloured with squid ink that is sort of akin to a seafood paella. After this, you will probably require a post lunch siesta.
Seafood abounds in Barcelona - which, given that it is a coastal city, whose port has a two thousand year history, is probably understandable. On our last full day I was keen to go right down to the marina to eat on one of the terraces down there - it's probably slightly overpriced but the quality of seafood that these places serve is absolutely fantastic.
Clams, mussels and very large...things that were described as winkles but not recognisable as such all cooked to perfection. Nothing is more delicious than really good seafood and a glass of crisp white wine enjoyed while the sun sparkles off the sea. Actually, I think that it had clouded over by the time we got there, but my appetite was undaunted.
It was here as well that I got to try my first ever fideua which is basically paella but made with noodles (here, like spaghetti, only much shorter) rather than rice. I loved this and must try and recreate it at home - I've found a Brindisa recipe online which looks rather good.
And a final foodie highlight to mention - and one that it would be easy to walk past, situated as it is on Las Ramblas and looking like a seriously dodgy tourist trap - is the Jamon Experience. Yes, that's right, the Experience of Ham. We spent a very diverting couple of hours in here - first learning about how the ham is made and the different gradings, before getting to scoff six different types with a cool glass of Cava (or beer or red wine depending on your preference).
There's a shop at the end (where they sell, er, ham) but no pressure to buy - our ham man (which is a rather unfair way to describe him given that it actually takes a lot of skill and dexterity to carve the ham into the tissue thin slices that the product demands) just cheerfully left us to wander - although not before pouring us a second drink to sip among the hams. Happiness, my friends, truly is.