Arriving in Barcelona, my boyfriend, Calum, and I had the clear and honest intention for our five day holiday to be a gastronomic adventure, far superior to getting a tan, exploring, or even buying a guide book. Synchronised souls when it comes to eating, we found our daily activities naturally rotated around food. Whether it was hunting out churros, eating a casual lunch at four thirty or sipping drinks on the beach with a plate piled with briny olives between us, food was constantly on my mind; the next flavour to experience, the next tapas to try.
Our Airbnb apartment was located in Sant Antoni – an up-and-coming trendy’ part of town surrounded by bars and bistros. We had struck gold, finding we were in easy distance to stumble, like zombies, out of bed at 12pm straight into a café for brunch, and then do the repeat journey, usually more inebriated, at the end of the night. A café at the end of our street, Federal, could have stepped out of Manchester’ Northern Quarter. Bright and breezy, it was consistently busy every time we visited (three times in five days…), serving a vast range of brunches and breakfasts. The main room was dominated by a large dining table at which small groups or couples would congregate along its edges, not mingling but satisfactorily companionable. The meals ranged from breakfast burgers smothered in onion jam, to rye pancakes with whiskey syrup, to baked eggs served with slabs of buttered sourdough toast. Each brunch was exquisite, even the occasional over-cooked egg yolk. Our final morning saw us visiting Federal again, either going back to old favourites (Calum’ meal of choice: two fried eggs, sourdough toast and strips of bacon, my go-to coffee milkshake it’ refreshing and energising in one!’) or trying something new. My eye was drawn to the smoked salmon omelette served with capers, toast and crème fraiche. Unfortunately this story has a sorry end. My omelette never arrived; instead I received a hot plate of baked eggs with tomato salsa also known as a shakshuka. Uncomfortably aware we had a plane to catch and needed to leave in twenty minutes I disappointedly ate the wrong brunch without raising a fuss. My disappointment didn’t really last long, I ate every morsel.
The luxury of the Spanish lifestyle is delicious. There is no urgency, just waves of billowing time to sit in a sunny café, eating your way through whatever delicacy you choose. To us Brits, adjusting to this way of life is tricky; our routines include constant to-do lists even if it only involves what to make for dinner. Calum repeatedly told me to relax and enjoy the process as I hungrily examined the menu for a second batch of tapas before we’d even ordered the first. He lounged in his chair, at peace, already immersed in the leisurely atmosphere.
Each night was lively with other relaxed diners, waiters marching to and from the kitchens bearing down upon customers with platters of paella, ice cold bottles of Estrella or small dishes of varied tapas. Settling under umbrella awnings, the sight of other meals would jet-start my food envy with roaring enthusiasm. A large plate serving a mountain of mussels stood so close I could reach out and take one, with two young women hungrily scooping out the flesh before feasting on the next shell.
Desperate to start eating we ordered a platter of Iberian sausage and paella marinera (fisherman’ paella) to share. A wooden board was brought to the table, covered in delicate slithers of cured meat, some recognisable such as salami, others unusual, small pieces of white or black meat speckled with pink. Accompanying the meat was half a tomato and a slice of toast the size of a tombstone, decorated, unexpectedly, with a single clove of raw papery garlic. Unsurprisingly, this was all that was left by the end.
Our paella arrived. The waiter scooped up the rice between spoons and forks and ladled it generously on our plates. Bright pink prawns in their shells, garishly glaring at us with glazed eyes, and small shiny mussels and cockles peppered the dish. Slurping out the meaty centres from the shells resulted in smeared hands and faces, and, in my case, a well-used but altogether ruined napkin.
Hearty breakfasts at 12 in the afternoon and lengthy boozy dinners at 10 at night was surprisingly enough for us, although the day was divided by coffees and sangria, and if I had my way, an afternoon treat. I was determined to introduce Calum to churros. Occasionally suspicious of new foods, he took my enthusiasm with some trepidation, maybe because my enthusiastic expression can be slightly psychotic. Before we explored the Sagrada de Familia I marched around the square, determined to find a good value treat. Spotting a picture of churros with a cup of chocolate in the window of a simple café merely bearing the title Bar’, we settled in the outdoor seats, ordering drinks and a plate of churros con chocolate to share. These crunchy yet buttery and soft doughnut fingers were showered in powdery sugar, leaving sticky sweet residue like pollen on our fingers, eager to be sucked off. The accompanying chocolate was more like foamy hot chocolate, rich and milky, soaking into the churros with each dunk allowing every bite to melt in your mouth.
Taking a day off eating out and to save our euros, one afternoon we packed a simple picnic from the supermarket. A crunchy stick of baguette, packets of salami and chorizo, creamy garlic cheese, and cans of Coke accompanied us to the zoo. Wary about taking knives into a children” park we approached cautiously prepared to sacrifice our spreading devices if questioned on our suspicious baggage. No questions arose and we waltzed in, wielding our relatively blunt knives in victory. While gazing at a solitary sad rhino, the mating call of a peacock echoed across the zoo, the alarming shriek resounding from answering peacocks or hordes of misinterpreting chimpanzees. These peacocks knew no bounds, landing in the rhino pit, peering over the roof of the tortoise enclosure, even one lustfully spreading its feathers at some unsuspecting elephants.
Always ready for an opportunity to relax Calum dragged me to a spot of shady sunlight by a splashing fountain. Breaking the baguette in half he slathered each side in garlic cheese, layered with meat then added crisps, releasing his inner seven-year-old. Poised with a knife in hand and a mouthful of bread, I saw a peacock swiftly approach pecking its beak forward eagerly, sensing the presence of a tasty morsel to steal. Calum laughed as we watched it inch gradually closer, I think you’re going to have to share Ally!’ It was too close for comfort, barely a foot away, straining its neck forward, its steely beak within pecking distance of stealing my sandwich or nipping a finger in the attempt. Leaping to my feet (knife still in hand which I gripped like a weapon) I reversed swiftly, demanding that we leave immediately.
Barcelona provided so many delicious anecdotes for me to reflect on now. Its sumptuous food, breath-taking architecture and pesky peacocks collectively made this holiday a delight. From now on I think I’ll ensure every holiday is a gastronomical adventure.