My guess is that these days, most of you are familiar with the concept of Tapas. With culinary matters on the whole getting all sorts of attention, most people seem to have a new and keen awareness of general foodie sorts of things such as tapas. In any case, here’s a basic definition for those of you still in the dark.
Tapas is the name of the truly magnificent Spanish culinary custom of small plates. Among a table of friends, multiple small dishes of snacks and appetizers are shared all around. It’s a marvelous way to eat lots and lots of food – Everyone has a bite or two of everything. For people like me, who always struggle to choose just one item on a menu (and try to wrangle their oh-so-generous husband into splitting and sharing plates every time they go out) it’s the most perfect way imaginable to eat.
Needless to say, I've been eating lots of tapas while I've been over here. What follows is a journal of sorts, of my tapalicious experiences.
There’s a great little patio café right outside of the Boqueria that I was lucky enough to stumble upon my first day (wait – my first hour) in Barcelona. Beginner’s luck was to thank for sure, because this simple place was an instant favorite. I’ve been three times…so far. Twice I’ve gone for sandwiches (sandwiches so glorious they deserve a blog post of their own) but then last week a group of us from Alicia went for tapas. Talk about glorious - The tapas were divine!
Salty cod fritters, flecked with herbs, with lovely-tender insides and crackly golden crust. A virtual rainbow of tangy, briny olives. Roasted peppers, glistening emerald green and topped with flaky sea salt (This tapas holds a special bit of tradition – Most of the peppers are sweet and mild, but one or two per plate usually end up being wicked spicy hot. The fun lies in finding who ends up with the burning mouth!). And my favorite at this tapas feast: ham croquets - warm gooey pillows of oozing cheesy goodness enveloping bits of salty ham, surrounded by crunchy deep-fried perfection of a shell. Oh so satisfying to my soul.
Jaume, 0ne of the head chefs at Alicia and a Barcelona native, generously spent an entire Saturday afternoon touring us around all his favorite Barcelona tapas haunts. In the span of a few hours, we visited three fantastic spots, and ate our hearts out. Each restaurant we stopped at proved to be a variation on complete perfection. Each one could stand alone as its own cosmos of Barcelonian utopia. Strung together, they truly made for a day to remember.
Our first stop just oozed old world atmosphere. A teensy little place filled to the brim with all sorts of bottles, jars, cans and containers in just about every fashion – all enclosing fabulous cured and preserved foods. Two friendly old men served drinks and snacks from behind a bar, while happy customers packed the place, all standing around tall, tiny bar tables, nibbling the tasty treats.
Our delicious victuals here were… Well, let’s start with the very best. Silver fillets of oil-cured anchovies. So creamy you could mistake them for butter. So rich and savory, just one taste instantly granted a feeling of pure contentment. Oh my goodness. Nearly as good were the sun-dried tomatoes. They were so bright in flavor, you could actually taste the sunshine. Jaume says these are the best cured tomatoes in all of Barcelona, and I believe him implicitly. Oh, and the cured pork - salty plum-colored ribbons of savory perfection that whisper a promise to melt in your mouth. And the plump, round red peppers, bright red and sweet, amply filled with smooth cheese and fragrant green herbs. To wash all this down, frosty vermouth and seltzer water in delicate little glasses. All if it - Shockingly good.
Our next stop was a Montaditos bar. The Basque country’s answer to tapas, Montaditos are small slices of bread generously crowned with a wide variety of multicolored toppings –all sorts of combinations of cheeses, vegetables, meats and fish - and secured with a single toothpick. They’re so pretty to look at, all lined up, displayed on the bar. Like little works of art, all for the eating. Each one tends to outdo the last. It can be so hard to choose…which of course can easily lead to choosing one of each.
We filled a few plates with any and all that struck our fancy and sampled the scrumptious bites and delectable flavors, all the while keeping hold of the toothpicks, which cleverly served to tally the bill. I'm embarrassed to report, I have little recollection of what exactly I ate. It was all such a whirlwind of color and flavor. A delicious whirlwind, I do most certainly recall.
The end of our culinary tour found us in a third lively restaurant, sitting around a food-filled table, sharing a vast assortment of the most wonderfully traditional Catalan tapas...