Forks and Jets

The true story of a couple or amateur foodie travelogues going around the world

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Walking Spanish

June 15, 2009 Spain

6 Comments

We started to understand Spain a little bit when we stood in the hall of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This visionary cathedral was started nearly 120 years ago and is still not completed. However, from the moment you see it’s massive towers dominating the skyline to the time when you stand inside its nave, you begin to understand the size and effort that is being made in this undertaking.

This church reaches out to encompass Spain’s long history of architecture and culture from as far back as the Middle Ages all the way into her dreams of the future. Sagrada Familia is at the same time majestic as the gothic churches of Spain’s fine cities and yet modern and scientifically advanced beyond imagination.

Spain seems to carry the balance of past and present well.

As a first stop in Spain, Barcelona was more than we expected – especially coming from South America. We loved getting lost in the winding streets of the Barrio Gothic, a rambling district with it’s own permanent dusk, thanks to tall buildings and tight walkways. We found a way to rent a room in a modern apartment for tourists, and worked out how to buy metro tickets. It is a city that was easy to explore and love, blending effortlessly from ancient to modern, satisfying curiosities while building our appetites.

All of the Gaudi architecture was exhilarating to explore. The colors and shapes seem so unnatural in architecture and yet so organic in nature.

Eva had seen her share of the architect’s work in Art History classes, but nothing can quite show Gaudi off like the real thing. It makes the mind reel to think that these structures were being designed and built in their era, a not much further forward in time.

Yet, the many mercados in the city were just as thrilling. The smell of the Iberian smoked ham was amazing, nutty and rich. The variety of cheese, the new and unusual olives and patés, all tempting us to buy more than we could ever eat… And the sweets! More candied fruit than we have ever seen.

Barcelona loves its sweets. We tasted pastries made from eggs or acorns and had to pick our pleasures carefully, always dancing somewhere between sugar highs and comas.


Egg Yolk candies called Yemas

We can’t say it was much of a shock to find that the city had a Museum devoted to chocolate.


“Your Chocolate Tickets”


Choco-E

The best way to get at the heart of man, or a city, is through the stomach. Eating in Barcelona is a unique art form, and one that makes every stranger welcome. Tapas is king, an has created an outpost on every street, many times over. Most restaurants exist for only snacking and little libations.


Seared Tuna


Iberian Ham and a Chevre Salad


Chistorra Sausages, a cousin of Merguez

To make matters easy, tapas are made ahead of time, and only sometimes warmed up before serving. Presentation is honest and uncluttered but delightfully colorful and everything is always perfectly cut and plated. No one bats an eye at just coming in for a look, if you stay have as much or as little as you want before moving on. We were never stuffed, but always curious.

Madrid is harder to pierce the heart of. There are good bars, interesting shops and exquisite Pastelarias everywhere, but somehow the city reminds us of Los Angeles. Madrid is a modern city trying to share living space with its history — not always successfully.

History feels segregated from the social day to day, and therefore the stomping grounds of the tourist crowd alone. Madrid is a fast-paced working whirlwind. Neighborhoods are effective for residents, satisfying aesthetics as well as daily needs. Madrid doesn’t need you to visit, live goes on as usual.

Like our native Los Angeles, if you can actually find the heart and beat of this city, you find some unequaled treasures.

For breakfast one morning we had fresh churros to dip in warm thick chocolate, with horchata made from almonds — all in a little bend of an alley, under a deco neon sign. Little tapas bars like El Tigre were packed with happy Spaniards and we packed our stomachs like locals.

We visited the oldest restaurant in the world (according to the Guiness book of records) where we drooled over the wall of fresh roasted suckling pig and were impressed by the truly homely wear and tear that a few hundred years can give to place.

In contrast, Salamanca is a bustling city of young students and one of the oldest cornerstones of education. It was hard to imagine that you could have a class in a building that is hundreds of years old and yet the youth of the students brings new life to the city every year.

Called the “Golden City” and built of sandstone, Salamanca is humbled below the towering monster of it’s Cathedral and several Monasteries, not to mention the prestigious University and Plaza Mayor.


Historically, graduating students wrote their names on the wall of the University in pain mixed with bulls’ blood.

The charms of pastry shops and bars took most of our attention. Europe’s cities each strive to have culinary claims to fame — Salamanca being no exception. We were happy to even track down the Hornazo. This pastry is stuffed with lomo, salchicha, ham and egg.

The funniest part is that this pastry was served traditionally in celebration by the students of “women of easy virtue” being allowed back into the city after lent.

The star meal in Salamanca was the work of little more than a lucky guess. Prowling far from the city center trying to figure out where the students can afford to eat out we found a packed little local dive called Hollywood Grill or Rufus, or both, possibly. We came in seeking a little taste of Lechon, the roast suckling pig so famous throughout the region. Our “little taste” turned out to be a huge plate complete with a jug of Lambrusco.

Never thinking that a 7 Euro plate could be so big, we ordered an accompaniment of Grilled Spicy Octopus which was, of course, equally massive. Dinner couldn’t have been better, until we noticed that the entirety of the crowd was eating little toasted sandwiches. Toasted sandwiches which came in 30 varieties and sold for 60 cents. It’s not fair to show that to a full foodie.

Without thinking twice we returned to Rufus Hollywood Grill for breakfast the next day.

Just click on the cities: more from Barcelona, Madrid and Salamanca.

Comments

  1. Amanda says:
    June 15, 2009

    Excellent photos of the difficult-to-capture Sagrada Familia!

    If you loved Barcelona and love to read, you might check out the books Shadow of the Wind and Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. You’ll feel immersed in the sites you just saw.

    I wish we’d taken photos of our food. Barcelona was our last non-digital camera trip, so it wasn’t as much an option, but the food is so much a part of visiting Spain, I think.

    Great post!

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      June 18, 2009

      The Sagrada Familia is impossible! I felt like a needed a helicopter to take a photo of the outside — I’ll leave those shots to the experts. Seeing them doing the work inside was really incredible; it’s amazing how long it’s been under construction.

      Ironically, I just finished reading the Shadow of the Wind :) It was fun to read right after we left the city. Made me extra-regretful to miss the Tibidabo park and it’s avatars though.

      Reply

  2. Danny & Jillian Tobias says:
    June 18, 2009

    Where was that chocloate tour????

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      June 18, 2009

      Very near to the Parc de la Ciutadella above the seashore/malecon. We stumbled upon it by accident. They also have a website here . It’s pretty small, but fun and sweet smelling.

      Reply

  3. Troy says:
    June 22, 2009

    Madrid deserves a better chance, might not have the tourist beauties of Barcelona, but there is a lot more soul there under the surface. If ‘Spain’ is what you’re looking for, look in the capital rather than Catalonia.

    Reply

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