Last Tuesday I got in for one last harried deadline at work, put one paper to bed and prepared the next to function as smoothly as possible in my upcoming absence. I left work, walked straight to Wenceslas and got on at Můstek, changed to the 119 bus and finally got to Prague Airport. Then it was a blur of security checks, shuttles, what looked like reappropriated public school bus seats on our Wizz air flight, Barcelona commuter trains, metro, and long stretch of walking before we found ourselves at our fabulously cheap hostel, directly on the beach in the Barceloneta neighborhood.
Fabulously cheap, of course, comes at a price, of not so fabulous accomodation. In this case, rows of bunk beds in a narrow room with no windows. The barracks, as we came to call them, have left me reasonably sure I know what it’s like to spend time on a submarine. But at 16 euros a night, in such a beautiful city, who needs to stay in the room? Our first night we ventured back out, ended up at the close and ambitiously named El Rey de la Gamba II, ate tiny fried krill-like shrimp, cuttlefish and cured meats and split a bottle of white Spanish wine to ease us into our spartan beds.
We’d arrived in Spain, but we hadn’t reached my destination. The magical place I’d read and dreamt about. It was, in fact, a big reason I even chose Barcelona. A previously canceled trip to London had left my boyfriend and I with flight credit, for any Wizz Air destination. La Boqueria, therefore, was in reach. An enormous covered market in the middle of the city that promised all kinds of fruits, vegetables and Spanish pork, cheese and other delicacies.
Barcelona’s streets were busy, even on a Tuesday, in what I would assume is the off-season. As we approached the market, the activity seemed to be even more concentrated. The wrought-iron entrace, facing on to La Rambla, appeared like the mouth to a beehive, happy customers buzzing in and out with bags of goods. I was giddy and warned my boyfriend I was going to need to walk around in a daze for at least an hour.
A good deal of the Boqueria’s best treasures can’t be enjoyed by tourists. Fresh seafood stands, including a giant circular one in the hear of the market, appear to have plundered the mediterranean for anything that crawls, swims or floats. The variety of mollusks was exhilarating, the majority of them in forms I’d never seen on a plate, from tiny snails to several clams to whirled shells. Grapefruit-sized crabs and small lobsters waved their pincers robotically from their ice beds.
Butcher stands were similarly exhaustive in their offerings, selling every last part of animals, while nearby specialty stores offered every edible sort of egg.
Hearts, individually packaged lambs’ brains, livers and tripes (stomach lining) of several varieties crowded counters that provided a lesson in anatomy and an offal freak show for the faint of palate.
As a visitor the items I was able to bring back were the non-perishable sort: slices of cured ham from the hanging full legs (with a premium on bellota, or acorn fed, animals) and spices. In the end, I came home with a suitcase full of chorizo, streaky jamon de Iberica, small, clear cases of saffron, tins of smoked paprika and a block of membrillo, a paste made of boiled down quinces (related to apples and pears) that made a great accompaniment to nutty manchego cheese.
While I didn’t take advantage of this, the market also has several tapa stands, where you can patiently wait for a stool and order plates that are simply but expertly made. That’s not to say I didn’t find some gems elsewhere in the city, I’ve got some recommendations and ton of more pictures I’ll share next. But as a starting point for exploring Barcelona and its cuisine, the boqueria makes for a beautiful and comprehensive welcome. And yes, I know this has little to do with Prague, but hopefully if any readers make the relatively easy trip to Barcelona for quick getaway, you’ll welcome the pointers.