After months of anticipation and planning, Paul and I finally made it out of DC (without any of our Tiny Chaperones!) and over to Europe. This isn’t a sightseeing blog, so I’ll spare you the rundown of all the touristy things we did, but I do want to share a few food and drink highlights from our trip. First up, Barcelona.
On our first night, we went on a Private Tapas and Wine Tour with a Local, and thank God we did because we never would have found this area on our own. Our guide took us down the “tapas trail” in the El Paral·lel area (near El Molino, a burlesque theater fashioned after Paris’s Moulin Rouge), which wound up being our favorite food experience in Spain. So much so that we went back on our own two nights later. For several blocks, the entire street is lined with small restaurants serving pintxos.* Basically, you go in, grab a plate, load it up with whatever you want from the bar, sit down, and order a drink. Then you walk down the street and do it again. And again. And again. I suspect the locals eat far less than we did, but we only had three days in Barcelona, so we had to do a lot of eating while we had the chance.
The next day, we went on a Wine Tasting and Lunch Experience from Barcelona. Purely by luck, we wound up being the only people on the tour, which was pretty fantastic for us. Our guide kept up a running commentary on the architecture and history of Barcelona as we drove out of the city, and we saw several places that we’ll make sure to visit if we ever go back. The first winery we visited was Titiana in the wine region of Alella. While we were there, we visited the cavas** and then got to drink the cava. Obviously, Paul and I have a pretty good grip on how wine is made, even sparkling wine, so a lot of the tour was information we already knew, but it was still really cool to see the caves. Legend has it that the caves are haunted, and after seeing them, I almost believe it. I definitely wouldn’t want to go down there alone. After emerging from the caves, we were led to a lovely patio and given very generous samples of three of their wines. The brut nature (the driest of the cavas) was definitely our favorite. As we were leaving, the woman who conducted our tour gave me bottle opener specifically for sparkling wine (something like this guy), which was a lovely gesture but wound up being a bit of a thorn in my side for the rest of the trip.***
Next, we went to Alta Alella, which is an all-organic winery located in a nature preserve. They also have a line that’s all-natural, which means it’s made without the addition of sulfites. Honestly, other than the spectacular sea view, we don’t have a lot to say about this one. It was almost the exact same tour that we got at Titiana, just in a different setting. Once you know how cava is made, there’s not much more that can be said about it, you know? That being said, the wines were excellent, and we could definitely pick up on the minerality in the wine from being so close to the Mediterranean.
After Alta Alella, we went to lunch. Pro tip: eat a decent breakfast before you go on this excursion. Lunch in Spain happens around 2pm, and you’re probably going to be hungry long before you get to the restaurant. Thursday is apparently rice day in Spain, so we got to try a version of seafood paella. Paul enjoyed it, but I thought the seafood was a bit overcooked. (Sorry. I grew up on excellent seafood, so I’m a little snobby about it.) However, the salmorejo was amazing. It was like gazpacho’s smoother, creamier alter ego, and we went on to eat it several more times during our trip. And it’s the one thing that I came home desperate to make for myself.
All in all, I think Barcelona was probably our best food experience of the trip. We had our favorite meal in Granada, and we had the most fun drinking in Mallorca, but Barcelona was definitely where we had our most traditionally Spanish meals.
*When you think of tapas, there’s a good chance that you’re actually thinking of pintxos. As we learned when we were there, tapas are actually fairly standard appetizer-sized servings of whatever you ordered (e.g., if you get patatas bravas, you’re going to get a plate big enough to feed two or three people). Pintxos, on the other hand, are semi-bite-sized servings of amazingness, usually skewered on a piece of bread. The restaurant tallies your bill by counting your sticks and noting whether or not you have any “special” sticks denoting higher cost items.
**Cava means cave. It is both the name of the wine and location where it is stored.
***We traveled with just carry-ons. When my bag went through the x-ray machines, no one could figure out what the hell the bottle opener was. The first time they pulled me aside, I obviously hadn’t thought about how it would look when we went through security, so the bottle opener was on the very bottom of my bag, and I had to dump everything out (including dirty undies) on the inspection table. As the trip went on, I quickly learned to have it easily accessible so I could show security that I wasn’t trying to sneak brass knuckles onto the plane. Side note, if you travel a lot, I HIGHLY recommend that you invest in a set of packing cubes. All of my clean clothes were neatly stored away, so despite having to upend my bag, it was actually pretty easy to get everything repacked.