I have spent the past month eating my way through sun-splashed Barcelona. When I first arrived, I had weekends off and was able to tackle menus full of spicy Indian food and vats of tasty fried rice at every "Chinos" restaurant I happened upon. Now every day come lunch time, when I can finally escape from the throes of the hectic production office, I make my way up and down the tree-lined avenues of the this foodie haven.
I skip back to the office with a bounty of delicious treats after each adventure: a smattering of flaky pastries and chocolate tarts from Paul, the best French bakery in the world (yep, in Spain), or the delicious mozzarella and zucchini focaccia from Buenas Migas, an ingenious focacceria on the north side. But my true daily craving is for huge panfuls of paella and icy-cold pitchers of sangria.
Though I've certainly ordered paella in Chicago, absolutely none compare to the ocean-tinged platefuls that I've sampled here. From the family-owned cafes lining the port to the smoky holes-in-the-wall loaded with locals, I've ordered pan after glorious pan of this creamy rice dish.
I unearthed a paella winner in the very poor quarter of El Raval, my absolute favorite 'hood in the city. Its old-world charm is endearing and it's the one place in which I feel truly at home (besides the marina full of sailboats at Port Vell). I've had some of the best food of my life in the dingy, back-alley eateries peppering this pocket of Barcelona, and I literally tripped across Pizzas L'avia, an ancient kitchen shoved into a tiny space that pumps out the most enticing paella in the city.
What first drew me in was its giant oven packed with just-cooked crispy chicken. The oven door was propped open, revealing giant pans of juicy chicken and chunks of potatoes—how am I supposed to keep on walking once I've witnessed something like that? It wasn't until I plopped down at a wobbly corner table that I saw the waitress heaving out a massive cast iron pan full of chicken, pork, squid, prawn and mussel-adorned paella that I knew I'd struck gold.
I ordered a bowl of the steaming hot mess and a house salad and then got a little nutty with the cold case up front. There were piles of blood red roasted peppers bathing in pure olive oil and little chunks of lily-white roasted cauliflower calling my name. After chowing on all the glorious flavors of Mediterranean-tinged appetizers, I absolutely devoured my house salad. Never have I eaten so much olive oil in one sitting or enjoyed a simple stack of iceberg lettuce as I did that salad.
When the paella finally rolled out, I almost cried (good food really is that moving). The creamy mountain of saffron-blistered rice blew away any other wanna-be paella that I've tried; even the wildly opinionated locals claim it's the best. Little perky green peas popped out in every bite and nothing reeked of overripe fish. I was so happy and full at the end of the meal I treated myself to a plastic cup of chunky pudding with homemade whipped cream and grabbed a cortada, my favorite espresso with a jigger of hot milk, for my leisurely walk home.
The Final Rave: Even though I leave Spain in just over a week, I'm still gonna try to plow through a few more taste-testings of paella and sangria. When I get home to Chicago, there's always Emilio's.
Keep It Going:
Do it: Spanish Horizons
Finally learn to speak Spanish by immersing yourself into this program. You learn via cultural events, dancing and dinners out. Perfect...you get to live just like the Spaniards do.
Eat it: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
You can expect pretty good tapas to go with your sangria (as well as a whole lot of people watching) at this favorite Lincoln Park haunt.
Drink it: Cafe Iberico
This cafe gets jam-packed, and I can see why. The food is great, the prices are cheap and the sangria is wicked. Total recipe for success if you ask me.
Get crazy with it: Barcelona, Spain
Really, to taste the true spirit of Spain, get your booty on a plane and come to Barcelona. The second you get off the plane, you'll be slung into the flavor of the city. Be prepared to gain weight.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.