I spent my first semester of college in Northern Spain, far from the trendy metropolis of Catalan. I didn’t get nearly enough time in Barcelona the first round, so back I went. And this time, with my dreamy boy.
Returning ten years later filled me with nostalgia and abrupt comical memories. Barcelona shines amongst its Spanish counterparts, and demands to be seen as distinctive. So in ways it felt like coming home, if home were on the Mediterranean and had fewer bull billboards in its backdrop.
Spain is another meat-heavy country making it none-too-easy on veggies. When I lived there as a freshman my roommates and I lived on cheese and apples from the dorm for four and a half months and only mildly suffered from scurvy (our fault; not Spain’s). But when you get out and hunt, you can find some truly stunning meals with succulent spicy red wines and biting cheeses, and Barcelona especially appeals to foodies of all types. On our first night Evan wanted to try paella, and off we went in search of this classic.
I managed to find a vegetarian paella and was ecstatic, but I quickly found out that there’s a reason it’s not vegetarian by nature… (it was subpar). Saffron rice made with canned string beans and overcooked peas and carrots was kind of a bummer and apparently what really nails the taste of a paella is the unmistakable seafoody saltiness. I doused mine in salt and fresh pepper and some lemon stolen from Evan’s plate, but no matter what I did it didn’t come near to smelling like Evan’s beautiful dish.
Ev had the idea to cook the rice in ocean water sometime when we’re making paella on our own. That way it would have the fishy aroma but skip on the fish. Then we could dump whatever vegetables we want in there and see if it might come close. I don’t know though, that shellfish was awfully stunning.
It apparently didn’t compare, however, to our second night of dinner where Evan says he had hands down the freshest mussels of all time, at BETLEM: Miscellania Gastronomica, a brilliantly-Barcelona tapas bar where our delicious waiter accusatorially said to me – in perfect English – “How did you find this place? It is not the usual place for tourists…” (Yes!). He kindly pointed out a few vegetarian plates off a very meat-heavy menu, and offered to make me an omelet. For a country that puts pig and eggs in well, everything, this was not a mind-blowing offer. But I have to say that if forced to eat an omelet for dinner, this is the one I want:
We also had a tasty cheese plate with macadamia nuts and tomato bread and cheese galore, but the stunner was this potato dish (no really, potatoes nailed the meal!) made with a spicy and nutty romesco sauce.
Barcelona also is home to La Boqueria, an absolutely unreal food market that goes on indefinitely, each turn bringing a new host of things I pestered Evan to let me buy myself – and vice versa. One thing the Europeans have right that we don’t: they have no misgivings about what happens to animals when they are slaughtered. They show full skinned carcasses in their butcheries leaving nothing to the imagination. If our society chooses to eat meat, it seems only right we should confront that it is animal and life. It takes some getting used to, but I most certainly appreciate the brutal (so to speak) honesty.
Which meant that we – as if you’ve ever lived in Spain know – also had tortilla for breakfast with orange juice and café con leche.
And soon after that, exhausted, we headed home. And the weary travelers returned.