Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lo que no mata engorda: Breakfast at La Boqueria


I love markets…a love affair that started when I was living in Europe some years ago. It was the first time I was to live on my own…which included feeding myself. The first month was disaster…stale bread nicked from the hotel buffet, tomatoes eaten over the sink…and many other exciting culinary mishaps. Until one day I realized that I was, well, simply put, starving. This had to stop and I had to cook. So I went out to forage for more than our hotel’s breakfast remnants. And that’s how I found them. Harbor-side markets selling all forms of salmon and berries I had never even seen before in Helsinki. My neighborhood market in Amsterdam with crates of wild mushrooms and piles of fresh, home-baked bread. The market in the Zurich hauptbahnhof with aisles of cheese and other goodies (including a stall that sold chocolate covered fruits on a stick…I wonder if that’s still there…). The street market in my neighborhood in Athens bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables and vats of marinated olives (and oh-so-charming provedores!). I would spend hours walking about and picking out my meager treasures for flamboyant dinners for one.

***Incidentally, this is when I really started cooking. No, I was not born loving the inside of a kitchen, nor churning out chocolate chip cookies at infancy. Sure, there were the pineapple upside down cakes of my youth, and I have been a voracious eater since birth, but my real love for cooking, and everything related to it, happened later in life, for the very simplest of reasons...I had to eat.

So, it’s no surprise that I was not going to miss a visit to La Boqueria when we were in Barcelona. It is filled with spectacular produce, fresh breads emerging fragrantly from hot furnaces, tempting charcuterie, stalls full of delicious cheeses, delicatessens, jars filled with herbs and spices and amazing meats and seafood. Then there is the adorable modernista entrance that I adore. And, of course, the hustle and bustle that makes a market a market.



I set off early one morning, leaving C sleeping peacefully in bed (dreaming of Barca no doubt), to “go to market”. Just a couple of metro stops and there I was. A food lover’s paradise. I love going to markets early in the morning, not just for the obvious reason that everything is freshest then (and the good stuff gets snapped up first), and I really couldn’t do any major marketing anyway (as we weren’t home and there would be no place to stow a whole lamb leg), but because that is when you see all the action. Little old ladies pushing their plaid plastic caritons ready to buy the makings of that day’s wonderful meal, customers conversing with their butcher or bakers or fruit/vegetable stall owners, strapping youths slapping raw fish onto beds of ice…things are just starting to come alive and this is the best time.



Breakfast there was definitely part of my plan, stopping at Bar Pinotxo for some sustenance. It is said that Ferran Adria himself eats here when he is at the market. I don’t know if this is true, but the patrons were indeed a motley bunch. I was sandwiched between two stockbroker-looking locals and a couple of German tourists. I had a cortado (an espresso with a dash of steamed milk…my coffee of choice when in Spain…you will be hard pressed to find a lousy coffee in Spain!) and pointed tentatively at a fried looking sweet pastry behind the glass and asked if it was good. The bar’s gregarious proprietor widened his eyes in amazement. It is a Xuxo (chucho) he told me, and it is so good that if I took just one bite I would fall madly in love with him. The Xuxo is a cream filled fried pastry coated in sugar. The pastry itself seems more like Danish pastry than choux pastry (like churros…or their big, cream-filled brothers called porras…also very yummy). It was very, very good…and with a hot cortado even better…but didn’t fall in love with Mr. Proprietor despite his being very charming.



After breakfast it was time for exploring. I think the most painful part was realizing that I couldn’t buy a lot of what I wanted, like the mounds of fresh vegetables and their amazing displays of meat and fish. So I had to be choosy and, of course, headed straight for the figs. As I mentioned in my last post this trip was the first time I had ever tasted (or even saw!) a fresh fig, so that was definitely on my shopping list. They looked like a dream…although I can't say if that was just me in my fig-honeymoon stage. In any case, I procured a bunch that never even made it past the Ramblas!



Next stop spices and dried herbs…something that could travel. I chose a store with a friendly looking girl that patiently walked me through her offerings. I could tell she was amused at my excitement and questions (and my expert Spanish…haha), but she gamely answered everything, giving detailed instructions and cooking advice. So in my bag went portions of Moruno spice mix, paella spice mix, dried herb bunches (like bouquet garni), different kinds of dried pepper, Jamaican pepper, and other goodies.

With my purchases in hand, I stroll the length and breadth of the market. The seafood section, which you will find in the center, is fantastic. Loads of fresh fish and tons of different types of shellfish all lay glistening in the light, resting on crushed ice and waiting for either a talented chef or an equally talented lady-of-the-house to turn on their magic.



The fruits and vegetable stalls were enough to make me tear…so vibrant, their colors looked almost acrylic. Looking back, I should have gotten a bunch of blueberries as well and to hell with indigestion! And the mushrooms! Oy! Fresh wild mushrooms…another favorite. I think though, what riveted me most was the meat. There was so much variety! I was dizzy looking at it all. And all parts were on display. Not just cut up fillets sealed in vacuum packs, but real meat, real parts…heads and tails and everything in between. And every stall with a wizened butcher ready to cut and trim exactly to your specifications. This is my dream…oh, to finally find my soul mate butcher in Manila! Sigh...


Look at those blueberries! I couldn't believe I was seeing that much of them...and not in a tiny plastic container!


Organic eggs and other stalls...where do I go to first? Lovely dilemma...


Fresh chanterelle mushrooms! I wanted to run away with the crate!



Aside from the fresh, there was also charcuterie after charcuterie selling everything dried, cured, tinned, and otherwise prepared. Legs of jamon dangled side by side. Salchicones, salamis, pates, butifarras. And stalls selling wonderful cheeses, from the very fresh soft white cheeses just at their infancy, to old aged articles pungent with aroma. Then there are the bakeries! It was a feast for the senses!



I left the market thrilled and happy…excited to share with C my morning’s adventure…even if I couldn’t share that morning’s figs…heehee :)

23 comments:

Pille said...

Lovely pictures, Joey! I went to La Boqueria in 2003, and cannot wait to go back:)

Mae said...

Fantastic photos! I haven't seen huge markets like this since i was in Philippines! Mind you, i was tiny then and everything seemed a lot bigger when you're tiny, doesn't it? lol.

Did you get some iberico products? Oh, they're to die for!

I love the fresh fish photo best - the stalls upon stalls of it... i'd go crazy if i am let to wander this market. :-)

mike mina said...

what an interesting market! i think i'd really go crazy if i wandered in it and one cariton won't be enough for me to carry all the stash!!!

thanks for promotin' LP15 and hope to see your entry here and other future events :-)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Pille! Thanks! :) It's wonderful isn't it? :)

Thanks Mae :) I love all markets big and small...but this is definitely an inspiring one! Yes, we did get iberico products...even brought some home ;)

Hi Mike! I nearly went crazy too...oh how I wished I lived nearby! :) Haven't been able to participate in an LP for a while...thing are a bit nutsy here...but soon! :)

angelika said...

That's really a mouthwatering post, Joey. And I envy you ;-) not just for this wonderful experience, but also as for the list where you already stayed during your young life. That really means "wide horizon" as it shines through each of your post. Snowy hugs from Vienna !

Julia said...

ah, this brings so many sweet memories back...
looks perfect, great pictures!
tnx for the reminder, really enjoyed reading this post...=)

Dawn Colclasure said...

I love outdoor markets. They are always fun and interesting to visit! I adored the pictures. Making me hungry!

debs said...

that looks like heaven!! do you know any good spanish restaurants around here aside from casa armas?

traveller one said...

What a wonderful post! You have the knack of making the reader just as excited as you are about the topic of the day.
I also love walking through markets in each city I visit and am often stifled by the limits of not being able to buy everything and stuff it in my suitcase! I have been known to buy live basil plants and put them in my bags!\
I'm adding a link to your site on my blog "Sometimes I Cook" so I can return again.

paz said...

Your market looks terrific! I wish I were there.

Paz

Ivonne said...

Your pictures are so beautiful!

You have captured the essence of why shopping in markets with lots of fresh produce is so amazing!

You should blog more about the food experiences you had in Europe!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Angelika! Thank you for the "snowy hug"...much appreciated over here any time of the year, heehee :) I am very thankful for all the places I have seen...and I show my appreciation by being as open as possible to every new experience these places bring and never losing the sense of wonder that makes travel so magical :)

Hi Julia! Thanks :) Barcelona has always held many sweet memories for me...and now even more!

Hi Dawn! Thanks for dropping by! :) Outdoor markets are super...wish I could have bought more things...

Hi Debs! I like Gaudi (in Greenbelt and Serendra)...try the chuleton if you like meat (or the veal with cabrales cheese), or order from their variety of tapas by the piece...i love eating that way, just ordering tapas after tapas and washing everything down with their sangria. Aside from the food, I like it because it departs from the usual dark, tavern-ish look that all our Spanish restaurants here seem to have. And it's about time! Another restaurant that a lot of Spanish people have been telling me is good is La Tienda...but, I haven't been there in ages so I really can't speak for it peronally...

Hi Traveller One! I so know how you feel! I wanted to buy everything...but a lot of things would have not made it back home, sigh...I did send a box home though with dry goods and all sorts of stuff! I haven't ever put a live plant in my bag though, that is classic...heehee :) Thanks for the link! :)

Hi Paz! Thanks! :)

Hi Ivonne! Thank you for such nice comments :) I will be posting more soon!

Pam said...

What a wonderful market Joey!! Thank you for sharing.

wysgal said...

Haha, that's such a funny story about how you just decided one day that you needed to learn to cook. =)

The thing about exploring lovely markets when traveling is that while you may want to whip up the most fantastically fresh meal with all the meats, veggies and spices you see --- you're constrained by wherever it is you’re staying (if you have a kitchen, what kind of cooking tools are available, etc).

Barbara said...

What a wonderful way to spend a morning. I'm so sad my trip to Spain in 2004 was cut short when I became ill.

christine said...

Love the pictures! I can totally relate with the whole learning to cook or starve concept. Same story, different city hehe. And La Boqueria, such a wonderful market! Even I, who wasn't much into markets then back in 1999, thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the market I used to frequent in Granville Island in Vancouver. I wouldn't go to buy much to bring home, it was more to eat on the spot, hang out, and just enjoy the whole vibrant market atmosphere.

S. said...

Your blog is deliciously beautiful. It makes me want to eat my way around the world.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Pam! Thanks :) It was a fantastic! :)

Hi Wysgal! Tell me about it! I wanted to buy a truckload of things buy had to stick to thing I could finish myself and dried herbs and spices that I could tak with me :) And yes, I started cooking to feed myself...and that's why I can eat everything I make!

Hi Barbara! I love market mornings...I have them here too :) You will have more trips I'm sure, with more markets to discover...and I'll read all about it on your blog :)

Hi Nens! Well, you must have already learned when I visited you because you made me great meals :) Maybe we'll go together to market one day in Vancouver! Till then...let me know when you are going to Salcedo or Legaspi :)

Hi S! Thanks for your nice comments and for stopping by! :)

christine said...

"Maybe we'll go together to market one day in Vancouver!" That is such a wonderful thought!

Tanna said...

Markets...I recently watched a fish market set up on our last Saturday morning in Paris! There is just nothing to equal the fresh market places. The care they use to create such an icy and beautiful place to display their fish is fantastic.
Love your enthusiasm, markets are worth it. Beautiful post.

ChichaJo said...

Nens! Super duper wonderful thought :)

Hi Tanna! Thank you :) I'm glad your trip went well and you also got to soak up some wonderful market atmosphere...and meet up with Angelika! That must have been so much fun :)

gemma said...

I enjoyed a lot reading this post because La Boqueria is my market, I use to buy there almost every saturday morning.
I'm glad you liked it all :-D

ChichaJo said...

Hi Gemma! You are so lucky! I would love to have a market like this to visit every Saturday! I did enjoy the time I spent there very much...my only regret was that I couldn't buy too much (as I was on holiday) :) I love this market!