We went to Barcelona today, but the activity we chose had us seeing very little of it. We were part of a small group, maybe 20 people or so, who took a little shuttle to the cathedral square where we had a quick look, and then we walked around the corner, climbed a short flight of stairs, and found seats in a room that was sort of like a cooking school.
A Spanish woman who spoke a fair amount of English guided us through the making of several tapas one by one. She demonstrated the making of a Spanish tortilla, which is really an omelet made with eggs and sliced fried potatoes. She made kick-ass gazpacho and a béchamel sauce—very thick with diced ham and mushrooms—that was used in two dishes, and then she walked us through the steps of making cold tapas.
We wrapped some of the béchamel mixture with ham and cheese; dipped it in flour, egg and breadcrumbs; and fried it to make croquettes. We mixed crab and diced endive for topping small slices of bread, threaded pickled vegetables onto skewers for kebabs, and fried squid in a light coating of cornmeal. The chef did most of the cooking, but we were able to watch the entire process and, of course, eat the whole lot.
A sommelier joined us with samples of Spanish wines—cava, a light white, a heavier red, and a very sweet wine similar to port. The whole experience was wonderful, although I think Husband didn’t enjoy the demonstration portion as much as he enjoyed the eating. In Spanish, he told the chef that he didn’t like to cook but loved to eat, so she let him off the hook for helping to cook the omelets.
Even though we didn’t get a tour of the city or hear anything about its history, we ate the local food, which can tell you volumes about the local people. For instance, that the Spanish revive old bread by rubbing a cut garlic clove on the surface, followed by rubbing it with a cut tomato, and then drizzling it with good olive oil and adding a bit of salt tells you they are resourceful and know how to use rustic ingredients at hand to make one of the tastiest elements on the dinner plate.
The fact that the Spanish can make a magnificent cold soup with just a few things from the garden—tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumber—add a little olive oil, maybe some salt and a little water—tells you they can take something simple and turn it into a dish fit for any table.
There was nothing pretentious about today’s food demonstration. There were no garnishes, the plates weren’t decorated with a reduced balsamic vinegar and nothing was stacked, sculpted or televised. It was unapologetically humble and delicious, and it brought people together. In our group, there were Americans, English and Canadians, and there was a couple from the Bahamas. And we all passed the plates and bowls of ingredients, and we all enjoyed the wine together and left satisfied.
If I am ever in Barcelona again, I’ll make it a point to see the sights and learn the history. But today, I was content with a bite-sized taste and a few hearty sips of what sustains the culture.