Barcelona Cooking, Cooking Class, Las Ramblas

Barcelona CookingI lived in Paris for 4 years and never went to the top of the Eiffel tower, 13 years in London- I never saw the changing of the guard. Because you don’t, do you? I live in Paella land now but it’s so much a part of daily life here that it’s already been relegated to familiar and uninteresting without me knowing anything about it.  So it’s surprising to find myself really caring about the origins of Paella and snorting out loud at the comedy act that is our teacher chef Javier Morón Uceda at Barcelona Cooking.  “If the rice does not sing, if it does not do this…” claps his hands and cheers enthusiastically “when the liquid hits the pan, stop the paella, start stirring and you will make an excellent risotto – instead of a mediocre paella.”  Javier is full of these one liners. About ham he advises us not to go for the most expensive one and assume it’s the best because “like everything in this life, the best is the one you like.”

Xavier telling us about La BoqueriaIf you take the morning class at Barcelona Cooking, it starts off with a trip to the Boqueria to buy the ingredients for the day. Javier excitedly points out the 3 essential dried peppers to Catalan food (Pebrot “Choricero”, Nyores & Guindilla Picant).  He recounts, as we gather round the salted cod stand, how his great grandmother used to give him a piece of salted cod (with the salt flakes very much still on) and an orange for his merenda every day, “I would take a bite of one and then the other.” he rolls his eyes heavenward with pleasure at the memory.  He tells us how if you cook cocochas (hake chin) at 80ºC and swirl it around ever so gently, you release the gelatin and are left with a dish that has a velvety mouthfeel.  Read more of this post

Eat Street, Street Food, Poble Sec

L1103226Yesterday I went to the inaugural ‘street food festival’ organised by BCN Mes and held at CREC in Poble Sec. The reason I am using inverted comas is that the majority of the food stands have a bricks and mortar location in Barcelona.  Which is unlike street food at say Broadway Market (London) or Street Food Thursday (Berlin). All this is relevant because the line of people waiting to get into Eat Street is 3 people wide and two blocks deep (Barcelona blocks are big). It’s epic.L1103221Which is what I am thinking when I approach the girl with the worst job in the world (explaining to the sweaty hungry people that “No, she can’t let them in because there is a crowd control issue.”) I’ve got two hours before the twins are up from their afternoon nap, tentatively I explain that I write a blog and could I please get in to take some pictures? “Press was at 13:30.” she turns away. I bite my lip and hover a moment until an actual photographer turns up, towering above the both of us, pointing his massive lens menacingly at her and waving his press card – “your choice, let me in or you don’t get covered.” He’s obnoxious, he wears her down, I duck in behind him.
Eat StreetAnd so it is, sometimes another person’s hard time is another’s lucky break. Good thing too. I am amazed at the turn out. At how ready everyone seems to be for something just like this. And why wouldn’t they be, everyone else has been doing the food truck thing for ages?  (I get the impression that setting up a food truck or a temporary stand at one of the many markets may be difficult?  And perhaps the food culture in Barcelona is too ingrained compared to that of Berlin which in the last few years has exploded in the most impressive way?) Read more of this post

Public Market, Vilanova i la Geltrú

Mercat Public, VilanovaRight now, the proverbial deer and I have a lot more in common besides our big brown eyes.  After spending three years complaining that there is nothing to eat but chicken and mince I am now at a loss for words (and recipes).  Catalunya is rich beyond anything I’ve ever seen.  The variety of food, be it from land or sea, is astonishing and bewildering.

Tomatoes and beansEveryone knows about the Boqueira Market in Barcelona but I find that easing myself gently into, say, the Public Market of Vilanova is a good start.  To begin with, it is entirely made up of the local population, most of whom will only converse in Catalan.  There is an elderly woman with long white hair pinned up in a loose chignon selling Cava, tomatoes and green beans.   I buy 5 of her bruised ugly tomatoes, confident that they will prove to be the best I’ve had all summer (they are) and all the while she rattles on in Catalan and calls me ‘nena‘ (girl child).  The effect of which is momentarily transformative.  For almost five years now, I’ve been a mother.  My mind is resolutely practical, entirely unflappable, with an astounding amount of ‘fear not little one for here is an adult with a plan’ stowed away to be doled out with great generosity as my girls peel at that many layers of life.  When this lovely Cava seller calls me child, I have a glimpse of my mind, uncluttered and wide open as it had been once upon a time when I was the little girl. mackerel Read more of this post

Paletas, Popsicles, Around Berlin

PaletasIn London, I spent a good three hours flipping hungrily through the food books that have been published in my absence. While looking through one called “A delicious life – New Food Entrepreneurs” – I came across PaletasZeit für Brot, and ART Sucre.  Right there in black and white and in hard cover.  Berlin shops sharing pages with the likes of Mast Brothers.  Go Berlin! Read more of this post

The Thai Market, Outdoor, Wilmersdorf

Nose to tail eating Thai styleBerlin is a city of extremes. On the one hand, you’ve got bureaucrats, trying to out best each other at making you squirm.

Even postal workers are in on it, you should have seen the maniacal happiness in the eyes of the postal worker while I ruffled around in my wallet to find my driver’s license.

“You’re not getting that parcel without your passport. No point looking in there – I need your passport – that’s the only way.”IMG_4128

I don’t take the bait (any more). I calmly (kind of) step out of line and take my time, without the heckling. Find it and line up again. Nor do I take (visible) offense when the same postal worker peers at the license – then me – repeatedly as if I am buying a gun, rather than picking up my Amazon book.IMG_4124

So in this context, I am dumbfounded – no other word will do – to find a place like the Thai Market. Where women (I didn’t see a single man cooking) sit cross-legged and cook. Where everything is either €5 or  €2.50.  Where dishes are washed in pails of water.  Fried chicken languishes in the sun.  Hands don’t get washed for the 5 hour duration that the women are cooking.IMG_4123

Of course if the horse meat scandal in Europe and the rat meat scare in China have taught us anything, it’s that we are  not as in control as we would like to believe, no matter all those inspectors going around swabbing door handles.  (Did I ever mention that fending off said health and safety inspectors and bribing her with brownies and granola was one of my jobs in my other life?). Read more of this post

Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, Arte Sucre (Macarons) & More, Markthalle Neun, Kreuzberg

Big Stuff Smoked BBQSylee suggested we meet at Markthalle Neun on Saturday.  “I’m obsessed with the place!” she enthused.

It’s evolved considerably since my last visit.  The USP’s of the stands are distinct from one another and reel the Markthalle Neun consumer mercilessly hook, line and sinker.The pulled pork sandwich At Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, there is a line of hungry punters wrapped around the corrugated shack, as tinny Charleston music blares from speakers located somewhere behind the chicken wire that makes up a big part of the shop.  The Italian girl at the cashier is wearing a flat cap, her sweater sleeves are pushed to the elbows exposing a full arms worth of shirt sleeves – she looks like she should be hitching a ride on the back of a Ford Model T truck circa 1920.  I inch ever closer to the guy with the black latex gloves pulling pork apart for the sandwiches.

Sadly for me, Big Stuff has had a good day and they have sold out of everything except the pulled pork sandwich, so I miss out on the matt aluminum tray loaded with mounds of sauerkraut and squirts of bbq sauce (€12 for the regular, €16 for the large).  I get the pulled pork sandwich (€5.50) and a side of smoked potato (€1).  It’s good.  Not shredded to the point of resembling candy floss the way I experienced at Pitt Cue in London but delicious in a less complicated way.  My mother has her sandwich with a glass of ale from Heiden PetersA beer from HeidenpetersI appreciate that the brains behind Markethalle Neun have been considerate enough to provide ample seating, with feisty coloured plastic chairs so I don’t have to scan the hall long before finding somewhere to sit.Mini macarons from Arte SucreLayla choses to get her sugar fix from Arte Sucre in the form of mini macarons (heaven preserve us from trending sweets: whoopie pies, cake pops, marshmallows – I mean you!). As I try to identify and retrieve the perennial coffee flavoured one, the French woman selling them begins to rattle off flavours: lemon, cassis, chocolate, mandarin mint…

Mandarin with mint? I think, intrigued as I immediately commandeer that flavour and take half a bite.  The other half I hand to Sylee.  “These are good right?”.

Her eyes grow round. “Really good.” she agrees. I turn on my heel and return to Arte Sucre, this time to buy a pretty box of choux buns (6 for €7.80) to go with our excellent coffees from Kantine 9.

Choux pastry buns Read more of this post

Broadway Market, Hackney, London

I was reading Simon Kruper’s column in the FT “What makes London different?“.  I had been mulling over the same question.  On a daily basis, I am confronted by an uncanny openness of different cultures.  An Indian Tesco’s employee showing two Hasidic jews around the stationery shelf, around the corner a Halal fridge, two shelves away from that row upon row of ethnic foods.  Unlike mainland Europe, you don’t have to erase your origin or culture to live in London.  Rather, everyone get’s to be who they are and somehow live together more or less peacefully (136 murders a year in London as opposed to 536 in New York – researched by Simon Kruper).It’s not only in supermarkets that things are peaceful.  Traffic is refreshingly non-aggressive.  If you see someone indicating that they want to drive in front of you, you don’t accelerate, (inconceivable, isn’t it?) instead you slow down.  They in turn, flash their hazard lights in thanks or raise a hand.  And you know what?  Everyone still manages to get where they want to get to without getting their panties in a bunch or abusing their car horn.I think all this amicable cohabitation of cultures contributes to the vibrant food scene.  Without unmasked prejudice floating about, people are curious to try new things while others are encouraged to share what they know.I got myself to Broadway market.  Where I had 3 destinations; Banhmi11, Lucky Chip and Yum Bun.After all the accolades, Banhmi11 fell well short of my expectations.  This is one instance where I can confidently say you can get better in Berlin at CôCô.

Yum Bun was indeed yummy.  And I say this having had the steamed pork buns at momofuku ssäm bar a couple of times.  The apparent ease with which the slim girl behind the stack of bamboo steamers made up the buns inspired me give steamed buns and their filling of pork belly a go when I return to Berlin.

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