Out of the Kitchen: Barcelona, Spain
Buenos días! As some of you may know, I’m coming to you today as a newly married man! We had our wedding on a beautiful sunny day in late April, and left almost immediately for the most amazing honeymoon I could have ever asked for. I can’t wait to share it all with you over the next coming weeks!
If you’ve seen any of my posts under the “Engayged Gent” tab in the header, you know that I’m pretty passionate about passing on anything I learn about planning a gay wedding. There are so many intricacies that you just don’t think about at first, and they can differ from traditional weddings in the most surprising ways. So in the spirit of that, look forward to a few posts coming soon that will recap everything I learned during the process! But for now, I’m in a serious travel mood. You know when you come back from vacation and you literally can’t think about anything else? I’m constantly thinking, “A week ago I was in London. I can’t believe I’m already back to real life!”
Since I’m having such a hard time adjusting to the reality of my life back in Kentucky, I’m putting down all of my thoughts, tips, and photos into a series of posts to inspire you to travel to my honeymoon destinations yourself! It allows me to relive this amazing trip and share with you some of our memories. And THEN, since this is a food-focused blog and I just have such a hard time getting over my trips, I’ll follow up each destination with a recipe that reminds me of our time there. Sound good? Grab your passport, because we’re going for a ride!
When we were choosing where to go on our honeymoon, Spain was always at the forefront of our minds. Besides the fact that he had already been to Barcelona and loved it, we really jumped at the chance to live our Cheetah Girls 2 fantasy. I mean, who hasn’t secretly decided which Cheetah Girl they most identify with?? (I’m Aqua and no matter what he tries to tell you, he’s obviously Galleria.) So when we were planning our Tour de Europe, we knew Barcelona had to be on the list. And let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint! The food, the music, the people, and the shopping were all we could have asked for and more. At the end of the trip, when we were discussing which city was our favorite, we both decided we would return to Barcelona in a heartbeat. The laid-back Mediterranean vibe of the city is something that you don’t get anywhere else, and it’s a huge part of the city’s charm.
Where to stay? What to do?
We somehow managed to get an AirBnb in the heart of the Gothic quarter, or Barri Gòtic. I would absolutely recommend staying as close to here as you can! While it didn’t have any beach views or anything, it has a character and charm that makes me think “Old World Europe” immediately. Twisting alleyways paved with cobblestones open up unexpectedly into broad plazas fronted with beautiful soaring historic buildings. You could explore them for hours and come upon shop after restaurant after park, and never get bored. Our AirBnb was an apartment in a historic building that had a bakery on the ground floor. Y’all, I lived my dream of living above a bakery! You had better believe that every morning found us browsing the cases for the perfect breakfast pastry. Ugh, I can’t say enough about how great this location was!
Normally when we travel we try to explore on our own terms, but as this was my first time in continental Europe and we were hitting major cities, we wanted to see all of the touristy stuff. Obviously high on any tourist’s list are the Sagrada Família and Park Güell. Both represent the beautiful style of art that makes Barcelona so unique: Catalan modernism. You’ve seen pictures of these places, but nothing can compare to strolling through the living works of art of Antoni Gaudi. The park is so much more than the typical picture spots, and we had such a relaxing time wandering through the tiers and oddly-shaped architectural elements that set it apart from your average park. The Sagrada Família, too, is not done justice by pictures. There are so many details that you can only see in person, and it just makes you stop and think about how amazing architecture is! While still under construction, the cathedral is scheduled to be finished by 2026 – the 100-year anniversary of Gaudi’s death, and sure to be a big year for the city!
Other things I recommend are a visit to Camp Nou (Barcelona’s home futbol stadium, worth a glance even if you’re not that into sports), a trip to the coast for a feel of the Mediterranean, and a stroll down Las Ramblas (a wide walkway in the middle of two streets, filled with street vendors and lined on either side with more shops and restaurants than you can count).
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what should I EAT?
Ah yes, the subject that this blog (and my very life) is built upon: food! If you accused me of taking a trip to so many countries so I could try as many cuisines as possible, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. My goal is to become a truly seasoned food traveler, and this was my first taste of authentic Spanish food. Trust me when I say that Barcelona did not disappoint!
When you go to Spain, you of course have to try authentic paella. As a fan – nay, superfan – of rice, this was top on my list of things to try. While I was a bit squeamish about the thought of eating whole crawfish and digging mussel shells out of my bed of delicious fragrant rice, I learned that vegetarian and chicken-based paella variations are widely available. So there really is something for everyone! We got mini versions of the classic Spanish dish at a restaurant close to Camp Nou, which was perfectly portioned for us. Keep in mind, the typical paella size feeds 2-6 people, so make sure you work up a hunger before trying it and be ready to share with your travelmates!
On the sweeter side, I loved going into every bakery I saw and trying something new. One of the strangest things I had was coca de vidre con xoco (glass flatbread with chocolate, in Catalan). They call it “glass flatbread” because it’s fried and glazed with a sugar syrup that makes it hard and shiny. While it was interesting on its own, the chocolate took it to a whole other level and I found myself dreaming of it the whole rest of the trip! However, even it couldn’t hold a candle to the dessert of the trip: brioche with gelato filling. But this wasn’t just ANY brioche; no, this was a huge brioche bun, split in half and filled with a generous scoop of chocolate gelato, then sealed up by pinching the sides and warmed in a toaster. The thick structure of the brioche insulates the gelato, so you’re handed what’s essentially a bready Pop-Tart with the creamiest, cold chocolate filling you’ve ever imagined. Just looking at this picture….ugh. I need a moment, please.
Ok now that I’ve picked my jaw up from the floor, I’m going to remind you that you have GOT to try tapas. Tapas bars are rampant, and they work fairly simply: you sit down and order a drink, then you go and choose from a selection of small plates up at the bar. At the end of your meal, you’re charged for however many plates you ate (similar to conveyer belt sushi, if you’ve experienced that). Sounds easy enough, but when the bites are so small and so delicious, it’s hard to stop! I made myself stick to five, but I’ve been thinking about recreating them ever since. From pickle sandwiches on croissants to fried cheese balls with jam, there’s something for everyone. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get some patatas bravas, though they’re easy to find; these fried potatoes with spicy sauce are available from tapas bars to corner stores to the McDonald’s down the street!
And speaking of McDonald’s… ok, I have to admit, I have kind of a controversial opinion: it’s fun to visit foreign McDonald’s. Yeah yeah, ok, so it’s not authentic or healthy or even sometimes sustainable, I get it. But hear me out! As someone that holds a degree in anthropology, it’s so fascinating to see the way the Golden Arches adapts to different cultures and locations. In every country, McDo adds menu items that pander to and reflect the dietary interests of the culture (something I haven’t noticed in many other fast-food chains during my travels). So, in a way, you kind of get a watered-down Americanized version of local tastes. (Plus yeah, it’s cheap and we were already paying for two weeks in Europe so sue me.)
Now that that’s out of the way, I do have to say my favorite Spanish McDonald’s addition was the side of patatas bravas, followed closely by the cheese bites that reminded me of the tapas I had at the bar above. What can I say? I’m a simple man who just wants fried carbs in readily-available snackable form.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, bravo! Stay tuned for a post coming soon where I’ll show you my favorite tapas to make at home, and be sure to join me as we journey to our next destination. Hint: there was a lot of cheese, a lot of bread, and the wine was inSeine. Hasta luego!