My little brother Brett, who lives in Geneva, invited me to join him and his girlfriend for Christmas with her family in Barcelona and Banyoles -- that's in the Northeastern part of Spain, Catalonia, for those of you without an atlas handy.
I always have an atlas handy.
That'd be a great name for a detective or adventure man, no? Atlas Handy fired one shot. The waiter fell to the ground with a thunderous thud. Faint, but not dead. Atlas missed. Or, did he? A great cry arose from the great hall beyond. The generalissimo, that evil-doer? El muerto. Atlas Handy finished his scotch, bouncing coins off the waiter's flaccid belly.
Ahem.... Context. Spain. Christmas. I'll make a separate post about the peculiar holiday traditions of Catalonia, but since I was there with a family, my time was spent with them rather than hitting the tourists hi-lights.
Shell sculptures light up the Barcelona night. Christmas Day, one traditional dish was a chicken broth with these kinds of pasta shells (escudella).
Sure, we walked past some famous stuff, but mostly we shopped, cooked, ate, drank. Like being at home, only it was Barcelona and therefore 1000 times more awesome.
Tapas -- small plates, sometimes just a few bites -- are the most popular way to eat out. Also called pintxos (in Basque... check your atlas), most of our meals away from home were eaten in this style. Accompanied by wine and sometimes coffee, we enjoyed tapas as early as 11am and as late as 11pm. Barcelona is a famously late-night, all-night city, so even as we finished a meal at midnight, other people (younger people) were just beginning.
Some places, you sat and ordered from the menu or by pointing at a display case. Other places were more like a buffet, where you wandered around picking bites off the board and balancing a plate, a napkin, a camera, a drink, and some handsome Spanish man -- dear lord, a whole country of black-haired men, sigh.
Prices seemed quite reasonable, certainly cheaper than tapas in the U.S. One lunch for 3 people, where we ate *everything* Ron Swanson-style, killed a bottle of wine, and had coffee & desserts was about 75 euro. Sounds like a lot, but the same amount & quality at Portland's Toro Bravo would be 3x that.
At the busier buffet places, your bill was tallied by the number of toothpicks left on your plate -- each bite speared through with one. No idea how people don't cheat that system. Undercover pintxos police?
Post reaching TLDR status. I'll save the topics of meats, markets, and traditional holiday dishes for another post.
I am so hungry now.
All the fotos: Spain - Christmas 2011