I only come back to my home country, Spain, once every year or year and a half. During all this time, I practically forget about dozens of products we use in Spanish Mediterranean cuisine, because they are impossible to find in Japan, where I live.
One bad thing of being from Murcia is that the trip from Tokyo takes about 24 hours, with at least 2 step-overs. One good thing is that one of these step-overs include Barcelona, a bright, warm and multicultural city. I love this city.
Barcelona has many big food markets, but without any doubt the most famous and crowded one is “La Boquería”, located alongside the “Ramblas”, a main artery of the city. True, it has become so touristic that prices have inevitably gone up, and some of the shops do not really sell local produce anymore. But 90% still remains faithful to the original taste, and one positive consequence of massive touristic affluence is that shopkeepers put much more attention into how they display their merchandise.
One vegetable that I’m always happy to meet again after more than a year of abstinence are artichokes.
You can find artichokes in Tokyo – there’s almost nothing you cannot find there – but they are so expensive that I don’t even bother to search them. In Spain, and especially in Murcia, my hometown, they just are everywhere. Huge fields of artichokes border roads all along the coast from Barcelona to Murcia. They’re probably as common as oranges and olives, which means that they are dirty cheap. That’s why we eat them very often and in a lot of different ways: grilled, in stews, boiled, marinated, canned, …
Another thing, less exotic in Japan but also quite pricey, are nuts. Spain is a big nut producer, thanks to its dry and sunny weather. Look at the photo below.
We also have pomegranates. People in my hometown never buy them. You just go outside, find the closest pomegranate tree and pick them from the tree. And trust me, Spanish pomegranates are the best I have tried so far (sorry American and Chinese pomegranates!).
This time, I was incredibly lucky to come during the season of “calçots” (pronounced “calsots”), a kind of fresh onion typical in Catalonia.
They are the normal kind of onion we all know, but instead of planting them and leave them in peace, Catalonians had the idea of adding soil around the shoot as it grows, resulting in an elongated, soft and tender onion. They are sublime grilled and accompanied with Romescu sauce, something they call “calçotada”. I was lucky enough to be invited to one during my stay in Barcelona, so expect a post about it shortly.
If you have a rabbit as pet, skip the photo below.
In Spain we eat a lot of rabbit. They sell it already skinned and without some organs we don’t use for cooking. One of our hosts, Diana, can teach you how to prepare rabbit with rosemary in Barcelona, or you can learn paella with rabbit with Luis and Miguel in Valencia.
And then we have olives and capers. Sorry, I’m being chauvinistic again, but Spanish olives are the best. I have tried olives in France, Tunisia, Morocco and Portugal, and I found them to be less juicy and way too bitter. Spanish olives are smooth as the oil they produce, slightly salty with an acid touch, and definitely not too bitter, with some exceptions, such as the wrinkly black olives in the foreground below.
Spain’s neighbor, France, is famous for its cheese, but Spain also has a lot of local cheese. We have goat, sheep and cow, from creamy to rock hard.
Which combined with jamón serrano (raw ham) or any of the supreme sausages of our land…
…and this particular type of tomato, small, rounded and extremely juicy…
…results in one of the most celebrated dishes in Catalonia, “pan amb tomaquet”!