More Memorable Piscine Treats in Barcelona

8 November 2005

This is the last (and rather long) post about our motorbike trip to Provence and Barcelona. At first we were thinking of just staying in France, but looking at the Europe map, Spain didn’t seem too far to me so I insisted that we take another bike trip while we were in St Remy (Matthew wasn’t that impressed by my suggestion, knowing how we would feel after the long initial trip!). This is something that always happens when we plan our motorbike trips – I love to peruse the atlas (anytime) and when Matthew suggests a route we can do in a certain duration, I start thinking ‘hang on, if we go to Helsinki, we can go to St Petersburg. If we manage to go to St Petersburg, we must go to Moscow. If we manage to go to Moscow…’ and so on. Matthew once joked ‘why don’t you go back to Japan through Siberia?” I’ve actually considered it seriously, it’d be such a great experience like she has been doing. (and it’d be a good reason not to take a plane too – yes, I HATE flying… I get really sick every time I fly – I’ve once been carried in a wheelchair at Heathrow after a flight from Tokyo, I was just too sick to get up from my seat!)

Anyway, back to Barcelona. We had a lovely time exploring the city, I’ve always been fascinated by the Catalan culture. I started laughing when I was sorting out my travel photos – how many pictures of fish I’ve taken! As you know, they have great meat and charcuterie in Spain and France, but fortunately we can also get hold of it in the UK, so my focus had to be on something you can’t get here – yes, fresh fish, not ‘oh my, how many days have they been sitting on the counter since they were caught?’ fish :) I’ve always loved Spanish food – the simplicity and the way they focus on only the very best ingredients are similar to Japanese cooking – and needless to say, the ingredients we use are similar to theirs too, so I knew I was going to enjoy this short trip (and that I was going to feel homesick again…)

We visited La Boqueria and Santa Caterina markets – both are really big, wonderful markets but I liked the buzz and atmosphere at La Boqueria more. I should mention that Santa Caterina has just reopened this summer and the building was quite impressive, though.


We had early lunch at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria. They serve great tapas all day to both traders and shoppers. I was vaguely hoping that we would bump into Javier Bardem at the tiny counter (I’m a big fan of Almodovar by the way) but he wasn’t there… The front man of the bar, Juanito (posing for me above) – arguably the most well-known person in La Boqueria – was really a charming (and very hard-working) man. I had a classic Catalan dish – garbanzo beans cooked with blood sausage, pine nuts and raisins – the big fluffy beans were absolutely delicious!



As well as the amazing variety of produce in the markets, I was also fascinated by these ‘fishermen’s wives’ – most of the people who work at the fish stalls were women and they were so skilful and industrious – I couldn’t help capturing them (admiringly) on my camera. Although you can tell that quite a few shoppers here are tourists, it is still a fascinating place and I wish Borough market had that many varieties of food!


The view from (almost) the top of Sagrada Familia

Mies van der Rohe pavilion


We ended up going back to our hotel really late every night as most restaurants don’t open before 21:00! We couldn’t really choose where to eat as there were so many recommendations, but tried Cal Pep on the first night. This place is really popular with both tourists and locals, we were ready to queue up to get in but luckily we made the first seating – but there will always be lots of eager diners waiting behind you!


They don’t have a proper menu and as soon as you get to your seat, everyone starts asking what’s available on the day. As non Spanish speakers, we had to observe what people were ordering and wait for the helpful waiters to come to make suggestions – but it was worth the wait. Start with Spanish version of bruschetta – the tomato is just rubbed on in the same way as garlic – followed by my all time favourite tapa, deep fried baby green chilli peppers, tiny clams cooked in sherry (I’m a clam fiend and loved these tiny butterfly shaped clams – I found them in Provence too and cooked them myself after we went back to St Remy. I don’t know why you can hardly get clams in the UK, sigh), deep fried whitebait, small shrimps, calamari in light crispy batter and gorgeous rovellon mushrooms (and giant sliced beef for Matthew!). Everything tasted so fresh – I’ll definitely go back to this place next time I visit Barcelona… (and will learn at least enough Spanish to be able to order!) Mr Pep, the owner of this place, looked like the Karl Lagerfeld of the food world – he was mainly giving everyone moral support and I really enjoyed watching them cooking over the counter.



The next night, we headed for Santa Maria – another popular place for foodies. I loved the unpretentious interior, and their food was superb too. As a fussy eater, Matthew wasn’t sure at first because their menu was quite, um, ambitious – but he was convinced as soon as he tasted the food :) All the tapas were delicious with little twists – Bacalao (salt cod) with peppers, perfectly cooked sardines with poppy seeds etc. I’m glad I was brave enough to try their rabbit sushi – it was just like Anago sushi (anago is a type of eel – we grill them and brush with sweet soy-based sauce). I’ve heard that the head chef, Paco Guzman, has spent time as a chef in Japan too, so it made me smile :) The staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and we were impressed by their very reasonable prices too.

Rabbit sushi served with pickled ginger

By the way, I found all the restaurants above in this book – I fell in love with the gorgeous photographs and the writing is inspiring too. Maybe it’s not the best book if you’re looking for lots of recipes, but I think it’s great. I should also mention that there are quite a few good chocolate shops in Barcelona (there is even a chocolate museum!) – we only managed to try here, but we loved it.

So we enjoyed our holiday even though the long ride was a bit hard – one thing I missed out on was riding back through Basque country and along the west coast of France – well, there is always next time…

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  • Hi Keiko,

    I remember myself strolling in a market for breakfast or lunch stuff while staying in Barcelona many years ago... not sure if it was one of the two you mention here, but these photos do remind me of the one I’ve been. Thank god the city has such a great aray of food that could please even Matthew! :)

    Posted by chika | 8 November 2005 #
  • wow keiko, these look wonderful! i’ve only been to spain once (and even then it was to costa blanca region - too touristy, beach resorts etc, never going back there again!) but now you’re tempting me to book a flight out, preferably sometimes soon...

    good to hear that you had a fantabulous holiday despite the long distance travelled on the motorbike. must be quite an adventure! :)

    Posted by Lil | 8 November 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko, what a lovely description of your experiences in Barcelona. It is without a doubt my favorite city in Europe for food, for all the reasons you mention: the amazing variety, the impeccable freshness, the great value and the character of the people who make it. I was so inspired after our last trip there that I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about Catalan cuisine - if you’re interested too I highly recommend Coleman Andrews’ book ’Catalan Cuisine’. It’s full of great recipes and cultural information. Thanks for your lovely pictures and recommendations - I’m especially eager to go to Santa Maria next time we’re there.

    Posted by melissa | 8 November 2005 #
  • I knew it. You put me to shame again ;-)

    Posted by Monkey Gland | 8 November 2005 #
  • Hi there,

    Chika - I’ve actually been to Barcelona before, but I wasn’t that interested in food then - you know what I’m like :)

    Lil - well, Barcelona is quite a touristy place too (you see lots of British people there), but I know exactly what you mean. I’d love to visit Basque country, southern parts or maybe Portugal next time, it must be wonderful too (might be too far for a motorbike trip, though...)

    Melissa - I’m glad you feel the same way :) As a Japanese person, I just don’t like to muck about with food too much (hope you know what I mean) and the food in Spain is just great. I love Coleman Andrew’s book too ;) it’s definitely one of the best books about Catalan cooking!

    MG - Look forward to talking about how fantastic Cal Pep was again ;)

    Posted by keiko | 8 November 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko! Seeing the picture of the tile mosaic was so strange - it is almost *identical* to the one I took in Barcelona this summer!! You are going to be equally surprised when I post mine! I also loved the Boqueria. We stayed just of Las Ramblas and the market was about a 5 minute walk. Annoyingly we didn’t go up Sagrada Familia as I was the only person in the party who had not yet been. But we did go to Parc Guell which I though was one of the most delightful places I have ever been. We also went to a restaurant right on the beach (practically under the Gehry metal fish) called Bestiale and my food was outstanding. You have inspired me to move my butt and blog about my holiday! ;-)

    Posted by Jeanne | 8 November 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko,

    what a wonderful trip! I really love Barcelona. I think it is worth the travel. La Boqueria is one of the most beautiful markets i have ever seen. And the photo of Juanito is just perfect... it caught the spirit.

    It’s so nice to look at your photos and read you post. It seems i return a bit to this marvelous city. Thanks. :)

    Posted by Marcela | 9 November 2005 #
  • How great a bike tour of Europe. Is that an Aprilla on the other page? Bah I’m so uninspired with riding here, lots of long straight roads with not much in between. I miss touring in Japan and touring in Europe would be a great dream. Good for you for doing it.

    If you’re thinking Siberia, I’d recommend Ewan McGregor’s DVD on his adventures if you haven’t seen it.

    Posted by anthony | 9 November 2005 #
  • Hi,keiko! First, happy belated birthday!! hoping you will have another great year.

    I saw more ou your photos of Provence. They are great!! I especially love those food photos>m< And c’est super, photos here in Barcerona. I love markets, too, so enjoyed your photos very much.

    Chocolate cake of he previous entry really makes my mouth water...I like chocolat & orange combination.

    Posted by akane:rgb-nanairo-nianco | 10 November 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko, your trip sounds fantastic, and I think its wonderful that you shared so much of it with us and posted so many pictures, which are all gorgeous. I love the picture of Juanito especially, he’s so darn cute ;)

    Posted by michele | 11 November 2005 #
  • Wow longoustines ?! (sp?)I’ve never seen them here but have been wanting to try them. Thank you for taking so much care to explain your trip. I love living it through your eyes.

    Posted by emi | 13 November 2005 #
  • Hi there, sorry for being late getting back.

    Jeanne - I wouldn’t be surprised even if you had taken the same pics! I think the mosaic wall was from a famous concert hall (forgot the name). I guess if you like Gaudi stuff, that’s a good enough reason to go (the excellent food was good enough reason for me :)) Your holiday sounds wonderful, Mexico has been in my ’must-go’ list for a while.

    Marcela - thank you for your notes. Do you often visit Barcelona? Speaking of travelling, Argentina is also on my list ;)

    Anthony - yes, it is Matthew’s Aprilia Falco (I’m the pillion). Did you used to do lots of touring in Japan? What bike do you have at the moment? There must be so many lovely places in Australia, but it is huge! We saw Billy Connelly touring New Zealand on TV a while ago, it looked wonderful.

    I’ve seen most of the film and their interviews - I remember I was quite upset when he said ’Czechoslovakia’ though, it was long after the countries were separated!

    Akane-san - thank you for your kind wishes as always. I wish I could take lovely pictures like you do one day...

    Michele - thank you for your kind notes, Juanito was charming indeed :)

    Emi - I’m very surprised that you can’t get langoustines there - although you must have lots of lovely produce around.

    Posted by keiko | 23 November 2005 #
  • Hi Keiko, I don’t know how I missed your post on Barcelona! It brought back so many memories reading your tales and seeing your photos. I particularly loved the photos of the fishmongers-I recognize them all from my week in Barcelona in July. Those are some tough women, no? We ate at all the same places (I used New Tapas for research, too). I think the Spanish focus on high quality ingredients (especially seafood) and simple preparations has a lot in common with Japanese cuisine. Ooo, I’m so hungry now!

    Posted by Brett | 9 December 2005 #
  • Hi Brett - thanks so much for your notes. As I told you, I absolutely loved your pictures in Spain, they are wonderful. I was fascinated by the fishermen’s wives - they are great! New Tapas is a beautiful book, isn’t it? I’m glad you know that Spanish and Japanese food have a lot in common ;) Ooo I’m getting hungry too!

    Posted by keiko | 16 December 2005 #
  • Keiko, thanks for pointing me to this post. The photos are, as always, lovely. I have especially fond memories of La Boqueria and, well, all of Barcelona, really. It really is one of the most special places my wife and I have ever visited.

    I live a block away from the St. Lawrence market in Toronto, but even I was wondering through La Boqueria slack-jawed at the freshness and variety on offer, particularly at the seafood vendors.

    By the way, I share your distaste for flying, much to my wife’s chagrin. I also share your love of maps/atlases. My wife and I put a giant map of Europe up on our wall five years ago while planning a trip, and we’ve never taken it down. I sometimes catch myself lying in bed staring at it, pondering the possibilities....

    Anyways, wonderful post.

    Posted by rob | 31 January 2006 #
  • Hi Rob - thanks so much for your notes, I’m glad I can share the love of Spanish food and atlases with you :) I’m sorry your wife has a hard time flying like I do... it doesn’t seem like there is any cure, but I’ll really have to overcome it... (I want to go back to Japan more often!)

    Posted by keiko | 2 February 2006 #

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