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Got Jamon Iberico?

Got Jamon Iberico?

Since our American holiday of Thanksgiving is around the corner next week I thought the obvious thing to do would be to focus upcoming holiday posts on the markets, tapas bars, restaurants, meals, chocolate shops, produce, pinxtos, wine and you name it about the world of food in the Catalan capitol city of Barcelona and the Basque dream city of San Sebastián. Two tastes emerged that still linger as personal favorites, both enhanced by an excellent flute of Cava. Jamon Iberico and chocolate.

There are a lot of food posts to come so let’s get started!

Pintxos in San Sebastián.

Pinxtos in San Sebastián.

And why wait? Our first stop in Barcelona should be yours as well. The legendary La Boqueria. There’s been a market at this location for 800 years. It’s easy to find for musicians as the metro stop is Liceu, as in the Barcelona opera house.

La Boqueria on La Rambla.

La Boqueria on La Rambla.

We headed straight to El Quim inside the market, following tips from our  travel research. Onion Blood Pudding, Shrimp in Cava, Baby Squid and Fried Eggs, Grilled Asparagus and a Jama Cava. A great first breakfast date with Barcelona!

Plan on going to El Quim for your first food date in Barcelona.

Plan on going to El Quim for your first food date in Barcelona.

Markets for me are a type of museum. Everyone eats and how they eat is a great story line.  I am glad my posts have a reputation  for music, travel and food. Since I began blogging last September in 2013 my recent trip to Barcelona is my first trip to Europe.  What a wonderful world there is for you to discover in Catalunya and the Basque Country to the north. It was my first trip but not my last, that’s for sure.

Let’s move on for now from El Quim to chocolate, but no worries I’m coming back to the food stalls of La Boqueria in subsequent posts.

Because chocolate is good for you. Find a mirror in your house and repeat this affirmation ten times:”Chocolate is good for me.”

Feel better?  I do!

Jan and I have searched out chocolate on many trips in many places. Known as the drink of the gods by the Aztecs, cacao comes from Mexico and the New World, like tomatoes, corn, chiles, potatoes. I’m not sure European cuisine accepts its fusion influence from the era of the Conquest.  But the Old World discovered great ways to cook with the precious elixir from cacao.

Easter at Auer Chocolates in Nice, France 2011.

Easter at Auer Chocolates in Nice, France 2011.

Cuisine and culture help bring us together and make sense out of the world’s complicated web. And that’s good. And throughout our time in Barcelona and San Sebastián we kept encountering restaurant servers from the New World: the Phillippines, Honduras, Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Guatelmala. The irony was not lost on any of them we talked to that things have come full circle since Cortez burned his ships in Veracruz harbor long ago.

Now back to chocolate.

Sweet shops all over the world tell you a lot about a city and its people.  You can observe what people do to truly unwind from life. Everybody looks happy holding an ice cream cone, if you know what I mean. For this reason Jan and I have high standards for those shops and places and remain forever curious about chocolate around the world.  As in, surprise, finding cacao beans in the Mekong Delta south of Saigon in Vietnam.

Cacao beans in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

Finding cacao beans in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in 2009.

Or El Moro in Mexico City, the chocolate standard of the Aztec capitol. Barcelona never even got close to the chocolate variations of Mexico, which easily supports 24/7 shops serving the drink of the gods (don’t even get me started about chocolate in Oaxaca).

Jan having churros at a 24 hour chocolate shop in Mexico City in 2005.

Jan having churros at El Moro, a 24/7 chocolate shop in Mexico City in 2004.

Being proud Californians, we’re big fans of Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Jan ten years later last summer at Dandelion Chocolate.

Jan ten years later in summer 2014 at Dandelion Chocolate on a windy San Francisco day.

And since Jan’s grandmother was born in Brooklyn in 1904 we have a soft spot for Jaques Torres in DUMBO. Always pay attention to a French guy who lives in the United States, you won’t go wrong.

Chocolate in Brooklyn at Jacques Torres.

Chocolate in Brooklyn at Jacques Torres.

We both believe in a permanent revolution, constant change, animating our life. Accepting life, like accepting weather, is a skill that is good to acquire. Stasis is a myth and not very healthy either. One way we demonstrate this is that we rarely repeat ourselves with restaurants when we travel.  The internet is a big help in searching out and easily finding many places for curious travelers. There’s a lot to experience out there. We found many chocolate shops in Barcelona and they were all good…

Who needs a churro when you can have these donuts at another chocolate shop?

Who needs a churro when you can have these donuts and chocolate off La Rambla?

…but this trip celebrated Jan turning 60. A big life milestone and one we didn’t want to sit out on the sidelines. We did go to other chocolate shops like the one illustrated above but a favorite emerged, connected to its historical longevity (always a good sign). In fact one reason we loved Barcelona and San Sebastián is that the reputation of even touristed food places (at La Boqueria, for example, or the 7 Portes restaurant), were at a very high quality.

Welcome to Escriba, our favorite chocolate shop in Barcelona. If you have never been you can thank me in advance. We threw away our permanent revolution ideas and went multiple times to enjoy the richest hot chocolate. You need a spoon to drink this godlike cup of life. Once, twice was not enough. Losing count became a goal!

Hot chocolate at a xoco at Escriba.

Hot chocolate and a xoco croissant stuffed with cream at Escriba.

One comes to Barcelona to drink in visionary architecture. There are books devoted just to the designs of all the city’s pharmacies. To walk in Barcelona is to be immersed in great buildings and the Catalan version of Art Noveau or Jugendstil, Modernisma, the world of Idelfons Cerda, Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner. As you walk just a few steps from La Boqueria, you will come on the most inspirational storefront for chocolate I’ve ever encountered. And it fits right in with all the great monuments and eye popping buildings. It seemed in character that Barcelona would have a Temple of Chocolate.

Escriba Chocolate is a must experience in Barcelona.

Escriba Chocolate is a must experience in Barcelona.

Founded in 1820, Christian Escriba is the current generation in charge. For any food mavens reading my blog, Escriba is recommended by molecular genius chef Ferran Adria. We didn’t just photograph the chocolate in its chocolate cups because the storefront also says a lot about Barcelona. The design of the building is an inspiration, as was our regular server Sandra, from Chile. The New World in the Old World. More on that later.

A happy birthday chocolate at Escriba.

A happy birthday chocolate heaven at Escriba.

Of course you will wander around La Rambla, one of the great streets of the world. If you look, you’ll find many other Ramblas in other districts of Barcelona as well as other markets, which have undergone major renovations in each part of the city. The quality is just as high as La Boqueria and they are all less crowded.

Mecat Concepcio in the Eixample close to our hotel was convenient.

Mercat Concepcio in the Eixample close to our hotel was convenient and superb.

My next post will deal with that other taste lingering in my memory from Barcelona, jamon iberico.  Exploring the layers and quality of jamon is similar to wine but a lot fattier. There’s even a Jamon Museum across La Rambla from Escriba, I kid you not. I wouldn’t mix them, though.

Breakfast in Barcelona.

Breakfast in Barcelona with cava and jamon in the Eixample District.

So keep checking back for more tips and treats from Catalonia and the Basque Country in my next posts! And wherever you are, have a hot chocolate and enjoy yourself!

Best, best, best,