I try to keep a low profile when I’m here. It’s tough. At 6’4” and weighing in at a respectable 250 pounds, I dwarf the local population here in Catalunya. As a whole, Catalonians are a compact lot comprised of sturdy fisherman, farmers, home makers, bakers, artists and business people. I wouldn’t say that the balance of the populous is built for speed, but as they say in ‘Merica, “They’re built Ram tough”.
Everywhere I go, I elicit a momentary stare…something like “ Jesus! hay-soosing pronounced locally, Look at the size of that guy! What the hell is he doing here? I often feel like one of the Gigantes that parade around the streets of many towns in Catalunya during their city festivals known as the Festes Mayor.
Giants at one of the parades yesterday in Blanes
There’s a small supermarket located at the end of the daily market here. The daily market sets up in the morning and sells all kinds of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, olives and spices. In the afternoon, the morning market clears out and the small café’s and restaurants that border the market set up tables and chairs for afternoon and evening dining / tapas al fresco.
Shoppers swarm in front of Caprabo
The supermarket is always a mega cluster. The aisles are maybe 2 meters wide and the shelves are constantly being re-stocked throughout the day by store staff pushing Lilliputian grocery carts. With not enough room for both cart and shopper to reside, the shopper is constantly trying to maneuver down whatever aisle is free. Adding to the bedlam, or rather the controlled chaos, are the cramped checkout queues. People with their plastic pullcarts are architecturally channeled to line up down just one of the tight shopping aisles that extends from store exit to opposite store exit. It is this aisle where two registers at opposing ends of the store bookend, constrict, slowly release the moving masses of shoppers with their respective caches of toilet paper, soaps, canned goods, cheeses, cold cuts, tomato products, beauty aids and booze back into the open air of Blanes. Understandably, most shoppers are like a moth to open flame when it comes to this aisle, claustrophobia and constipation being overrated, and since the set up aint broke, why fix it is how I look at it.
I’m not sure who thought that this was good idea.
This means that during most of the day, the waiting lines to the check out registers actually meet each other at their terminus’. At times it’s impossible to assess which line is which. It’s hot. It’s loud. There are babies crying in their strollers while their parents are trying to pluck a roll of Super Suave TP from the top shelf of hell aisle. There is a deli counter crammed along the long side of the rectangular shaped store. The deli has meat selections on one side, and cheese selections on the other. The deli staff are always working at a feverish pace trying to keep up with the overwhelming demand. All this with the grocery guy ramming the mini shopping cart full of tomato paste through the fray for the continual re-stock.
Mayhem at checkout counter
Enter the Giant.
I can speak a smattering of Castillian and am trying to learn a little Catalan. It’s always nice to have a few words in the language arsenal and feel it’s only polite to try and scatter a few niceties around in the local lingo. In order to round out my daily shopping list, I had to pick up a couple of items from the deli. As I tried to ease into the market, I was met with dozens of curious eyes. All goes silent. Babies stop crying. The whole damn store gaps out for what seems minutes, but is only a nano second, and then magically recovers.
I sidled my way over to the deli counter for two items….a slab of jamon York for a bean dish, and some brie for a cheese plate. There was one woman ahead of me shopping for what must have been a small army of ravenous family members who apparently are very particular about how their manchego cheese is sliced. After about 20 minutes of carefully slicing and dicing cheese, Iberian jamon and sobrasada, it was finally my turn. The deli girl looked up to me and said “ digame señor” read “tell me what you would like”, when all of sudden a 4 ½ foot woman pushes past me and exclaims that she was ahead of me in line. I had seen this woman casually window shopping the deli goods a couple of minutes prior, but she had left and had now returned, obviously in somewhat of a hurry. The deli girl explained to woman that I had been waiting for some time and was ahead of her. This sparked a kind of explosive response from the barrel-shaped woman who was now screaming at the deli girl in rat-a-tat catalan about, I assume…me. I made this assumption based on my sparse catalan vocabulary and the fact that as she was screaming, she was pointedly shaking her sausage like index finger at me and using the word “extranjero” or “foreigner”. I said to the deli girl that if the señora was in a great hurry, that I could wait and allow her to place her order ahead of me. There was already a small group of curious onlookers gathering to see what all fuss was about, and wanted to show that big ol’ clumsy Americans can be chivalrous and polite. The deli girl just smiled and, standing her ground, boldy said to me, “ digame señor”.
Like a pit bull from hell, Sausage Woman goes berserk. Both hands a-shaking, index finger a-waggin’, goose stepping up and down the deli aisle declaiming/spelling out to all who would listen about how she has been wronged. Like a tom turkey in rut, I could feel my face redden…I seemed to have forgotten every word of Spanish or Catalán that I have ever learned. For just a few seconds, I was uncharacteristically speechless. This brief hesitation enflamed Sausage Woman even further, now saying in effect “See? The giant doesn’t even know what he wants!” But I did know what I wanted, I just couldn’t manage to say it. I reverted to the tried and true: I punted on diction and instead pointed into the deli case. Deli girl asked “jamon?”…..yup, that’s what I wanted, ham. Just like I felt, like a ham. When deli girl (now known as Angel of Mercy), reaches in to pluck the ham out from the case and takes it over to the slicer, Sausage Woman, witnessing what’s happening, starts sputtering like a sparkler on it last legs - still hot as hell but running out of phosphorous. Sausage Woman has now come to grips with the fact that the Foreign Giant is being served ahead of her. There is, in this case, the only thing left to do which is to storm out of the store, leaving behind/ trailing the obligatory “ I’ll never shop here again” sort of comment. Meanwhile, Angel of Mercy has never skipped a beat. After slicing the ham, she wrapped it up and cheerfully asked if I would like anything else. I was thinking, yeah, a big hole to crawl into, but opted for a hunk of Manchego instead.
The adult beverage aisle is pretty popular
Having grown up in the four corners region of the United States, my life has been greatly influenced by Spanish culture. The Spanish Conquistadors left the whole neighborhood dripping with place names, food and progeny. My wife and I have travelled quite a bit through Mexico, Central and South America and I had always wanted to see the mother ship of all of these cultures. Having developed a great love of food and beverage, it was only a matter of time before I made my way to the Iberian peninsula.
My wife´s brother and his wife live in Badalona, just north of Barcelona. About 8 years ago we came over for a visit and I was hooked. We came in October after all of the Euro vacation crowd was long gone and the locals were getting back the normal pace of things. I was floored by how simple and delicious the food was. We drank earthy red wines with meals comprised of real cheese, jamon Iberica, roasted chestnuts, fresh mushrooms and cured meats.
Our first trip was only 10 days in duration, and we tried to fit too much in. We saw the sights in Barcelona, flew to Madrid and then rode the train to Sevilla. Not enough time in any one place, but we got a taste of what Spain is all about, especially Catalyuna.
Catalunya is an autonomous community comprised of four provinces nestled in the northeast corner of the peninsula: Barcelona, Lleida, Tarragona and Girona. Although Castillian spanish is widely spoken, Català is the native language and Catalonians are fiercely proud of their heritage. Nestled between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea, Catalunya is the breadbasket of Spain. The sea provides an endless ( I hope) supply of fresh fish and the daily market is bursting with locally grown veggies.
I am currently staying in an apartment in the town of Blanes, about an hour north of Barcelona. I love the Mediterranean food and lifestyle and thought I would put together a little blog about Catalonian food and some recipes.
Each morning I walk to the market and collect the ingredients for the day’s meals. I buy according to what is in season and what came in from the fishing boats in the morning. The market pictured below is open every morning except Sunday until about 1:00 PM.
After about 1:00 PM, most retailers shut down and head for lunch and a nap. Lunch could be as simple as a Bikini (grilled ham and cheese baguette), or a full menú del día. The menú is a restaurant offering that usually consists of 3 or 4 courses served with baguette and water, wine or tea. A typical menú would offer the following. You can choose one item from each course offering.
As you can see, this mid day meal is a big one, and it´s no surprise that a cloud of narcolepsy envelopes the country after lunch. Most shops re-open around 4 PM and close around 7:00 ’ 8:00 PM. Dinner ( la cena) usually starts after 9:00 PM and is lighter fare than the menú.
As luck will have it…it´s 2:00 PM here and time for me to head into town for a menú myself. I´ll snap a few pics and share the meal with you on the next blog.