Toro i Senyera

The irony of this image won’t be lost on my Catalan friends:


That’s a wine produced in Catalunya, the ribbon is the Catalan flag and it’s holding… could it be?… yes, a bull, the symbol of Spain. Enough to drive any Catalan nationalist nuts and to make Catalans in general shake their heads… But that’s how Torres wines are sold in Canada…


A Casa Portuguesa: Is the luso-hispanic divide breaking down?

Despite sharing a border and being ruled once by the same king for nearly a hundred years, Portugal and Spain have always kept each other at arms’ length. The two countries have much in common but numerous wars over the centuries led to a relationship that at times have been marked by open mistrust and antagonism. For long they simply ignored the other’s existence; Portugal turned towards alliances with England while Spain looked up at France. The opening of a little Portuguese haven in Gracia shows that this distance is beginning to shorten.

One of the great advantages of the development of our global village, the advent of mass tourism, the Internet, and the breaking of barriers brought forth by the EU is that old rivalries slowly fade as people discover that the country next door is actually a nice place to visit. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ve met a lot of people here who has lived in Lisbon or other parts of Portugal. They have encouraged Alan and I to visit and in a few weeks we’ll be setting out to Lisbon.

Last night we discovered a wine bar/delicatessen/bakery specialized in Portuguese products. It’s up in Gracia, on calle Verdi, past the cinema. Called A Casa Portuguesa, they have wonderful pastéis de nata and while having one with a nice cortado I struk conversation with the outgoing girl behind the bar. She thought I was German at first but that’s another story. Anyways, they have been open only two months and are doing well. The owners are Portuguese and soon realized there were no Portuguese shops in Barcelona (!). They decided not only to fill that void and provide the Portuguese community with a shopping spot but also to educate the locals on things Portuguese. As soon as we mentioned we would be visiting Lisbon in a few weeks, the Portuguese girl behind the bar pulled out all kinds of guide books and starting writing down recommendations of places we should visit. She was so nice!! If that’s the way people are in Lisbon, this promises to be a memorable trip!!

As for the long-held rivalry between Spain and Portugal, the girls assure me they have never once experienced it here in Barcelona. They mostly get surprise and interest from locals as they discover the rich culture of the little country on the other side of the peninsula. One young guy exclaimed “wow! they make wine in Portugal??” The girls just smile incredulous and without missing a beat go on to introduce the poor soul into the richness of the Portuguese wine industry.

With a space so inviting and warm, there’s no way the rivalry could last ;) These are the pictures of last night’s port wine tasting event:

Portuguese goodies

hmmm, those jams and fruits look wonderful…


Clever way of displaying bottles of vinegar

serving port Cash

A Casa Portuguesa is on C/ Verdi 58, Gracia, Barcelona. Check out their website on . Don’t miss the Ginginha de Óbidos (sweet cherry liquor) served in chocolate cups. The Pasteis de Belem are also very good.

Some restaurants off the beaten path in Barcelona

If there’s one thing you need to know about me, is that I am a foodie. Food is very important to me and it is usually what I remember most about any trip or place. While I was determined to enjoy Spanish and Catalan food – and I do! – I was surprised to discover many amazing ethnic restaurants in Barcelona. Some of my current favourites are:

If you want to try something different and a little bit off the beaten path, here are some of my current favourites in Barcelona:

In the Born:
WushuC/ Colomines 2 (right behind mercat Sta Caterina)
Kitchen open from 12 am- 12 pm; closed mondays.
Tel. 933 107 313

Now moved to Avda. Marqués d’Argentera 1, metro Barceloneta, near Estacio de Franca (Jan, 2008)

It’s the new kid on the block. It’s been open for about 3 weeks and it already has a following. It serves asian food, the menu is short and everything is super fresh. Last time we went we had spring rolls with duck meat, organic chicken laksa with vermicelli noodles (dish from Mongolia) and my husband had Tuna steak with eggplant and miso sauce (Japan). The chef is Australian and quite original. Starters are 4.90; mains 8.90 and desserts 3-4.50. Service is superb.

Update: The laksa is now served with Jasmine rice and they also have some amazing curry dishes. If you like salmon and they happen to have that as the special of the day, don’t hesitate. It melts in your mouth. We go at least once a week.
Cardamon – C/ Carders 31
Indian curries & also some Catalan dishes. I always go there for the curry – they have the usual ones (chicken, lamb, etc) but they also have tiburon (shark!) and it’s amazing!! A small curry is about 6-7 euros, a large one goes for about 11 euros.

In Gracia/Eixample

Kibuka – C/ Goya, 9 (near plaça Rius i Taulet, which is also worth a visit for some tapas and just hanging out in a nice terrasse)
For sushi and some basic Japanese with a Brazilian flair. Ultra fresh, very nice. It opens at 8:30 pm and they don’t take reservations. By 9, it’s packed and there’s a line up. Prices are really good – I don’t think we ever spent more than 15-16 euros/person for lots of sushi, tempura and drinks.

For a nicer meal out, try:
C/ Paris, 162 (near Muntaner)
Fusion of saigon, new orleans and barcelona
If I remember correctly the mains were around 10-17 euros. Book ahead at 934.194.933.
The service can be spotty – some of my friends complained – but everybody agrees that the chef is just a genius. Really amazing food. The sushi appetizer is the best.

Beer city vs wine city

Some cities are beer cities while others are wine cities.

In Canada this is represented by Toronto and Montreal. When we moved to Toronto a few years ago, Alan was surprised when he couldn’t find Tornados and Boomerangs in any bar. Popular in Quebec, these were fruit-flavoured beers sold nation-wide but somehow absent in Toronto. I wondered about that for a while but the more I went to Toronto bars, I realized a basic difference between the two cities – Toronto had a beer culture whereas Montreal, as any French city worthy of the name, was a wine city. Torontonians liked their beer and patronized bars that prided themselves in serving a variety of beers from local microbreweries. They wouldn’t dream of tainting their beer with fruit juices. I soon took a taste to ales and dark lagers and used to love going to Cafe Volo on Yonge Street where the knowleadgeable staff would guide me through their interesting beer menu. Just as I learned to enjoy dry red wine in Montreal, I learned to appreciate a nice dark ale in Toronto.

Here in Spain I can see the same dynamics between Madrid and Barcelona. The old rivals also belong to distinct drinking cultures, the former priding itself on pouring the perfect draught while the latter understands more about wine. Yesterday’s edition of El Periódico, the regional newspaper, had a feature on the quality of beer in Barcelona. The reporter went to ten bars across the city and ordered the same thing in all of them: “una caña, por favor.” He got ten different drinks, at different price ranges. A caña is traditionally a small draught beer that shouldn’t cost more than 2 euros but in the Ramblas this translates into a half liter mug  for almost 5 euros. Quality also varied: from a beer served at 0 C with 1,7 cm of foam to one at 8 C with 0.4 cm. The lowest price was in Gracia at 1.70 euros for a 330 ml vs 6.15 euros at the bar of an expensive hotel for 250 ml (by the way, in the latter case, the pump wasn’t working properly so the barman had to top it off with bottled beer!). The main point of the feature was that the art of pouring a proper draught – never a main feature in this wine city – is disappearing in Barcelona. And, like in Montreal, the beer mixed with fruit juices (aka clara) predominates.
Madrid, on the other hand, has always prided itself for serving a proper draught. I noticed when we were there how barmen took their time in pouring a draught. They would fill the cup, let it sit for a while, fill a bit more, wait some more, fill again until about 5 min had gone by and the beer had reached its optimum temperature and thickness of foam. It was very nice.  We saw very few people drinking claras. I certainly couldn’t think of spoiling my perfectly-poured draught with lemon pop.

Lesson learned: for nice beer, go to Madrid. In Barcelona, have some cava. Or a clara.
Disclaimer: all this talk of beer city vs. wine city does is not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t mean there’s no wine or wine-lovers in Toronto or beer in Montreal. The Niagara region, just outside of Toronto, is a well-known wine region and Toronto was the place where Alan and I attended a wine appreciation course. And Belgian immigrants have founded very interesting breweries in the province of Quebec. I went to a bar here that had about 10 bottled beers, one of which was a microbrew from Quebec!!