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How I became an instant ‘eat girl’ in Spain |

Sunday Lifestyle

How I became an instant ‘eat girl’ in Spain

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – I’ve never eaten this much in my entire life! Whenever I’ve traveled, I’ve always typically prioritized sightseeing and shopping, but that didn’t happen on my recent trip to Spain with my foodie son Lloyd, along with his wife Karen and their son Santino. To him, discovering and enjoying good food is very important. He speaks of food with such desire and longing, it’s almost impossible not to be swept along.

Afraid of gaining weight after eight months of exercising religiously, I went nevertheless to be part of this Iberian food trip. I packed my bags and readied myself for all the calories and cholesterol.

But before going into this eating journey, a few things I learned when in Spain: 1) Do not “follow up” on your food; they basically take their time; 2) Always ask for the lunch or dinner set menu because they are much cheaper than à la carte; 3) Lunch usually starts at 1 p.m., they close at 3 p.m. then they reopen for dinner at 8 p.m; 4) At pintxo bars, people just throw used tissue paper on the floor so the owners will know how much pintxos have been consumed. So when you see tissue papers on the floor, please don’t pick them up. I guess it’s their gauge for success.

Here are a few discoveries:

La Boqueria Mercat In Rambla Barcelona

A trip to this famous market, recently named the best market in the world, is heavenly. In the middle of all the fresh meat, fresh fish, vegetables and spices are small restaurants that offer authentic Spanish dishes cooked in front of you. For breakfast, Santino tried the bull’s tail risotto at El Quiem dela Boqueria and said it was the best risotto he has ever tasted. For dinner, we feasted on seafood plate and navajas at Ramblero. Lloyd instantly fell in love with navajas; he even ordered seconds. Don’t be deceived, though. These restaurants may be in the market but they’re not as affordable as expected. They’re a little pricy for me. And it’s packed with tourists so watch out for pickpockets, which Barcelona is known for, unfortunately. Honestly, I would have enjoyed my food more if I didn’t have to be so conscious about watching over my bag, but I guess that’s part of the excitement.

In Barrio Gotico, Catalunya Barcelona

I call this an epic meal because we started at 1 p.m. and ended at 6 p.m. All we did was eat. We discovered all the good ones by walking around the gothic area where great food, local designer boutiques and antiques meet, and where the Cathedral of Barcelona is located. The restaurant route we covered was curated by Kaye Pineda, accidental chef and food guide.

First stop was for a sip of coffee with assorted Catalan pastry like turrones de crema at La Colmena Pasterleria. Just a few minutes away is the famous Vicens, for a taste of turrones, truffle and gourmet sweets. We stayed a little longer to enjoy this 240-year-old haunt and sampled the delectable chocolate-coated almonds, nuggets and many more. I was already full and wanted to skip lunch. But my son would’ve never forgiven me if we stopped there. And as if that sugar rush wasn’t enough, Kaye brought us to La Granja for the thickest chocolate drink and crunchy churros I’ve ever had.

After an overdose of sweets, we went to Enrique Tomas Jamoneria for a platter of cheese, wine and all kinds of jamon from Iberico to Bellota. It was a prelude to our main event, the Allium Restaurante, an unpretentious, nondescript place that’s oftentimes impossible to book. The decor is so sparse. No question that the star is their food. We ordered their famous pulpo, which was super tender and really to die for, local callos, fried artichoke, patatas and chorizo.

By this time, I could hardly breathe. We strolled around the gothic area and allowed the food to settle in. My son blurted, “Now, it’s time for dessert!” I was on the verge of confessing gluttony when we stopped by the Basilica Santa Maria de la Mar to wash away a few sins just before I was to sin again.

“So, dessert, you say?” I smiled.

Bubo is the place to go because it’s where you will find Xabina, voted as the best chocolate cake in the world for year. We capped this lunch trip with cava to drown all the different tastes we had.

For our last meal in Barcelona, we drove to Restaurante Bosque Palermo in Carrer de Valencia, noted for its paella, mussels, grilled baby octopus, and dorada fish. Ironically, their chef is Pinoy.

Our next destination was San Sebastian, the place for pintxos and many more.

In Donostia, San Sebastian

Important tip: There is a group of Donostians who call themselves Donosti greeters. They are a group of professionals who help tourists know more about San Sebastian, its history, the places to discover, hotels to stay, and restaurants to discover.

They do this voluntarily to support their tourism industry. They are very friendly and speak English fluently. So before planning your trip, you may want to look them up. Our greeter was wonderful and super nice. She’s a nurse but now works for the government. Between her and Lloyd’s list of restaurants, it meant more calories and cholesterol!

Walk with me again and revisit my discoveries below. There are over 32 pintxo bars recommended but we selected only a few as suggested by our Donosti friend.

Haizea Bar

As soon as we landed in San Sebastian, the first agenda is to find this bar, which is said to be the favorite of legendary Juan Mari Arzak for its grilled foie gras with caramelized apples.

Bar Zeruko

I was curious about molecular pintxos so off to this bar early to get a seat because it does get packed during lunch. Tip: don’t get things off the counter because their “gems” are made to order in the kitchen. We ordered the best on the menu — lobster, scallop on artichoke, foie gras and sea urchin. So that’s what molecular cooking is all about. When the food is brought to you, there’s a bit of smoke or flame. It’s a lot of theatrical presentation, but honestly, I would still go more for the classic cuisine. My taste is not adventurous, perhaps. But no doubt the place is impressive: hip, creative and experimental. We were even lucky to have met the chef and owner, Mr. Zeruko, who is very friendly and even accommodated us. It shouldn’t be missed.

Bar Gorriti Taberna

I like this bar for its simplicity but I noticed they serve the widest selection of pintxos. We tried their mini bocadillos of jamon, anchovy, eggs and pepper. It’s a traditional bar and one of the oldest.

Bar Txepetxa

Their specialty is fresh anchovy. This place was my favorite. I can eat their anchovy topped with creamy salmon every day. That’s how heavenly it is. The presentation is very simple but the taste is unbelievably delicious. I couldn’t stop thinking about those anchovies so on our last day in Spain, I brought home fresh anchovy and cream cheese, hoping I could make something close to the original.

Casa Vergara

Interesting are their jamon Iberico, pata negra, patatas fritas and callos vergara.

Cueva Taberna

I believe this is one of the oldest pintxo bars in San Sebastian. Their specialty is grilled baby squid.

Restaurante Narru

Having tried practically all the pintxos in town, we decided to go a little bit more formal. We wanted to do Arzak or Mugaritz but those need to be booked months in advance. So we went to a place called Narru, which is just across the San Sebastian’s Playa dela Concha beach. This was recommended by our Donosti greeter. As a starter we had tomato, asparagus and prawns on bed of mashed potato and it was excellent. Main course was Iberian pork with dijon and apples, rice on squid sauce with seafood, and salmon. Simply delightful!

Nuevo Mercado San Martin

I love going to the marketplace of each city. In San Sebastian, this is the place. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it’s a place where you get all the fresh produce.

Restaurante El Botin, Madrid, Spain

When in Madrid, top of mind is El Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world. You don’t just walk in there because, chances are, you will not get a table. So reservations should be made early. We went there not so much for their food but more for the experience and ambience. I love the feeling of dining in a cave but with a luxurious table setting. We only ordered the specialty of the house, their cochinillo, lamb and chicken… and of course their famous sangria.

Chocolateria San Gines Since 1894, Madrid, Spain

Conde Nast Travel lists this place for having the best churros. The walls are full of photos of celebrities who have been there like Stevie Wonder, Sophia Loren, among others. There’s no doubt it’s the best churros on the planet! It’s a must when you are in Madrid. One order is eight pieces of churros and a big cup of thick chocolate is reasonably priced at 3.90 euros.

Taberna El Arco, Madrid, Spain

This restaurant was a surprise discovery. Again, Lloyd is so resourceful when it comes to food. Their chorizo tortilla is creamy and yummy; their callos a la madrilena is so good, too! Too bad we weren’t able to order their seafood paella, which is supposed to be their signature dish.

Cerveseria Cervantes, Madrid, Spain

Of course this place is all around Madrid so how can you not try it? Lloyd ordered Galician octopus and garlic shrimp.

Mercado De San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

Need I say more? This place is packed with tourists and locals alike, finding all kinds of Spanish food under one roof... from paella, churros, pulpo, patatas, boquerones to all kinds of jamon.

Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla is a very quaint and nice place, best known for its jamon. But after the overload of Spanish food in Barcelona, San Sebastian and Madrid, we were all craving something different.

Osteria La’ Oca Giuliva

As the name sounds, it’s an Italian restaurant. Their bolognese pasta and jamon pizza are excellent.

Restaurante San Marco

This Italian restaurant caught my attention because their reception table showed photos of Madonna, Tom Cruise and Isabel Preysler. Two Italian restaurants in a row? Why not, after two weeks of Spanish food? Their foie and mushroom risotto was so good but overwhelming. The shrimp pasta was okay but my spaghetti aglio olio was very tasteful. I think it’s the al dente pasta that made the difference. I’ve never tried something like it.



* * *

I am back at home now, with loads of memories from more than 23 restaurant visits and thousands of calories from the food that I devoured on that trip. Save for a minor rise in my blood pressure, I totally don’t regret it. It was a wonderful experience. In fact, I’m already planning my next trip to San Sebastian next year. The “Eat Girl’s” adventures continue.

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