After a decade of pining for a trip to Europe – bemoaning my lack of money, vacation time, or travel partner (depending on the point in my life) – my wish finally came true. My boyfriend EZ and I planned a trip to Spain, where his uncles happen to live, travelling with another couple before EZ and I split off for a three-day romp through Paris. First (and last) stop: Barcelona.
We flew in on a gloomy night, jet-lagged and foggy-brained. EZ’s uncles JH and FB have an apartment near the Old City in Barcelona in addition to a house in the Spanish countryside (more on that later). EZ and I took a taxi from the airport to the apartment (Uber had been banned in Spain), employing our broken Spanish as best we could to communicate our destination while the cabbie enthusiastically pointed out landmarks. Once we arrived at the apartment, we climbed at least six flights of stairs with our luggage (alas, no elevators in these old buildings), following the disembodied voice of JH as he called down “Keep going…keep going…” after each flight.
Finally, we reached a massive and formidable door, a period piece that could safeguard a fortress with its complex system of heavy-duty locks (break-ins were common around here). In front of the door stood JH, an American, Jewish artist who prefers to live in Spain – he had an expressive, animated face with a delightfully quirky crop of curls atop his head. Standing in the doorframe was JH’s husband, FB, a Frenchman who taught French literature and was writing a novel of his own – he was tall, a warm and quiet presence with the features of a Francofied Kevin Costner. We all greeted and embraced one another, settled in, and talked over coffee before setting out into the Barcelona night.
The streets were fairly lively, but not as lively as they should have been. The overcast skies and chill in the air spooked many of the usual merrymakers. JH and FB guided EZ and me down charming pedestrian roads sprinkled with tables, chairs, benches, and potted plants, and lined with bars, restaurants, and shops – a wanderer’s paradise. We turned onto Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes and walked until we saw the sign: Quimet & Quimet. Little did I know that I was about to experience a revelation in culinary delight.
We entered what appeared to be a tiny, crowded bar – standing room only. Upon closer inspection, the bright sardine-tin room also housed a counter where delectable tapas were assembled – thick and crispy cuts of fresh bread topped with gourmet canned meats and fishes (yes, these are scrumptious delicacies in Spain…forget everything you know about American canned foods), along with other tasty ingredients like yoghurt, tomato, honey, goat cheese, or chestnuts, among others.
While EZ and I snagged a corner with a square of counter space (standing is the new sitting), JH and FB weaved their way through the knot of patrons and made eye contact with the owners, a brother-sister team with whom they are friendly. Perhaps this expedited our order; I don’t know. In any case, they soon returned with glasses of wine and plates of tapas – we partook in one with smoked salmon plus sweet egg, and another with cured beef and tomato. It sounds simple enough, I know. But how can I even begin to explain?
Beyond delicious. Ambrosial. Gourmet level unlocked. Layers of flavor and texture, all captured in a perfect bite.
EZ and I vowed to return to Quimet & Quimet at least once more during our stay in Barcelona, this time with our travel buddies GS and NR in tow. JH warned us that Quimet & Quimet was notorious for inconsistent operating hours. The owners basically opened shop whenever the hell they wanted. They often closed during the peak night hours of pub crawls and grub trawls, just because they couldn’t be bothered.
“I like that,” EZ said, nodding with approval. He’s a fan of nonconformity.
After whetting our appetites with a few mouthwatering bites from Quimet & Quimet, the four of us headed over to La Bella Napoli, a pizza parlor, to meet GS and NR for dinner. The place had a comfortable, warm feel to it. Brick walls and white tablecloths, not too fancy but not too casual either.
We waited a bit for the lost couple to find us. I poked my head outside, where a light rain had begun to fall, and spotted GS and NR wandering down the sidewalk and peeking into windows in earnest. They had just enjoyed a Spanish sangria (or two). I flagged them down and, after the salutations, we joined the others inside at the table.
Wine was poured. Appetizers were ordered. Pizza was selected after careful contemplation. More wine was poured. Conversation abounded. EZ’s uncles were a wealth of knowledge and entertaining anecdotes. Among other things, I learned that biblical references to “thigh” were mere euphemisms for something more shocking (if your interest is piqued, I suggest you do a google search).
Far too much food was set on the table, but it all smelled delicious. These were Napolitan style pizzas, the real deal, uncut. We sliced and diced ourselves. Which was a bit awkward, with only a knife at our disposal and no pizza-cutter in sight. But the pizzas were fantastic – thin, crispy, and flavorful.
Finally, our bellies full of contentment, we headed out. At first we thought we might perhaps pop into a bar or two, as one is wont to do at night in Barcelona. But the wet streets were empty.
“The rain has scared everyone away,” FB noted with surprise.
“This is unbelievable,” JH said. “These streets are usually full of noisy crowds until four in the morning!”
Since Spanish nightlife apparently shuts down in the rain (like LA), the uncles invited us all up to the apartment for some cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and more conversation. After a while, my eyelids grew heavy, and our night wound down.
We all needed to get some sleep to prepare for the next day, which would be chock-full of exploration and discovery. My head hit the pillow, and I was out.
Read about our adventures the next day at Spain Trip: Bewitching Barcelona – Day 1
To be continued…