Barcelona: Tapas in Txapela

There is one more important Gaudi that we wanted to go to.  We could not locate Park Guell, a garden which Gaudi designed.  We took the Metro all the way to the nearest station and then found out it was another 1.5 km walk.  We had enough for the day and turned back, heading back to Plaza de Catalunya.

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We had tried tapas in a pub before and Suanne hated all the smoking.  Near the Plaza de Catalunya we found one that has much lesser smoking and the place is more airy.  It looked busy too, but at the same time, it also looked very touristy.

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We had the option to get seated by the tapas bar or the tables.  In many places in Spain, the prices for eating at the bar and at the tables are different for the same food.  The bar prices are cheaper.

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We opted to get seated at the tables.  It’s more comfortable … and we don’t have to deal with eye contact with the bartender … and we don’t have to chat with our neighbor.  Spaniards are chatty and they will talk to you in Spanish!!  Not this time, we were dead tired and just wanted to have a quiet, take-it-slowly meal … and catch up with our notes.

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I had beer, Suanne had water.  I don’t really like to drink beer.  I only ordered that so that I don’t look wimpy.  LOL!  Believe it or not, after just half a mug of this, my face will turn bright red and will take at least 1/2 hour to clear.  Suanne ALWAYS bug me about it … “Honey, your face is red again.”

Oh please … not too loud.  The next table could hear!

I can’t quite figure out the pricing of beer here.  The waiter asked if I wanted the 0.4L for €2.95 or the 0.5L for €3.95.

BTW, €1 is about CAD $1.60.

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This is a touristy tapas restaurant alright.  The menu is available in the language you want.  They have it in German, French and what nots.  On the tables are paper mat printed with numbered pictures of the tapas they have.  The translations are on the menu.

We have an order sheet (like dim sums in Richmond!) to circle what we wanted.

The food are more pleasing to us.  Suanne said she likes this better.  I just think that this is watered down and presented better for tourists.  Anyway, here are some of what we had.

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The Pintxo Octopus (octopus in Vinaigrette) was €1.70.  It was particularly nice with the chopped onion, tomato and peppers.

The prices here felt cheaper to us because at the other places, the prices of each dish is about €4.  However, the serving here is much smaller and often bite sizes only.  We actually like it better with bite sizes because we get to try more types of tapas.

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The one above is called Igueldo.  It is made of tomato sheets and lined with a Catalan cheese called Atura.  €1.70.

The cheese was quite mild tasting like mozarella.  We like the cool and refreshing taste. (more…)

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Barcelona: Guess Where We Had the Tarta de Queso

After the whole day of walking, our feet were killing us.  We looked for somewhere to rest and get a drink.  We wanted somewhere simple.

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We came upon this restaurant which looked familiar.  So we went in and since they have really delicious looking pastries too, we ordered some.  Suanne gravitated towards the Tarta de Queso as always.  Alright, it is cheesecake but the words name Tarta de Queso sounded cooler.

It was served somewhat fancy considering that we did not expect a place like this to do that.

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I had a simple pastry.  Loved the way they served this.  You may think that … so what?  This is nothing unique.  It sure is considering where we had this.  We had this in, believe it or not, … (more…)

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Barcelona: Our Version of “Savory Breakfast”

On day three in Barcelona, I stole a few hours again from Suanne.  I wanted to be there for the start of Stage 7 of the Tour de France (Barcelona to Andorra).  The race was supposed to start at 9AM and so we thought we be smart and stake our spot at 8AM.

We got ourselves a great spot.  It was the first turn after a 1km ride down the avenue.  I was pretty pleased with the spot except for one problem.

It was the procession and the floats that starts at 9AM.  We had to wait until 10AM before the race started.  It was a long wait … two hours!

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The race ended in no time.  All the riders rode past under 1 minute.  Gosh … we waited 2 hours for 1 minute of action.  Oh well … at least I was right there.

Suanne was very patient with me. She was quite hungry because we had not had our breakfast yet that morning.  I know because her stomach gives a mean growl when she is hungry.  LOL!

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So we just randomly go into one of the many restaurants along the Paral-lel Avenue.  We selected the one with English menu displayed at the entrance.

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We are getting into the habit of getting Cafe Con Leche.  So we had that again.

We learned that Spaniards have a very different meal times that the rest of the world.  For instance, they have TWO breakfasts.  The first one is a simple pastry and coffee and the second one is known as the “savory breakfast”.

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I don’t know what “savory breakfast” really mean.  I attempted to ask the waiter about this but he doesn’t speak much English.  So we just made up our own version of “savory breakfast” by selecting items we thought were “savory”.

I told the waiter that we wanted a Pork Loin with Cheese Sandwich.  Lost in translation … instead, we were given an egg sandwich instead.  We had no complain because to our surprise the sandwich has ripe tomato in it.  It was very much like the Pa Amb Tomaquet we had the previous day.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Paella and Tapas for Dinner

One of the quest we had coming to Barcelona is to dine at El Bulli.  No, we were not one of the lucky 8000 diners selected this year (out of 2,000,000 reservation requests!) to have the privilege to dine at the world’s best restaurant.  I thought since I am here I give my best shot.  Who knows right?  I could get lucky that someone with reservation might all of the sudden cancel their reservation.

So, our quest starts on day two in Spain.  We made phone call and sent email begging them if there is anyway they could accomodate us.  After all, we came all the way from Canada … pretty far, please?  This to and fro with El Bulli went on for THREE days.  I am gonna tell you if we got a table … not now … in a few days.  I got to post this in sequence.  LOL!

For now, we’ll share about the traditional Spanish food we had.

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Dinner for the second day were simple affair.  We had been snacking way too much too.  We were not too hungry but we had already decided exactly what we wanted to eat.  We have a list of Spanish cuisine dishes that we have to check off — so that we know what else we are missing.

We quite randomly went into one that we thought is frequented by Spanish and not tourists.  Heavens, I don’t even know where this restaurant is.  There are so many in Barcelona that you will not go hungry.  Most of them are small outlets.

And most of them are filled with SMOKE too.  This one is, much to Suanne’s disappointment.  She does not have much choice.

Also many of the restaurants in Barcelona also has a jackpot machine or two at the entrance.  Gosh — gambling, smoking and drinking is something you don’t see a lot of in Vancouver.  Wait till these Spaniards come to Vancouver … they’ll suffer.

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Did you know that Sangria is Spanish?  I read somewhere that this red wine punch originates from this part of Spain and very popular during the hot summer months.  The restaurant did not serve their Sangria (€3.90) in a pitcher like how it should be traditionally.

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Suanne obliged my suggestion to pose with the Sangria.  You know, it is kind of obligatory to pose with the food we eat, like the way you pose at the sights you visited.  That is chowtimes for you.

That was solely for show only.  She took a sip and declared she did not like it.

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She had tea with lemon (€1.35) instead because she was beginning to develop a sore throat from all the travelling and lack of sleep.

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We ordered a small personal sized Paella.  This is called Paella Mixta.  As you know, I am a fast learner when it comes to languages.  Mixta means “mix” — and I remembered it the first time I heard of the word.  I think I have a natural knack for languages, particularly Spanish don’t you think?

This one is €11.40.  It was the FIRST time … (more…)

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Barcelona: Catalonian Breakfast at Bracafe

We woke up early on our second day in Barcelona.  We had a good sleep … did not realize how tired we were after all the travelling and going sightseeing while dealing with jet lag.  It was going to take some time to get over the jet lag.  Most people will take one day to get over each hour of time zone difference.  There are nine hours between Vancouver and Barcelona.

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We wanted to have breakfast at where the locals eat.  We walked the streets around the hotel looking for one and found one not far away.  It was a pleasant cafe.  When we were poking our heads into the cafe, the staff beckoned us to come in.

Language was lesser of a problem here as one of the staff speaks English.  He knows we are tourists and without having us even asking, he helped us with suggestions.

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Cafe Con Leche — strong and creamy.  We love it!  The Spanish people takes their coffee seriously.  In every restaurant we went to, even hole-in-the-walls, has an espresso machine.  As a matter of fact, during the entire vacation in Spain, we had not come across a drip coffe maker.  Vancouver’s coffee seems so pathetic compared to their Cafe Con Leche.  I would think the Spaniard laughs at coffee from Starbucks!

The waiter told us that Cafe Con Leche means coffee with milk.  The word “Con” means “with” in English and “Leche” is milk.

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The waiter recommended that we have a very Catalonian breakfast … the Pa Amb Tomaquet.  We just called it Tomato on Bread.  It is just a simple toast and yet so deliciously fresh.  It is easy to make too.  When we came back to Vancouver, Suanne had been making this for breakfast at home too.

It is just toast.  You just rub a ripe (it is important it is ripe) tomato on it and then drizzle it with olive oil.  You can add a little salt for added taste.  Simple.  You should try it at home.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Tapas in Bar Castell Near La Rambla

I read somewhere that one should avoid eating at the restaurants that front La Rambla.  They are tourist restaurants which often means that it is overpriced and lacking in quality.  A dead give away is the menu and signs in English.  So, we avoided those places like plague.

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Instead we were advised that we should duck into one of the many side streets along La Rambla.  Indeed … it was a whole new area to discover.

We were looking for a tapas bar for our dinner.

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We peeked into one that looked lesser like a tourist spot.  My criteria is … the customers must look like locals and that the staff can’t speak English.  This one met the criteria.  Bar Castells is the name of the bar.

They had a number of tapas on display at the bar.  We made our order by pointing and hand signs.  Oh yeah … I grunt a few English words too to mimic human communication.  We got by.  They seems to understand.  I think they had seen the likes of us before.

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The bar was unbelieavably smokey.  Unlike Vancouver, there are no non-smoking laws here.  They don’t even have a non-smoking section.  Suanne wanted to turn back but when I told her I don’t know how to cancel the order in Spanish, she had no choice.  Everyone seems to smoke here.

We went to the empty back section hoping that the air is cleaner.  It was better.  But only for a while.  Before long, this section gets filled up too and EVERY table have at least a packet of ciggies on it!  Suanne was horrified.

One thing we were sort of glad … we were the only tourist looking person here.  Everyone looked like they are locals, speaking Spanish and in working attire and all.  Boy, Spaniards does talk very loudly in this restaurant.  It is like they are talking for the neighboring tables to hear.

Oh, I forgot.  The people in Barcelona are not Spaniards and do not speak Spanish.  They insists that they are Catalonians and they speak Catalan.  Not that I can make out the difference after half a day in Barcelona.

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The waiter came by asking what I wanted to drink using the universal hand signal for drink … you know, the thumb to the mouth.  A little shake of the hands means alcoholic drinks, I suppose.  A steady hand must have meant non-alcoholic.

I learned an all important word during the flight to Barcelona … Cerveza.  So, I ordered a Cerveza.  It seems like no one ask for one by brand.  When you ask for a Cerveza, they bring a Cerveza.  Strange thing too … when they brought me the cerveza, they pushed the “sal” next to the beer.  I wasn’t sure if they meant for me to have salt in my beer or they was just moving it and happen to move it next to the beer.  Rather than looking like an idiotic tourist, I did not use the salt.  I did not see anyone else in the surrounding table did.

You think Spaniards Catalonians drink their beer with salt?

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Bread was complimentary, I should think.  It does not taste fresh and is dry.  It tasted like it was made in the morning.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Getting Around Barcelona (and Our First Spanish Meal)

We got to Barcelona — finally.

As much as Suanne feeling that the vacation started when we crossed the US border, it is only when we landed in Barcelona that I feel the vacation really got going.  After all, Suanne has put everything on my shoulders.  She said that she is leaving it entirely up to me to do everything … she is there only for the ride.  I am the tour guide, she is the tourist.  She got the better deal.

Here is some self explanatory trivias for you which I got from Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

In terms of cities, Barcelona ranks #11 in the world.

It did not take us too long to clear immigration at the newish looking Barcelona airport.  We travelled light with no checked in baggage.  When travelling standby, you don’t want to have the mess dealing with retrieving your baggage in case you don’t get to board.

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Getting from the airport proved to be easier than we thought.  Due to the lack of planning, I had earlier been prepared dole out some bucks (or rather euros) for taxi ride to the hotel.  I was really expecting it to be expensive too.  For some reason I do not know, many airport taxis in the world have surcharges making it more expensive than normal.  Do you know the reasoning behind this?

The Information counter at the airport speaks perfect English.  We were directed to down an escalator and there was a stand with a bus waiting.  The bus shuttles to the city very often and costs a few euros.

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The shuttle bus last stop was at the main square of Barcelona.  It is called the Plaza de Catalunya.  It is like the Barcelona city center.

Having got off from the bus, we needed to get some bearings on where we are and where the hotel is.  The bus driver was of no help because he speaks no English.  So, we went to the Information Center office at the Plaza de Catalunya, lugging our bags along.  We were not so conspicious because there were tourists doing that too.  So, yeah … we blended in alright!

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At the Info Center, the folks there were helpful.  But that place was super busy and (more…)

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Dulcinea Chocolate Cafe on Denman, Vancouver

Updated 30th Oct 2010: this restaurant is closed.

You guys remember Rey? Well … if you remember, he’s the one who promised to bring us on a culinary adventure of Filipino cuisine. Rey is a Filipino community advocate and he wanted to create awareness of the third largest visible minority community in Vancouver by encouraging the creation of local Filipino content on the internet.

Last month, Rey introduced to us the Chinese Filipino food by bringing us to Little Ongpin in Richmond. In the second leg of the adventure, Rey next introduced us to Spanish Filipino food.

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The Dulcinea Chocolate Cafe is located on Denman in Vancouver Westside. We were met by Mari and David, who opened this delightful outlet with their daughter since October 2008. So this place is just 6 months new. Mari and David are both of Spanish descent from the Philippines. Mari told us she is a chocolate lover … and the place was started out of her love of chocolates! She’s so friendly and approachable that I can see that she connects to her customers very well.

I was told by Rey that pure Spanish Filipino makes up only 2% of the population in the Phillipines. Despite the low number, the Spanish has a lasting influence in the Filipino culture having colonized the country for 333 years. That is why most of the Filipino names are Spanish names.

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When Rey suggested Dulcinea and raved about their Hot Chocolate, we initially thought “what’s the big deal”? We soon changed our perception of hot chocolates after this experience.

The name Dulcinea came from the name of Don Quixote’s true love in the novel of the same name. We had always thought that Dulcinea was pronounced as Doo-See-Nea. A big sign on the wall says “Doo-see-nay-ah”. You learn something new everyday. The name Dulcinea means overly elegant sweetness — a perfect name for a chocolate cafe.

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Dulcinea started off as a Spanish Chocolate Bar in the Vancouver Westside neighborhood. Mari told us that the place evolved quickly since they started six month ago … from starting to serve tapas, then soup, sandwiches … and Dulcinea took life on its own when customers requested for certain food and Dulcinea responded.

We went to Dulcinea at 4PM. It’s an odd hour, I know but Rey wanted us to treat this like a Merienda. I had always heard that the Spanish culture has a really odd day … like taking a nap after lunch, having dinner at 9:30PM and Meriendas in between meal times.

We half expected the place to be empty at 4PM and thought that Rey suggested that time because Mari and David would be the least busiest. We were amazed that even at 4PM, Dulcinea was packed … with people … having … Merienda! The crowd actually taper off at about 5’ish.

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This is it … the above is what Dulcinea is famous for. Their signature Hot Chocolate which is called the 1528. It is a shot of thick chocolate. It is like the espresso of chocolates … but much more thicker. Any thicker it would not be drinkable! Even the spoon provided is designed to scrap off the thick chocolates from the sides of the cup.

The 1528 costs $2 per shot. If you have never tried it before, go to the counter and ask for a small sample. They pass out samples and once you take a sip, you’ll probably want one for your own.

Now … if you want a solo cup of the 1528 … listen here … FOR FREE … just go and tell Mari, David or whoever at the counter that “Chowtimes Loves Xocolatl” and you will receive a solo cup of the 1528. Serious! I suggested to Mari and David that they put in a little fun promotion to benefit readers of chowtimes and was surprised to hear a yes from them. I suggest you know what a Xocolatl is (see below) and how it is pronounced (pronounced as choco-latl).

Consider this is like Suanne and I buying you a cup of hot chocolate. 🙂

Update 05-Apr-2009: The offer for the free 1528 had now expired. Mari and David expressed their thanks to everyone who had taken time to visit their store and tried the 1528. However, Dulcinea will continue to offer samples of the 1528 (just not a solo cup of it). There could be more offers coming. Just stay tuned. I hope those who had the 1528 enjoyed it!

Oh … 1528 … that is the year that the Spanish took cocoa from Mexico and shipped it back to Spain. That year was the start of Europe’s love of chocolates. Nice name, I thought.

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If you’re not into thick hot chocolates, there is the Classico … a more watered down version but still really rich and creamy.

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I had the Hot Chocolate with Chai. These are not very large cups like I am used to (i.e. we drink Milo at home and we make really big cups and gulp them down real fast). Here I find that I took my time to savour every sip.

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The Xocolatl (how do one pronounce that again?) is quite exciting. I’ve never seen a dried chili served with hot beverage before. This one is a hot chocolate with chili nutmeg and cinnamon. The chili wasn’t that hot. Be brave and go try that one. You’ll probably love the contrasting flavours here.

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What’s chocolate without fondue? It’s something about fondue that makes it the favourite of just about everyone. I think it’s because it’s a fun food to have with friends. We noticed that the grapes were frozen … not sure why only the grapes were frozen while the banana and strawberry wasn’t.

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Besides the delightful hot chocolates, Dulcinea has absolutely the best cakes and pastries one could find in Vancouver. This is coming from our resident cakes fan, Suanne. Our fav has got to be the Lava Blanco above which is chocolate mousse with white choc inside of it.

Instead of ordering each item by itself, we actually ordered the sampler which gives us a little of everything we wanted. (more…)

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