I’m not much of a shopper. For clothes I mean. I can spend 4 hours in a bookstore and not even notice (I used to be a bookshop owner). Barcelona is entirely deficient in the bookshop department. There is FNAC: a handful of English books for extortionate prices. The chain Casa del libro – the one on Passeo de Gracia smells like wet carpet and seems to sell primarily beach reading – half an hour in there and I start to feel fragile and sad – the exact opposite of retail therapy. Which leaves La Central de Raval which does a few English titles, even cookbooks which are not Jamie Oliver. I picked up a copy of Lucky Peach there once (it’s depressing how difficult it is to find alternative press in this city) which made my week. But there isn’t anywhere to sit, you aren’t invited to linger.
Major sore point for me. On the other hand – I love trawling supermarkets, especially foreign supermarkets. Or even better, Asian supermarkets. I mean who doesn’t love imagining what you would eat banana ketchup with? (The same thing you eat regular ketchup with.)
And. It’s cheap. The other day I bought a 500g bag of Jasmine rice from Veritas for €5. Two adults, three kids plus the guests we always seem to have, we used one bag for one meal. Or soft brown sugar, I need it for chocolate chip cookies – the only sources are the organic stores (expensive!) or the English supermarkets (just as expensive). Rice, chocolate chip cookies: cheap stuff ends up being a treat while Oreos are less than a euro for a pack of 14. (How. Is. That. Possible?)
Then there is this, as a long time London resident, I have become accustomed to and love good ethnic food. Sunday lunches were synonymous with dim sum. My last visit to London featured a dinner at Bar Shu – a restaurant that Fuchsia Dunlop consults for (she’s one of my heroes). It had me thinking, “For food this good, I would fly in for dinner.” Barcelona has beautiful food but not this kind of food.
If you want it, you have to make it. So that’s what I have been doing. I am armed with a range of books. Fuchsia’s of course but in a pinch I might look at a Gok Wan recipe (surprisingly reliable) or the adorable Dumpling Sisters (love their spring roll recipe).
You will find anything you need here. For Chinese food, my essentials are sesame oil, ginger, oyster sauce, shaoxing rice wine, chinkiang vinegar and lots and lots of soy sauce. Dried noodles? Forget about buying those tiny packets in Carrefour, stock up here. Peanut butter, soft brown sugar, unsalted peanuts, maple syrup, bulk packets of pulses, Indian spices, Vietnamese stuff, sambal oelek. It’s all here, here, here!
And if that doesn’t titillate you, you could just go in and try to get one of the cashiers to smile back at you.
Some people have good hair, others are good at memorizing stuff or…math, I have great nail beds and a good smile. When I smile, I can (usually) incite a smile from the other party. Not here though. (Funny article on why Chinese people don’t smile at strangers). It kind of makes me nostalgic for what supermarket shopping was like in Berlin.
No. Not really.
See this and more addresses on my Foodie in Barcelona Map