Did you ever catch that Anthony Bourdain No Reservations show where he eats seafood straight out of the can with a toothpick? No? Well. Lucy Garcia takes Bourdain to Vilassar de Mar, they walk into the Espinaler taberna. She waves away the fare on the counter and asks Miguel to give them the special stuff. There are anchovies, cockles, razor clams, the works and at the highest end a 170g tin can set you back about 160€.
You think canned fish, you probably think cheap. Standing at your kitchen counter, scraping the remnants of the tin into your bowl and calling it your (sad) lunch. In Barcelona, the perception is totally different. The Espinaler branded conserves come from Galicia, the undisputed king of seafood in Spain. (The one Galician I know refuses to eat fish in Barcelona because it isn’t fresh enough.) The seafood is bought at its peak and preserved, transforming and enhancing in flavour as it sits in the tin.
The Taberna is a corner site. Metal chairs and tables line the outside walls and those of the building across the way. Spattered on the pavement are tin juices, splooshes of red Espinaler sauce and crumpled paper napkins. Inside a long bar with Espinaler branded tins reaching all the way up to the ceiling, even more debris on the floor.
If you don’t know where to start, best to go with the Combinat Espinaler (4.85€). A motley crew of razor clams, mussels, clams, anchovies, squid, tuna, olives. There are big bellied bottles of Espinaler sauce on every table to doctor up your plate. When the man next to me finishes his, he brings the rectangular plate to his lips and unabashedly drains the contents. He makes it look like that’s the best part.
Even without this grand gesture of devotion to the sauce, the white shirt I am wearing will never be the same.