Avoiding La Boqueria market is kind of thing when you adopt Barcelona as your city. The tourists. The fruit pots. The rambutan, all year-long, as if we live in a tropical land. And it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. There are over 40 municipal markets in the city, just cross La Rambla to Via Laitana and you will find the undulating roof of Mercat Santa Caterina and a fraction of the tourists.
La Boqueria is where I head though, to meet Ella and Alberto who run the Bear on Bike Market to Table food tour. “We start from the back because the back of the market is more for locals.” They talk to us about the viability of the market. “This market still serves the best restaurants in the city. There are locals buying fish or meat but all the crates you see being wheeled out are restaurant bound.” Alberto has a tuft of blossoming thyme jutting out of the back pocket of his backpack. “I bought this from Casa Petras, I was looking at the orders in his notebook and it was like a who’s who of Barcelona, starting with Tickets and carrying on.”
We meander through the market. Alberto shows us the best fish monger, points out the ones that rely on frozen stock. Picks up artichokes from the farmers market on the perimeter of the market. Jamon is bought for snacking later. Everything is for later, the Boqueria doesn’t lend itself to idling for long. When it seems like the market has reached human saturation (it’s a Saturday) we escape through the side and make our way through the Raval to the Espai Egg space where the class is held.
The menu is formulated to highlight seasonal, organic ingredients, showcase a variety of cooking methods and loosely sticking to Spanish traditions. Paella is something for people who enter via the front of the market, we’ve entered from the back so we begin by making Ajo Blanco. We prep artichokes and cook them in browned butter. Alberto shows us how to clean sardines and how to cook them and sweet tiger prawns from Tarragona on a searing griddle pan, salting the dry pan generously to create a nonstick effect. Alberto even shows us a paupers method of cooking beef fillet sous vide.
Halfway through the cooking, when our stomachs began yowling, Ella disappears and returns with snacks. Homemade sauerkraut, smoked butter, olives, cheese, serrano and Iberico ham with overflowing baskets of sourdough from Yellow Bakery. We don’t heed their warnings to leave room for the food.
About 3 hours in, we sit down to our meal. We have all had a go at prepping the various ingredients and Alberto encourages us to plate our own dish of basil aioli, Hasselback potatoes, sardines, shrimp and gastrique sauce – compete with dill fronds and borage flowers. The rest of it is plated by Alberto and placed in front of us.
We shuffle out of the place sometime after 3, squinting at the sunlight and wondering if we will be able to manage dinner.