Right now, the proverbial deer and I have a lot more in common besides our big brown eyes. After spending three years complaining that there is nothing to eat but chicken and mince I am now at a loss for words (and recipes). Catalunya is rich beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The variety of food, be it from land or sea, is astonishing and bewildering.
Everyone knows about the Boqueira Market in Barcelona but I find that easing myself gently into, say, the Public Market of Vilanova is a good start. To begin with, it is entirely made up of the local population, most of whom will only converse in Catalan. There is an elderly woman with long white hair pinned up in a loose chignon selling Cava, tomatoes and green beans. I buy 5 of her bruised ugly tomatoes, confident that they will prove to be the best I’ve had all summer (they are) and all the while she rattles on in Catalan and calls me ‘nena‘ (girl child). The effect of which is momentarily transformative. For almost five years now, I’ve been a mother. My mind is resolutely practical, entirely unflappable, with an astounding amount of ‘fear not little one for here is an adult with a plan’ stowed away to be doled out with great generosity as my girls peel at that many layers of life. When this lovely Cava seller calls me child, I have a glimpse of my mind, uncluttered and wide open as it had been once upon a time when I was the little girl.
There are a lot of older people in these parts, outnumbering the younger ones I would say. They clog the bifurcations of the city as they go about their business (and they always have business) while truant teenagers skulk in alleys, smoking and making eyes at one another. And they all know one another, I notice, as a juggling street clown with a red foam nose doesn’t get much juggling done as he politely acknowledges each lady.
It’s easy to spot the most popular fish stand, it’s swamped with people waving crisp bills in the air. To me, all the fish look incredible so I wonder what this stall has that the others don’t? As I hang back trying to understand what it is, I am immediately asked (this time in Spanish) if I can be helped? I shoot a panicked glance at the mountains of fish, many glassy eyes stare back. I falter. My fish cooking in London went something like this; remove cleaned (cod, pollock, salmon – you get the picture) fillets from plastic boxes, rub in some oil, scatter some Maldon salt on, bake until just done – dinner! My fish cooking in Berlin…Ha! There was no fish cooking in Berlin, just chicken and mince.
I spot 1/2 a kilo of sardines (€3.25), cleaned and butterflied lined up on an A4 piece of acetate. I remember Elisabeth Luard‘s words, that she would just ask the stall holders how to best prepare the ingredients she was buying and ask what I should do with them. So I follow suit and am told the following: “Get a frying pan really hot, in with your olive oil, dip the fish in flour – no egg and into the hot oil. ”
That’s what I do. I serve them with a tomato salad paired with a scattering of sweet local white onion, lots of salt and generous glugs of grassy olive oil. I leave 4 fillets for the twins and they gobble them up, tails and all.
Pl. de Soler i Carbonell,
s/n, 08800 Vilanova i la Geltrú