Barcelona is still the kind of city where migrants, their food, and their culture, is pushed off to the sides. Present but invisible except to those who are seeking it out.
There are some small supermarkets or grocers around, particularly in the Raval a neighborhood I love. I find colour everywhere here. I find it in the clothes that hang brightly on the lines outside buildings usually cast in shadow because the streets are so narrow. I see it in women’s long dresses that reach the floor and the brightly coloured scarves that they wrap around their heads. And. I see it in the fruit and vegetables sold on Carrer de Jaoquín Costa.
There is one shop I always loiter in called Proxim. The outside of the shop is festooned with bags of morning glory and bok choi. The shelves have familiar lettuces and less familiar snake beans hanging dramatically down over the shelf below it. There are slender purple eggplants, half the size and double the length of what I can find in the local shops that cook beautifully and cucumbers that look like they been hit with some affliction sending the whole thing into hives. Most of them are grown locally, just outside the city.
“At the beginning it was hard, it didn’t work. But now we have the right seeds and we are lucky.”
She doesn’t say it but I know she is thinking it: “Inshallah”. The Muslim incantation that punctuates most sentences.
Inside the space between the shelves is so narrow, I have to back up to the end every time someone wants to pass or else risk pressing myself up against a stranger. I’m not sure what to do with a lot of the jars and bottles on the shelves.
“What kind of food is this?” I ask the woman at the counter. “What kind of people.”
“Filipino.” She tells me. “You know there are many who work here in Barcelona.”
That must be true. I remember listening to Nicole Ponseca on Salt and Spine saying that “Filipinos comprise the second largest population of Asian-Americans, second only to Chinese” in the US. I’ve no idea what the numbers are in Barcelona. I have no idea about the food either, clearly as I turn the jars over in Proxim, wondering about them. Datu Puti vinegar? Already Chinese black vinegar lives in on the premium space by my hob because I use it so often. What magic could this fermented cane vinegar bring to my kitchen? Epicurious has some ideas.
I swipe through recipes on my phone wondering what unknown flavours will be unlocked by my visit to Proxim today.
Carrer Joaquin Costa 42
(No website or social media – you will just have to take my word for it)