Website offers the chance to eat local food with a local Barcelonian

March 23, 2013
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In Barcelona on March 17, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with a local family through a website called EatWith.com. This site allows you to choose a country you are traveling to, – right now the only choices are Spain and Israel, although more, including the United States, are coming soon – choose the city where you will be, and a type of meal you would like to have. They have offerings for every budget, from 20 euro to over 100. After I found this website, I immediately thought about what a great opportunity this was—not only would I be able to taste a home-cooked Catalan and Spanish cuisine, I could also chat with a local about his or her culture. Since my stay in Barcelona was limited, I emailed a woman whose meals seemed authentic about setting up a different date than the one posted on the site. I ended up getting to choose more than the date: Gemma asked me for my preferred menu, price and amount of people. I asked her to create a lunch around 20 euro for 6-10 people with traditional foods of the Barcelona region.

Fortunately, Gemma’s apartment was just down the street from our hotel. Her apartment building was in a charming part of town that had tapas restaurants and boutiques on the ground floor and living quarters above. After Gemma rang us in, we ducked through the front door (it was probably only 5 feet tall) and headed upstairs. We were greeted by Gemma’s Old English sheepdog, Gordo, Gemma and Gemma’s mother. A German man, who we previously did not know, was travelling by himself in Barcelona that weekend and had also signed up for the luncheon.

Our menu included sangria, tortilla de patatas con pimientos, ensalada de temporada, calçots rebozados con salsa Romesco, pa de pages, bacalao con sanfaina, mel i mató con torrija and porrón de moscatel. Everything was homemade. Gemma said sangria made in the home is different than that of restaurants in that it is “nonalcoholic” as she called it, meaning there is no other alcohol besides wine in it – many Europeans do not consider wine an alcohol. She explained that restaurant sangria often has rum added as well as extra sugar, and, generally, homemade has neither.

The ensalada was a typical iceberg lettuce salad but with many olives. Spanish olives are different than American olives in a hard way to explain. The taste is not drastically different, but they do seem fresher and feel firmer on the tongue.

Calçots rebozados are a Catalan delicacy. Calçots are a type of scallion, larger and milder than a green onion. They are grilled to make them tender and then fried. The Romesco sauce served with them was similar to marinara, although not quite the same. Although they both have tomato base, when I think marinara sauce, rich sauce with parmesan cheese comes to mind, and herbs are the main thing I remember about the Romesco. If I am remembering correctly, pa de pages was simply a type of homemade bread.

Gemma invited her mother to help her cook because she said her mother makes the best bacalao, and since I asked for classic Catalan dishes, she wanted to serve the best. I am not totally sure how it was made (in a pot on the stove, I think), but it tasted great. It was served in a thick, herby tomato sauce. The fish had a nice crispiness but kept its moisture on the inside because of the tomato and other vegetables.

The mel i mató con torrija was very similar to French toast, but not quite as heavy, even though it was a dessert, not a breakfast food. It had a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top, but the syrup Gemma served it with was not thick. The fresh cheese on the dessert plate also helped freshen it.

The final item on the menu was a very Catalan tradition. Moscatell is a sweet Spanish dessert wine, and porron is the venue it is poured out of. The porron is a mix between a decanter and a teapot, and you must drink from it by pouring the moscatell into your mouth without letting the spout touch your mouth or spilling any of the drink (harder than it seems). I was not terribly keen on the taste, but I did enjoy being a part of an old Catalan tradition.

While eating, our group got to talk to both Gemma about her culture. An interesting quote to me was that she considers herself first a Barcelonian, then Spanish. She explained that Barcelona is much more different from the rest of Spain, and Barcelonians take pride in that. All in all, I would definitely do this experience again—I even offered to host Gemma if she ever travelled to the U.S. South.  She was very helpful, and I enjoyed getting the scoop on area food within the first 24 hours of arrival.