Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Barcelona's Big Little Food Counter

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Barcelona's Big Little Food Counter

Article excerpt

Even someone who doesn't cook much would have trouble walking into Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona's main food market, and not getting some sort of impulse to rush out and prepare a meal. Rows and rows of artfully arranged fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses make this one of the best and most beautiful markets in the world.

Interspersed among the food stalls are kioskos, minirestaurants, each with a handful of stools. In these, cooks take the best from the market and turn it into amazing meals before your eyes.

Bar Pinotxo ("Pinocchio") is one of the best-known kioskos. A year ago, I sampled the food there, and it blew my socks off. More recently, I got a head start on figuring out how to prepare something similar at home by spending a day in the kitchen with the chefs.

There's no menu. Instead, Joan Bayen (his first name is pronounced Jo-Ann; it's the Catalan version of Juan) guides you to what's good that day. Each dish is tapas-size, so you order several to make a meal.

At the center of a beehive of open-kitchen activity, two men in chefs' coats man a grill and a wok station. Those brothers, Albert and Jordi Asim, nephews of Joan, are my guides.

The narrow kitchen of Pinotxo is reminiscent of a ship's galley. The six-person staff can't walk past one another without twisting, but there's a harmony there that allows most things to happen without anyone needing to speak.

Jordi explains the idea behind the kioskos, essentially taking the best the market has to offer on any given day and feeding that to their customers. "Everything we get comes from the market," he says, "and the fish comes from the Zona Franca," the wholesale market where La Boqueria's fishmongers do their shopping. Prices for plates at Pinotxo can range from the US equivalent of $2 or $3 to about $15. Compared to the other kioskos in the market, it's a bit more expensive, but it offers excellent value.

This day's dishes include a stew made with several kinds of mushrooms and three types of local sausages. After it's placed on a plate, it gets a spritz of balsamic, some gros sel (coarsely ground salt), and a sprinkle of crushed candied almonds purchased from a vendor whose stall is directly across from Pinotxo.

Where did the candied almond idea come from? "Me," says Albert with a grin. "Plus, Catalan dishes like mixing sweet and salty."

Also offered is a trinxat (cabbage and potato cake) that combines greens, garlic, and potatoes into an earthy mix. There are two tripe stews - one traditional, the other made with salt cod. Chicken stock, thick with onions and carrots and tasting of Mom's kitchen, serves as a base for two dishes: whole partridge and cuts of tuna steak.

Inside a Dutch oven over low heat, the partridge bubbles slowly in the stock for about two hours or until it nearly falls off the bone. …

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