One of the particularly exciting aspects of travel is being adventurous and trying out local food specialities. Having relatives in Barcelona means one can eat in places not on the tourist circuit…which means the menus are in Catalan, with the Castilian (spanish version) in very tiny print below the Catalan description, and no English translation.
El Caracol (The Snail) – specialises in snails. By the panload. Seven different ways. They even have cartoons of the little critters smiling at you from the walls. We ordered just one serving of snails in garlic. More than enough and nothing like their French cousins … in fact they reminded me of the snails that used to slide across early morning dew-laden buffalo grass in the backyard of my childhood home. Same size – a large grape – and same shell pattern – brown stripes. Armed with skewers we dug the curly little, dark grey, chewy, garlic flavoured critters out of their shells. They are really quite more-ish, washed down with red wine and crusty bread. But 20 to 30 each were more than sufficient. The restaurant also does a mean slow roast shoulder of lamb that falls off the bone. That we enjoyed for mains. Followed by a Catalan baked custard for postres (dessert). Followed by herbas (a shot of an aniseed based liquor) ‘for the digestion’.
Can Marti – accessed by a Metro ride, followed by a funicular ride, followed by a half-kilometre uphill walk, which concludes with a long stair climb of a street and a right turn into a front yard, unremarkable except for the small faded sign on a rough wooden post. Then you realise that the front yard has a huge open, wood fire oven in which pieces of lamb are being roasted. Walk past that and down the side of the house and you come to an open kitchen area which has its own massive wood oven from which further fragrant smells, together with wood smoke create an atmosphere of anticipation. An extension to the house is one dining area; a free-standing extension – which has undergone several ‘phases of growth’ provides a spectacular view of Barcelona. The place is very busy, filled with locals, and the menu is only in Catalan.
Can Marti does a special seasonal dish which, at first glance, seems to be a pile of grassy weeds still with the dirt on them. I thought the elderly man taking four bundles of them to a table, then handing out plastic bags, was giving the guests some gigantic spring onions from his garden to take home.
Turns out the plastic bags contain a big bib, plastic gloves, an extra serviette and a refresher towel – all necessary to deal with the ‘calcots’. They are charred on the open fire, then served on a curved roof tile, accompanied with a tomato and garlic sauce, and aioli, for dipping. This I know because we ordered a single serve for the three of us, bibbed up and dived in: hold a calcot by its green top leaves; slide the other hand down the plant to slough off the burnt outer leaves and reveal the creamy textured inner heart; swirl it around in the sauce of your choice; then tilt your head back and lower it into your mouth to bite off the heart which is about 10 cms long, hoping not to wipe sauce all over your face or drip it onto your clothes. Don’t feel embarrassed! That’s why you wear a bib! Nearly every table ordered a serve per person, and piles of the burnt or inedible leaves stacked up. These were followed by fire roasted carxofes (artichokes), patatas (potatoes) local sausages and lamb. And vino Del Vero.
It truly seemed fitting, not only to eat snails, but to also eat what they eat!