No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain

If you have not seen any of Anthony Bourdain’s tv shows than I highly recommend you view this one. No Reservations is a food show but based around travelling and the chef and author presenter travels the world to show us some of the most interesting dishes. The episode which I’m writing about is called Food Porn and has Bourdain visiting some of his favourite dishes around the world and equating the food to lots of pleasure.

The two-part episode, first aired on February 9 2009, features some of New York’s great chefs, like Daniel Boulud, Michael White, Cesare Casella, as well as former NYT critic Frank Bruni.

Seafood has a huge presence with mussels, cockles and razor clams enjoyed at “Espinaler” near Barcelona, while Sukibayashi Jiro is visited for some of the very best sushi available on the planet made by Jiro-san.

Dishes featured on the show range from crispy pork skin tacos, steaming pho, hot, drippy cheese based dishes, serious chocolate and of course, a pig feast.

In the UK No Reservations is on the Sky Discovery Shed Channel (242)

See Anthony Bourdain’s blog about this episode.

Churros: A quest for sweetness

Three sets of churros, one taste test (by me) and the results are not exactly a surprise but they do leave a lot of potential for future exploration.

The first taste was in Spain: almost a year ago now, I spent my first morning in Barcelona trying to find some chocolate con churros, fried donuts in a long star shaped form served with hot chocolate of varying thickness. I found some at the Boqueria market just off the touristy Ramblas and the choice was a lovely and sweet treat that accompanied my strong black Spanish coffee.

The second set of churros were found in Bristol just by the Welsh Back. The kiosk that serves them has been there for a while but it was the first time I had bought anything. The blackboard outside looked tempting but the churros were not nice to say the least. The freshly fried donuts were tasteless and stodgy. I chose to have them with cinnamon sugar rather than chocolate and I received four or five. I only managed two, with some effort, and since no one else wanted any, I threw the rest out. I was impressed by how bland they had managed to make them and can’t imagine wanting to try them again. The location was ideal but a big failure on the production.

The sugar choice was a bit of a nostalgic reminder of the churros my sister and I grew up with in Melbourne, Australia. The third mention is really the first one of the tastes and we used to share the freshly sugar powdered Spanish donuts, as they were called, every Sunday from a caravan at the top of Shed B at Queen Victoria Market. They were served in white paper bags and doused in icing sugar. The sugar would spread with the heat and leave them almost iced.

Feeling a little reckless and homesick, I propose that the Australian ‘Spanish’ donuts were the best of the three. I am happy to admit my overwhelming bias however since my childhood memories are wrapped up with the memory of the flavours. I won’t try the Welsh Back ones again but there is a café on Whiteladies Rd that sells them so I may have to visit there soon. A few more tastes of ones in Spain could extend the argument a little further as well.

Future tastings at: Ocean Cafe, 185 Whiteladies Rd. Tel: 0117 946 9825

La Boqueria

Monday afternoon, nearly closing time for the Boqueria market and it is the first place I stumble upon on my visit to Barcelona. Two fruit juices are being sold off for one euro and I sip on a dragon fruit / coconut one first and a watermelon juice next as I walk around the various stands.

Even with most market traders gone, I love the atmosphere of the market and it brings back memories of Queen Vic Market in Australia. The latter also serves churros (Spanish donuts) although with powdered sugar rather than chocolate.

The churros are the next day’s breakfast, however, and on Monday night I head off from the middle of the Ramblas and continue my exploration of the touristy shops and Barcelona Port. The next day I return to the market for breakfast and juice and then the following day I go back for lunch and a carajillo. The market is busy on both days and the food on display is colourful and varied.

La Boqueria started off as a travelling market situated in the Ramblas, the famous tourist destination. It was initially an open-air market, in front of one of the gates of the old city wall (Pla de la Boqueria) where fruit and vegetable traders from local towns and farms nearby would sell their products. Its history has been full of changes with additions of bird shops and fishmongers not happening until the early 1800s. The metal roof was inaugurated in 1914 and from then there was a host of modernisations and improvement of sanitary levels.

Some of the treats now available are fresh fish and seafood; salty fish; tinned food; butchery and offal; birds; game and eggs; fruits and vegetables; herbs; delicatessen; breads and pastries; restaurants; frozen items; artisan products; charcuterie; farmers’ shops; wine; and even a Greek and an Italian hand made pasta stall.

When visiting Barcelona there is no better place to pause, peruse or just pursue some culinary pleasure. It is a market that comes highly recommended and not just by me. Try it, you’ll like it.

Plus one

On Monday I was in Brussels to meet the rest of the bloggers / students / journalists that are taking part in the TH!NK3 Development competition. I attended a conference on Tuesday and by the afternoon I was waiting at the Grand Place for my sister and a lift to the airport. I sat on the kerb in front of the pretty white building and either took photos or just listlessly waited, head on hands. Now and then I caught the eye of a guy sitting a little further down from me and also on his own. We were two among many tourists sitting around and he came up to me and asked if I was travelling alone like him and whether I fancied exploring a bit. He said that he had just arrived today and it was getting boring already being on his own. I knew what he meant but I was leaving, so no shared exploring in our foreseeable future. He was from Argentina but lived in London. He had quit his job and had started travelling for the next six months. Now on his own in Brussels he wanted some company with which to share his experience.

I remember feeling the same way on my last day in Barcelona, being so tired at the end of a three day trip mainly involving walking and having no one with whom to share it. Not sure if it was a lonely feeling but there was something lacking, an empty space. Sitting at the Old Vic last November, holding on to the second ticket for a friend who never showed up, more empty space. Trying to find someone to use the spare ticket to Alphabeat last October, the Miserable Rich / Random Family, Two Door Cinema Club, failing to see the Counting Crows in London a few years back, and on and on. Well, I recently gave up with the idea of a second ticket. I’m not buying them anymore. If there’s something I want to see I will go on my own.

At breakfast with friends recently, we were talking about how there are certain events for which you need company. Going to bars/pubs, a restaurant, what’s the point of coffee on your own? Not sure that I agree with all of those. When going for coffee on my own I can linger for a few hours with my notepad / laptop for company. There is so much to do, to write, to think. There is no irritation at the silence, no one demanding attention and no one rushing to head off. After a while (months, years) of doing just that I can see that it’s not that easy. There’s a whole different niceness to lingering with someone else. Alone is nice and company is also nice. My compromise is to enjoy the company when it’s there, and indeed be more than excited by it, while at the same time stop worrying about that empty seat. Next goal is to accept, embrace and acknowledge the space by going somewhere like New York. Barcelona faded into a slight emptiness but I came away with over a thousand pictures to play with. Not a bad consequence of travelling alone. Now just have to sort out the pictures from Brussels and create some space for the ones from my next trip.

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