We first chanced upon Guillermo & Christina’s Market and Paella Cooking Tour on the EatWith website and decided this was definitely something we wanted to try since ET’s mum loves cooking (and we love eating)! This turned out to be one of the best experiences we had in Barcelona and we would recommend this EatWith experience to everyone who visits this wonderful city.
Our tour starts off at Mercat del Ninots. ET, his parents and I, are joined by Tracie & Carol, a mother and daughter from Philadephia, and (surprise!) another Singaporean, Jody. On the way there, we pass by a huge complex that’s undergoing renovation. Guillermo explains to us that this used to be the old Mercat del Ninots, but it’s been in this state for the last two years.
“Nothing moves in Barcelona,” he laments. “They decided to renovate almost all of the city at the same time, but there are too few workers and too little money, so all the projects have stopped halfway.” Being half-Swiss and half-French, this lack of efficiency is something he can’t understand.
Once we enter the market, it is evident that Guillermo is more than a familiar face. He greets each of the stall-owners warmly and they speak rapidly to him in Catalan about their freshest produce and the latest additions to their stalls. He explains how the unpredecented amount of rain this summer has led to the mushrooms flourishing, and hence why every restaurant has white truffle on their menu.
“In Barcelona, the markets are pretty much the same. It’s the people that are different.”
This point is well proven as he sources for the ingredients for our seafood paella. Guillermo requests for langoustines, and even though his regular fishmonger doesn’t have it, he walks over to the next stall to get it for him. The codfish seller, who must be used to the many unfamiliar faces and wide-eyed tourists that Guillermo brings with him each week, gamely poses with his glistening codfish as I snap photos eagerly.
Once the marketing is done, we head over to Guillermo’s apartment, which he shares with his lovely girlfriend, Christina. The apartment itself is cozy and demonstrates their attention to detail and penchant for upcycling. Their walls are decorated with crates that double up as shelves to showcase the spices and ingredients they use. Their dining table is an old door given a new lease of life.
“For every dish in Spain, there are as many recipes as there are families.”
The recipes for the day are
Pan con tomate: Bread with tomato drizzled with a hint of olive oil. Can be accompanied with olives, garlic, ham, or cheese (as shown in picture below). So deceptively simple but good.
Tomato gazpacho: Cold and refreshing tomato soup, the perfect starter to whet your appetite. Healthy rarely tastes so good.
Brandada de bancalao: Cod paste on bread with a light tinge of herbs and olive oil. Traditionally salted cod fish is used but somehow my memory of it was sweet and fresh (:
Seafood Paella: Undoubtedly the star of the show, an explosion of rich flavours with prawns, mussels, clams and cuttlefish blending in harmoniously with the savoury bomba rice.
Mojito Sorbet: Self-explanatory and so surprisingly good. It rounds off the palette perfectly with its slight tangy acidity.
With each course, they educate us on the ingredients used and how they try as much as possible to support local products. The ingredients used are indeed breathtakingly fresh, and we are astounded by how even the herbed garlic is so freaking delicious.
The class requires effort though – everyone is assigned a role and either busy slicing, mixing, or blending. Yet along the way, the conversations flow as freely as the wine. We talk about how the Spanish unemployment rate is frighteningly high, and how the starting salaries (that are not high to begin with) are frozen from the get-go, which is increasingly driving people to start their own businesses. They share with us their inspiration for Barcelona Slow Travel, their brainchild which offers local tours that focus on sustainability and authentic experiences. We joke about cultural idiosyncracies and funny travel experiences, and it feels like we’re having a meal with people we’ve known for ages.
(Click on the link below to check out our paella cooking experience!)
At the end of our cooking class, our wonderful hosts spend time giving us more tips on where to go in the city and recommending their favourite restaurants. Within 24 hours, we are emailed the recipes for the dishes that we enjoyed. But more endearing than the actual food and wine, is an unforgettable experience of how food can transcend all boundaries and truly bring people together.