Traveling to Spain always attracted me growing up as I have Spanish heritage on both sides of my family and because the country itself exudes vibrancy, cultural richness, and culinary excellence. My Aunt “Lulu” and younger cousin Marcel are based in Barcelona, so I frequently pictured how enjoyable it would be to visit them and explore the city with their guidance and recommendations. I was never able to see this dream become a reality until summer 2016 when my parents gifted me a month-long trip to Barcelona for my fifteenth birthday. To say I was excited would have been an understatement. To visualize the wonder of a city for so many years is one thing, but to know that you are actually going to see it for the first time with loved ones is utterly thrilling and almost overwhelming. Traveling alone for the first time on an eight-hour flight intimidated me, but certainly did not overcome the joy I felt about immersing myself in Barcelona.
Barcelona is obviously the best place in the world to try tapas, and eating this type of cuisine was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my trip. Native to Spain, they are a culinary staple in the country and are served in numerous restaurants there. Tapas are small plates of savory foods, like snacks, which can be served either warm or cold. They come in many different forms, each bursting with flavor and leaving one wanting to try more. Looking back, it strikes me that so many of the specific tapas that I tried during that marvelous summer reflect unique elements and characteristics of Barcelona as a city.
Perhaps the most recurring tapa that I consumed while in the region of Catalonia was jamón serrano, or serrano ham, a dry-cured meat. Frequently served in extremely thin slices on top of crispy baguette pieces, serrano ham’s deep salty essence is a reminder of Barcelona’s rich history. The aging process for serrano ham can sometimes take years for optimal taste, highlighting the sense of tradition and dedication that goes into crafting this intense yet delicate expression of pork.
The Barcelona Cathedral was one of the sites that I encountered while roaming the streets of Barcelona with my aunt and cousin, and it took my breath away upon a simple gaze. This building is a Roman Catholic, Gothic cathedral that was built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The distinctive style of architecture embodied by the Barcelona Cathedral reminds one that the (roughly) 800 years for which this building has been standing have only enhanced the impressive nature of its unique, intricate design. Similarly, serrano ham’s extensive dry curing process proves essential for developing its concentrated flavor.
Patatas bravas is another tapas dish that I savored during my visit and which reflected the city of Barcelona itself. Patatas bravas are fried potatoes with a spicy garlic aioli drizzled on top. The potatoes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, brought to life by the explosive tang of the bravas sauce. Eating patatas bravas in Barcelona means allowing spice to introduce another dimension of culinary delight to potatoes, which can be boring to eat if not accompanied or seasoned properly. The bravas sauce’s bright color, a combination of pink and orange, encapsulates the energized tones of red, orange, and yellow spread throughout Barcelona’s landscape. Exploring Barcelona means walking past countless buildings that consistently display these colors, radiating even more when hit by the summer sun. Dim colors rarely catch one’s eye when roaming the city, but rather a scenery of crimson, tangerine, and pastel yellow inspire one to revel in the beauty of travel and culinary appreciation. Patatas bravas show that a blank canvas (like potatoes) can be enlightened by a daring kick (spicy garlic aioli), much like the colorfully vibrant city of Barcelona.
Heading over to Barcelona, I did not expect the Spanish tapas dishes I tried to visibly and flavorfully capture elements of the city’s physical appearance and history. Apart from treasuring time spent with family members that live an eight-hour plane ride away, I learned during my trip to Spain that cultural foods like tapas do more than just utilize specific native ingredients. They magnify the splendor and essence of the city they originate from.