Thursday, 23 October 2008 by kinakoJam
This post is a homage to the grace of Gracia, a neighbourhood in Barcelona. And in a future post I'll cover some spots in Eixample, sort of around or south of the Diagonal street. But first, a quick doff of the cap to Born and Raval.
On a first trip to Barcelona, it's good to stay in Born, where people hang around dimly lit medieval corners until late in the evening. It's convivial. Though there are quite a few generic tapas places aimed at tourists, there are a couple of good spots to eat in a warren of musty narrow streets and antique buildings: like noted tapas spot Cal Pep, the reasonably priced and good quality Catalan chain Origens, or the xarcuteria Set de Born - for Catalan cheeses and wild boar's head sausage. But don't let the Set de Born staff point you in the direction of their other restaurant around the corner - the atmosphere is just not the same. If they're full, best to insist on waiting with a beer or two.
Another good hood to check, Raval reminds a little bit of New York's Lower East Side, with little boutiques and a really nice bookstore (La Central). The stomping ground of Sonar festival-goers, Raval has an organic supermarket where you can get miso paste, sprouted essen bread or organic German dark beer. Despite snobbish reviews, the local Spanish beers are actually pretty good when drunk in this warm climate, from the standard offering of Moritz pale lager, to Ambar 1900 pale ale which is a good beer to drink on the street, and some pretty decent dark lagers like Alhambra Negra. Better than sewer-chilled Estrella beer cans from street hawkers anyhow. There are a couple of good bakeries, (like ReykjavikBarcelona); and the famous Boqueria Market for early morning drunken feasts of potage de verduras at Bar Pinoxto, or tortilla and grilled razor clams for lunch at Bar Central. For evening meals, we only really liked one restaurant in Raval, which is also a pretty cozy place to hear music after dark: Sifó.
Raval does still have some of the grit left over from Jean Genet's time in the Barrio Xino - walking home from Sifó the other night we actually dodged a knife-wielding guy with his t-shirt pulled up over his belly, and on certain streets the hookers might slap you for turning down their advances. However if you take a few steps in any given direction you can find yourself in a thick stream of tourists, mostly in the northern part of Raval and close to the Rambla. Locals are very bitter about the city's efforts to clean up and homogenize this neighbourhood: they'd prefer it stayed grimy and covered in graffiti.
Snobbishness aside, the whole tourist thing starts to feel a bit fake and exhausting after you've hung out in this city for a while. The cool thing about the neighbourhood of Gracia, pictured, is not that you can buy a lovely bunch of coconuts, or Mexican adobe sauce and Japanese comestibles at Ara També Delishop on L'illa Diagonal. The most charming thing about Gracia is that it still has the feel of a neighbourhood, the stomping ground of local residents, so you can avoid tourists for the most part.
Goliard is a nice place for lunch (C/ Progrés 6); there's also a branch of Origens in Gracia (Carrer de Ramón y Cajal, 12). Origens is open on Sundays, unlike most decent restaurants around here. On a calm Saturday afternoon it's good to stroll around the little streets between Gran de Gracia and Torrent de L'Olla, two thoroughfares that run parallel to each other.
But be careful when you go there - lunch is best eaten between 1pm and 3.30pm. All the other stores close for a siesta after that until about 5pm.
Still, I managed to get a crepe with that yummy full-flavoured Catalan goat cheese and ham, and a glass of carrot juice, for six euros, at about 4.30pm. And you can get really good falafels with babaganoush from Egyptian spots all over the city at any hour. My favourite so far being one just down the hill from the Harlem Jazz Club in the Gothic quarter.