We saw it from down the darkened streets. The light from the window looked cozy and warm as if it had not only been generated by electricity, but by the people and energy pulsing from the six high top tables crammed inside. We swung the door open, but nobody really looked. They all leaned forward into their own parties, speaking energetically to each other in Catalonian. To our left was a glass bar where two big ham legs hung on silver hooks and a busy, but not hassled looking wait staff zoomed back and forth carrying tapas and refilling beer and vermouth. One of them, a small bearded man buzzed towards us for a moment, like a hummingbird, to listen to our request, “Cuatro personas“, said Olivia, the only one of us with passable Spanish, holding up four fingers just in case. He smiled, nodded, and buzzed away.
This place was a recommendation from a Catalonian friend, and like everywhere else in the world, the best places to go are always those found via the local word of mouth. She had told us that it did not have a webpage and that we would not be able to make reservations. We were on a search for the best tapas, and in a city where outstanding tapas are the norm, this place felt a little like magic.
After scanning the menu, and glancing surreptitiously at the tables of others, we made our selection. Catching the waiter’s eye, Olivia once again made the order for us, while he listened patiently, smiled, and pretended he did not speak any English. The four of us had been placed in the corner, so with my back to wall I looked around at this tiny, yet perfect tapas restaurant. Behind the bar, bottles of brightly colored alcohols lined the walls and to the left of the big wooden door we had come through was the window that had provided our first glance into the world where we were now too, a part of the scene. Above the window, was a long chalkboard covered in the names of all the Vermouth you could order. At our table we perched on high stools and were so tightly packed that I bumped elbows every so often with a mother behind me and found the suspicious glare of her toddler upon me if I turned my head to the left. Erin’s back was against a huge mirror that helped give the impression that the small restaurant was much more spacious than it really was. The two waiters continued to bring out plates of steaming, savory potatoes with hot sauce, thinly sliced meats, stacks of cheese, and fresh seafood. Olivia and I also chose to partake in the in-house brewed Vermouth, a Catalonian specialty. A glass of Vermouth here cost 1.50 euros and is served with an orange slice and a green olive.
There are several reasons why I love tapas. I love that tapas are meant to be shared. Tapas are smaller portions of food and you are meant to order several dishes even for just a couple of people. This makes for not only a dynamic eating experience, but physically, tapas in the center of the table create an atmosphere of camaraderie, as if the the conversation itself weaves and crosses within the patterns of traded plates. This means that tapas are a food meant to be slowly enjoyed over conversation and drinks. There is no problem with ordering another round if the table is still hungry, or just wants an excuse for the prolonged company of their friends. Also, there is no rush. In the United States, it is not uncommon to get the evil eye from a waiter for staying too long at the table after you have finished eating. Working as one myself for several different stints, I understand that this is American etiquette, but is also tied to our culture of tipping. More tables means more tips. In Barcelona, we never felt rushed through our meal. They left us to our experience and did not feel pressure to be at hand every moment. Although the food was in fact the most delicious tapas I had tasted yet, I felt that our night was more than the food we ate.
In that place, in the back corner, I felt like I was part of something. Our own table was alive because of the four of us. We held spirited conversations about the things we cared about the most. Each side of our table reflected a face and a mind with something to share. All of us listened intently to each of the others, and in our turn spoke passionately and convincingly on each point. Outside our table, I was sure each of the other tables was doing the same. I couldn’t hear or understand what they said, but I could feel the mini worlds of community colliding into one. Within the warm light and soothing smell of tapas, I felt myself living in a memory.
This is just one of the moments that we shared during our five days here. If you ever go to Barcelona, I’ll tell you the name of the restaurant. As promised, I am writing a blog a week. Because of travel, I missed last week’s blog. Tomorrow I am making up for it by writing about Gaudi and Picasso, two artists I feel I got to know quite well during our time in this beautiful city.
Wishing everyone a beautiful start to 2018.