Christine Zois first came to Barcelona eight years ago to study French and Spanish. Thanks to the climate, the atmosphere, and the conviviality of the people of Barcelona, she never left. ¨There’s a huge conglomeration of cultures. It’s like Club Med twenty years ago.¨ A true New Yorker with Greek roots (and dual-nationality), she was able to start a business three years ago without the usual problems a foreigner might encounter, buying up one of the last existing licenses. After having fallen ill several times due to what she feels is the uncleanliness of the food and restaurants in Barcelona, she decided to make her own dishes. And why not take it a step further, and serve it to the food-lovers of Barcelona? Christine gathered family recipes along with a few cookbook faves and opened up Born Cooking in the melting-pot neighborhood of El Born in Barcelona, now catering to the general public as well as to 35 restaurants in the Mediterranean city.
I was mad on the hunt for Dr. Pepper®. Not only for me but also for my friend Chris who hadn’t had any in many a year. I searched for hours on the Internet for something resembling an American market or restaurant/bar until finally I stumbled upon the site Barcelona Metropolitan. After a long day of street theatre attractions, a couple of Spanish bars, and a few shopping stops, I traipsed down Carrer de la Princesa and wandered around the oh-so-quiet Corretger until finally I reached Born Cooking. After having spent almost two months speaking French, writing in English, and attempting to occasionally study and splurt out Spanish, what a joy it was to be greeted in American (English that is). With walls lined with chocolate chip cookies, Aunt Jemima® syrup, baking powder, and root beer, I was beginning to thaw out.
After perusing the lit counter filled with Cajun chicken (delicious, but made with coconut milk – not a strong staple in Cajun cooking), chili con carne, cole slaw, cheesecakes, Spanish tortillas, and barbeque ribs, I sat down at one of the tall tables, and Christine set a spell as well and spoke of downtown New York, her American staff (with papers), her exceptional chili con carne, and her bouts with less than impeccable eateries. I noted and noted, and spoke and spoke, the American words falling effortlessly from my lips. But whenever one walks into an empty place, it is most assuredly due to invite others inside quickly thereafter. Christine spoke English with most of her customers, with the occasional Spanish exception, and a few minutes later I found myself chatting with another American, a screenwriter working from home, married to an Italian that she’d known for 15 days, and living in a leaky loft in El Born. I have never been what I’d consider a silly American traveler, only interested in finding those things all too familiar in an all too foreign atmosphere. I like discovering new things, speaking new languages, flirting with the unknown, and have been known to be obsessed with Europe, especially France. This trip, however, has been different, as my life currently craves a dish piled high with stability. I am happy to speak and write in English, find it a thrill to be able to express myself, admit that I really love Doritos® and Dr. Pepper, take comfort in being comfortable, and love my wifi. Thus, every once in a while during this trip I have found paradise in the form of Starbucks®, Hard Rock Café, McDonald’s® (only once with a friend), and in a small American oasis in a southeastern section of Barcelona. If you are in need of an American fix, Born Cooking is now located in El Born, though Christine is in search of a larger space in a more-frequented neighborhood. So stay tuned to her website for future changes.
After a few hours, I decided it was time to step away from the U.S., and venture back out into Spain. I must say, however, that her ribs are amazing (made with a ginger-based marinade), her chili con carne is the real deal, and her cookies, brownies, and dulce de leche cheesecake were a HUGE hit with my finicky French and Spanish friends. It is indeed the perfect spot for that much-needed American fix.
Just before stopping at Christine’s, I ventured into Demasié, a small spot with a rather Zen atmosphere, offering cookies of all flavors. My choices: cookies with sobrasada and those with curry. While I took Christine’s less than thrilled attitude about the owner selling crap in a fancy box with an astute ear as well as with a grain of salt, my $14’s worth of cookies were much less of a hit with my friends. They hated the texture, and it’s true that the galetes were greatly lacking in the flavors that were advertised. I did appreciate the fact that they were savory shortbread cookies, and would work well with wine or cocktails at some casually fancy function. However, the flavors didn’t pop, and I would just as soon have had crispy parmesan cheesesticks. Avoid the hefty price tag. Spend it on mini chocolate chip-walnut cookies at Born Cooking instead. While they both do share Cookie Monster decorations, Born Cooking is still your best bet for a real taste of home.
If out on the town late one night, and one of 5 million other Spanish hotspots aren’t to your liking, stop into Mussol for a decent, non-pricey bite. Their open-faced sandwiches are tasty as well as their main dishes, and apparently they’re open into the wee hours of the night.
If you need a little something sweet, check out Happy Pills at C/Arcs, #6. Not because the candy is exceptional, but mostly because the name is so cute.
I’ll be leaving sooner than planned, due to too many things I need to get done in the states before school begins, and I still haven’t figured out a few puzzles of Barcelona.
1. Why do the train and subway run less than 24 hours a day in a city that doesn’t wake up until 11pm?
2. Why does a city that claims to wake up at 11pm consistently have a multitude of shut commercial shutters (always spectacularly tagged, i.e. covered in amazing graffiti)?
3. What are the actual hours of siesta, and why doesn’t everyone follow them exactly the same? In other words, what are normal shopping hours and do they close on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday (or all of the above)?
4. Aren’t Spanish men flirty and macho? And if they are, where are they hiding?
This past Saturday, a big party was planned at the apartment building in honor of Sant Joan (St. John’s Eve). Apparently, it’s an all-night celebration where everyone in the city throws fireworks, makes a lot of noise, and jumps over bonfires. Bonfires weren’t included in our festivities, but there was indeed a lot of noise, lots of sausage, different types of alcohol, and almost every guest being thrown in the pool. One of the big Catalan traditions of Sant Joan is the Coca cake accompanied by Cava (sparkling wine). Next Saturday, we celebrate another Saint’s day with overindulgence. My plane ride on Sunday should be quite interesting.
Stay tuned for another excerpt on Barcelona most probably next week. Have a gorgeous summery week and ¡buen provecho!