Thursday, October 29, 2009


Been trying to get my paws on percebes for years. Those barnacles form NorthEast/Basque Spain that look like dinosaurs toes and allegedly cost lives in their harvesting. Finally saw some at local rough-neck Tapas bar and gave them a try. All I can say is that they were curiously pleasant....slightly sweet, thin fleshy tubes that you pull out of the papery barnacle shell with your teeth. I was mildly enjoying them thinking that as a curious barsnack they had a certain novelty appeal. Then the barman gave me the bill for €9. What the *?"!!*? Coupled with my Prawn fiasco the other day I'm beginning to feel like I'm getting the guiri (foreigner) rip off. But I checked the prices and they are the going rate in both cases. I fully understand and appreciate the ethos of foraging for food as a survival mechanism in all parts of the world, and i am aware that this practice has led to some of the worlds most outstanding gastronomic achievements. However, all I can say is if someone offers you a small plate of percebes for €9 you'd be better off going home and marinating a few rubber bands in some seawater and adding a tiny bit of grit every few mouthfulls. I bet you could do that for less than €2.!!!


Having eulogised bout the local seafood I thought I'd better put my money where my mouth is. The markets have many types of prawn all with different names, and price tags. But strangely not many feature on local menus. On way home the other night I stopped off at afore-mentioned fishmongers and splahsed out on the most expensive €59/kg(yes....fifty-nine) Now I knew I wouldn't get many for my money but was hoping for fireworks in the mouth when I ate them. Wrong. What a dissappointment, and dare-I-say 'ripoff' I got 6 prawns for €10. Once peeled I fried and boiled the heads and shells to make a stock, which in turn became a paella-esque rice using chorizo, saffron, sweet peppers and onion. The prawns were added at the last minute. The rice was good. But the €10 prawns were bland and flabby in texture. A huge disappointment and definitely not worth the money. I can see why they don't feature on menus locally, nobody would pay the money for them. I am mystified and will do further research.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


One of the things I love about Spain is the different dynamic to life back home. The timings are all askew due to the midday siesta which takes some getting used to. I still get caught out trying to nip to the shops at 2pm forgetting they are all closed between 1pm and 5pm. The up-side is that I can walk home at 9pm from work and nip into the local fishmongers/carniceria/cheese shop/delicatessen....yes....they still all exist here as separate independent outlets (haven't come across a candlestick-maker yet) and I must say its a pleasure to hop from one to the other and shop like our grandmothers used to....
check out the local fishmongers display.....

While i'm on the subject I can't help but noticing that the fish selection in the supermarkets is also incredible. Why does the fish in Uk supermarkets look like it comes from a factory instead of the sea....even on the fresh counter....and I'm talking about Bristol...a major port twice the size of Tarragona.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I have a terrible confession to make, I feel like a heretic....I am betraying the one I love but I can't help it. I've tried and tried and tried...but i just can't help myself anymore. It has to be said. The hiddeous truth is..........I.....just.....don't amb tomaquet!. (no, the cat didn't just walk across the keyboard...that is the Catalan spelling for bread with tomato)
Now.....there is history to explain.....I first fell in love with the concept of toasted bread, rubbed garlic, fresh tomato, E.V. olive oil and salt when i was 15 and ate the product in the Valencia region many times as a young tourist. I have also reproduced the concept many times in my restaurants to good effect. Chargrilled sourdough bread or similar, rub with a garlic clove, (this tastes TOTALLY different from chopping the garilc and adding it to the tomatoes) paint with olive oil, spoon on chopped tomato flesh, season...close't speak for 30 seconds at least. It is the quintessential flavour of common sense. It encapsulates in one meagre dish the essence of great cooking tradition. That is to use your circumstances and best ingredients to perform alchemy....turn base elements into gastronomic gold. In Tarra I have tried many a tomato bread and have been mostly disappointed. Why? Well. 1. the quality of the bread. Its what I would call 'yesterdays French Baguette' hard crust or chewey ,lemony crumb. Its the easy cop-out but it brings the dish down. 2. The garlic has been mild to absent on most occasions.This might be considered as a refined touch, but to me it's the equivalent of de-caf coffee...kind of anathema. 3. The tradition of rubbing the tomato might be historically 'correct' but leaves me cold. I'd rather have a generous helping of ripe, chopped, tomato flesh instead of a smear of tomato water and seeds. And finally the most important missing element. The bitter twang of chargrilling. All the breads I have tasted have been 'toasted' not grilled over fire. Now the odds are stacked against me as: a) I'm not Spanish ...let alone Catalan. b)can every restaurant in Tarragona be wrong and Ant is right? But I actually don't care. I don't give a flying fig if I'm out of step with tradition....I just know that chargrilling sourdough bread over flames, rubbing it with a garlic clove, topping with chopped ripe tomato flesh, anointing with EVO and seasalt tastes a damn sight better that what I have been served.(actually I usually add black pepper and ...don't call the guardia civil......basil) So all I can say is that if what I have experienced is traditional Pa amb tomaquet then it has lost it's la revolution!!! power to the heretic!!!! But then again, Imagine a well-meaning but deluded Spanish upstart trying to show Aunt Bessie how to make yorkshire pudding!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Spain seems awash with graffiti. Having used Banksy as subject matter fo many a TEFL lesson I am still wrestling with the question in the title to this post. In the absence of a definitive answer I have resigned myself to position Of impartial observer. Tarra does not disappoint. Ranging from a whole street awash with highly attractive daubings and customized witty (?) stencils and upsidedown DaDaist musings about altered reality and absurdity.


A stencil reminiscent of our man Banksy

I saw this small and simplistic graffito (is that the singular?) and I just really liked it. The colour jumped out at me, and the juxtaposition with the door and grille just really looked good. I call it the blue rat. On closer inspection the outline of the rat has been carved into the stone.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Well who would have thunk it (sic) the Spanish in this region don't "do" fresh herbs....and I ain't talking Mary-Jane.....i'm after Basil...Mint, Corriander....or even just plain old Parsley....but no-way-Jose. My worries started when I realized I hadn't seen anything herbal in the Supermarkets.....must be a crappy branch i thought....but no....each one housed staff who looked at me as if I really was asking for marijuana....Never mind..the AMAZING central market is sure to have piles of fresh herbs, it has better seafood than I have ever seen in the UK. But no.....all I managed to find was two mangy packs of mint for €2.5 each!!! The stall holder told me the Spanish don't really go for fresh herbs and this was confirmed by a local who I chatted to.....what a surprise. I limped back to the flat with my equally limp mint and wrapped it in clingfilm as if it were the last of a threatened species (instead of the invasive weed it is) and pondered the sick irony of a city called Tarragona not having any tarragon. I started to make furtive plans for window boxes, grow-bags on the roof terrace and scattering seeds sent from the UK in the local park....I would start a herb revolution...Barcelona will have Basil, Catalonia will be swamped with Corriander, and you can guess which town would be come my hotbed for Taragon. I could see my face on the cover of Herb Magazine Monthly....'English maverick changes the cooking culture of an entire nation" this space!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The finale of the festival...a health and safety nightmare. Couldn't believe it. the potential for injury is huge. The basic premise is to watch a parade of devils, monsters and giant bulls parade through town spraying fireworks everywhere. furthermore the idea is that you must try and dance under the shower of fireworks to fight off the evil forces. You may wear a straw hat for protection....yes very fireproof , i know.....just don't ask...!!! And that fire spray burns...I got caught in clip 1 below. When the footage goes dark, it's coz i was brushing burning embers off my hair and shoulders....I didn't have a straw hat!

The parade combined a wierd, slightly subversive...pagan....tribal anarchy with what I assume it might be like in a middle eastern war zone. The noise...smell of burning phosporous....drumbeats...costumes....and hypnotic rhythm to the whole parade would not have been out of place in a Haiitian voodoo ceremony. It was staggering...and it went on...and on....and on.......and on........