The colors are the first thing that grabbed me, a collage of vibrant green, red, and yellow swirling together from afar, but upon closer inspection each had it’s own boundaries. Once I was in front of the masterpiece, it appeared that each color was placed with care in such a precise fashion. Yet at the same time there is a chaos to it that is indefinable. It can’t be fenced in or contained. I feel like it wants to burst out on to the streets. I’m in Barcelona, but I’m not at the famous Picasso museum , the line was far too long for my patience, so I did the next best thing, I went to the colorful La Boqueria market along Las Ramblas.
I wandered the stalls taking in the colors, shapes, sounds and smells. Now this was a museum for the senses. It wasn’t only a place to purchase your food supplies for the day, but it was also a social meca where locals and tourists clashed in the typical fashion. Tourists with cameras (like me) slowed down the locals trying to simply do their shopping and socializing for the day. The locals who shopped at this market must have had a huge love for their local merchants if they were willing to put up with all of the slow, gawking tourists.
La Boqueria market was also the first stop on my Cook and Taste workshop/tour provided to me by Oh Barcelona apartments. My first thought was that it was ingenious for an apartment rental company to offer cooking classes, as it’s the perfect complement to staying in an apartment where you have a kitchen at your disposal and can go back and practice what you learned immediately! The course not only taught you how to cook popular Spanish meals such as tapas and paella, but it also took you through the market.
Teresa, our guide and chef for the day, started by explaining the layout and history of the market. She rolled her little two-wheeled shopping bag into the heart of the market briskly passing the stalls in the front which were more expensive due to their prime real estate and touristic sales. She went to the market daily and like most locals had relationships with specific merchants who she bought from regularly. This is where the social aspect of the market came in. It wasn’t just about going and purchasing your vegetables, bread, and fish – it was about interacting and relationships. Imagine if you went to your local Whole Foods and actually knew the baker or the butcher and they knew about you, your life, and family? This is what I love about markets outside of the US, it’s more than just shopping and an exchange of money; it’s an experience.
We picked up fish, vegetables, olives, and about 4 dozen eggs (!); all fresh and nothing pre-packaged. We stopped to have some of the famous Jamón ibérico, (cured ham leg from the black Iberian pig) sliced right off the leg of the pig, a sight most Americans would be disgusted by, yet it of course excited me. The meat was like butter and practically melted in your mouth. Each leg can cost upwards of 200 Euro, a big investment, but totally worth it for a family…who really loves ham.
After filling her shopping bag we wheeled it back to the Cook and Taste kitchen to start the process of preparing our dishes. The kitchen was long, narrow and enthusiastically designed. The bright yellow tile gave it a warm, welcoming feel and the long island counter in the middle served as cooking workspace as well as a place to dine. Theresa passed out the recipes and summarized what and how we were going to cook. We would prepare 4 dishes, gazpacho flavored with smoked cheese, a tapa potato omelet on tomato bread, seafood paella, and Catalan Cream dessert. As I flipped through the recipes it became clear to me why we had bought 4 dozen eggs.
Teresa asked for volunteers to help prepare and be responsible for each dish and quickly handed out aprons and assigning people jobs while explaining to the whole class the history of the dish and how it would be made. We made one dish at a time so that it was easy to follow along, take notes, watch, and participate – the pace was perfect.
After the Catalan cream was prepared and ready to be chilled, Teresa opened up a bottle of red and white wine and poured us all a glass of our choice. Now I really felt like I was cooking! A very light social atmosphere fell over the group of 14 students as the afternoon progressed and we all flitted around the kitchen listening, watching, chopping, talking, and drinking. This was by far one of the most enjoyable ‘tours’ I had ever been on.
One of my favorite things about the class was Teresa’s instruction. First, she managed a class of 14 people single-handedly. Second, she not only taught you how to prepare a specific recipe, but she provided tips and techniques on cooking in general. She had been a chef her whole life and had previously worked in 5 star hotels, but now was happy to be doing this instruction of a profession she clearly loved. She taught people how to hold a knife and chop properly, how to check to see if oil was hot, how to blanch tomatoes, how to flip omelets with a plate, and how to present a meal like an artist. We learned all of her little tricks and techniques and came away with more than simply recipes to follow.
As we prepared each dish we drank more wine and munched on olives, but finally the time came where we could all properly sit down and enjoy all of our hard work. We had a feast! I would be hard pressed to choose my favorite dish as they all turned out scrumptious.
Finally, our 6 hours of cooking instruction was completed. We were all fat, happy, educated, and ready to go out and attempt the recipes ourselves…after a proper siesta of course!
The Cook and Taste workshop was my favorite thing I did while in Spain. Granted, I love to cook and learn about a country’s food culture, so the subject was of great interest to me…more so than going to a museum. If I consider the fact that we had 6 hours of instruction, a historical tour of the market, unlimited wine, and a feast of 4 courses for 72Euro ($100), this was the best value I experienced in Spain. For the same cost the night before I went to an Italian restaurant, spent 75 minutes there eating, met no one, and learned nothing.
If you are in Barcelona, and especially if you are renting an apartment with a kitchen – then consider taking the Cook and Taste workshop. Your stomach and kitchen will thank you.
In what cities have you taken great cooking classes? Share in the comments!
Cook and Taste Workshop Website
Cost – 60Euro + 12 Euro for market visit (if you are staying in an Oh-Barcelona apartment, they offer discounts for the workshop)
Timeframes – 2 courses a day 10AM and 5PM
See all photos from the Barcelona cooking class and market tour:
Disclosure: Oh Barcelona Apartments is hosting my accommodation in Barcelona. However, all of the opinions expressed here though are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!