Barcelona diaries: Churros in chocolate heaven – Granja La Pallaresa!

Finding a place in the labyrinthine alleys of the Barrio Gotic, in Barcelona, is quite a task, unless you are accompanied by a local. After my Barcelona Ciclo Tour, I was famished and knew that nothing but a traditional Spanish churro (or xurro) would get me in high spirits to explore the city further. Granja La Pallaresa came highly recommended by not one, but two Barcelonians. Naturally, I knew I HAD to taste the churros here.

Located in Calle Petritxol, also popularly known as the sweet street, in the Gothic Quarter, the Granja La Pallaresa is a shop which is not very aggressive with advertising. The narrow lanes actually don’t give it much scope. In fact, I ended up walking past it on more than one occasion. In my defence the place was shut for the famous Barcelona siesta time. The board outside said that it would open at 4PM. With the clock saying 3PM, I still had an hour to kill. I decided to check out the Santa Maria del Pi cathedral which was just a 2 min walk from this place. 

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

I returned by around 4.15PM and the place was already buzzing with the evening crowd. In fact, I spotted a couple of people who were hanging around from before. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait outside for long and the liveried waiting staff quickly escorted me in the inner chamber.

The fragrance of hot chocolate and fried churros was wafting in the air as I was making my way towards the Pallaresa. But inside the cosy cafe, despite the perfumes worn by the customers, the aroma of chocolate was much denser. The crowd was a mix of locals and tourists, but majority of the people looked like locals – as I was hearing a lot more Catalan than any other language and also from the fact that not many were lugging around DSLRs and clicking the surroundings. Except for this bunch of these Korean women, with their exquisitely blingy smartphone covers, elegant overcoats and a Korean Lonely Planet guide. The leader of that group didn’t even call for the menu – but just pointed to a photograph inside her guide book to her server. And then she got around to making selfies with her gang of girlfriends.

Granja La Pallaresa was established in 1947 and has been in this spot since then. Granja means a traditional snack bar and Granja La Pallaresa is one which is renowned for its liquid chocolate treats. The serving staff dressed in white shirts, black trousers and a black bow, are a throwback to an era gone by. The immediate Indian analogy I could think of was the turbaned wait staff at the India Coffee House, that charming cafe opposite Presidency College in Kolkata. Stepping into such establishments, takes you back a few decades and la Pallaresa was fulfilling that requirement.

Taking some inspiration from the Korean women, even I didn’t call for the menu – something that is unusual. I just ordered the Xurros with Suizo, which was clearly the most popular item.

Xurros or Churros are the thick chakli or murukku-like fried food item made of dough (most likely maida/refined flour) which can be had with a dash of powdered sugar atop them or the best way – dipping in hot chocolate. Suizo is the that liquid dark hot chocolate topped with a mountain of sugarless cream.

It took a while for me to get my order (god bless that waiter who approached me after seeing me try to haplessly get someone’s attention) – and in a place like that, that can be torturous if the last meal you’ve had is breakfast at 8AM which is followed by 3 hours of cycling tour. Specially so, when you see the wait staff make two rounds in the kitchen to carry out two plates full of fragrant Churros to the main counter.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed to see just five churros along with the Suizo. “C’mon man, I can surely have more,” I thought. But by the time I was finished, I knew for a fact that I could have had no more. The fried dough of the Churro when had with cream and hot chocolate – is kind of heavy.

The Suizo in particular was mind-blowing. I love hot chocolate and my concept of hot chocolate, so far, had been chocolate mixed with milk and made into a thick consistency. At Granja La Pallaresa, hot chocolate was just that – Hot molten glazy dark chocolate! Of course, getting to the hot chocolate took some cleaning off of the smooth cream layer, which wasn’t sweet. So that was had with sugar-dipped thumb-licks. (I don’t care if you think that’s gross!)

The Churros – crunchy on the outside and getting progressively softer on the inside, were great in themselves. Dipping them in that dark hot chocolate, just elevated the experience to a whole new level. I was a kid again, who couldn’t get enough of his chocolate fix. And since this was molten dark chocolate with some cream, it was just the way I liked it. By the time I was done with this manna, I just wanted to take a nap inside La Pallaresa.

The yellow walls inside are full of local art work – mostly street scenes involving Barcelona as well as the establishment in some manner. I liked the fact that they weren’t using that real estate to advertise about the prizes they have won, which I am sure must be countless. The cane wooden chairs and marble topped tables are quite reminiscent of any traditional Irani joint in Mumbai. And the convivial atmosphere is similar.  
The place serves other specialities as well – such as the Crema Catalana – which is a Catalan version of Creme brulee. And another item I saw in the store window as a caramel custard surrounded by cream dips.

If you’re a dessert or chocolate lover, I don’t have to really state the obvious!

And yes, did I tell you, the weather in Barcelona was cold and it was raining heavily, before I entered the Pallaresa? Imagine, a hot chocolate and Churros in THAT weather:)

Barcelona diaries: An evening at Port Vell

Coming from Mumbai, I am a huge fan of cities by the sea or an ocean. I naturally veer towards sea faces and actively hunt out for them whenever I am in a new city. So when I was in Barcelona, I was suggested by my local friend Marta that I should walk around the Barceloneta area in my free time. Since I had no real agenda, and the cycling tour that I was looking forward to, was not happening in non-summer season, I had all the time to go explore Barcelonata.

After having had my fill of getting lost in the Barrio Gotic or the famous Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, and re-attaching my jaw – which was constantly dropping at the surprises that the Gothic Quarter’s charming alleys and squares were throwing my way – I decided to make my way to Barceloneta.

Now Marta had probably suggested Barceloneta – the beach area – which I realised in retrospect, which was on the left hand side from the ‘Barcelona’s Face’ art installation (seen above). But I ended up walking along the right hand side towards the Rambla de Mar and eventually to Port Vell, along a well paved and slightly raised pathway. This vehicle free walkway had traffic in the form of evening joggers, skateboarders, cyclists and people exploring the city on Segways. It was a bright sunny evening with lovely skies and a slight nip in the air.

The year 1992 is the inflection point for the city of Barcelona. You will constantly hear about the Barcelona ‘92 Olympics, which technically transformed Barcelona from just another local Catalan town to a world class city. The region around Port Vell which was an obsolete harbour –  used to be full of abandoned warehouses, industrial buildings and dumpyards – saw a complete transformation into an entertainment hub that it is today. It is connected to the main city, and before the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics, an urban renewal project transformed this place into a yatch basin and further development around this basin led to the formation of a wooden bridge called the Rambla de Mar.

As I was making my way across the Rambla de Mar to the edge of this walkway, I heard a loud horn – the kind that is famous in dock areas. Within a couple of minutes all the people on the bridge suddenly came to a halt. Turned out that a yatch was leaving the basin to enter the sea, and the Rambla de Mar had to make way for the same. Two minutes later the bridge reconnected and everyone passed through.

Sitting on the park benches at the very edge of the Port Vell region, I was admiring the skyscape which was playing with multiple warm hues thanks to the setting sun. You can easily spot the cable car wires which connects this area to Montjuic, a mountain which houses a museum and offers panoramic views of Barcelona. There was a funny white-coloured floating installation in the waters. It resembled a boy standing and monitoring all the revellers sitting alongside the promenade benches. On the north eastern corner I could easily spot some cruise ships and the famous W hotel, which is shaped like a sail and tends to reflect the sky thanks to the way the glass on its facade is positioned.

Port Vell is a non commercial harbour and is meant for the citizens’ entertainment. A mall by the name Maremagnum is the imposing structure which houses cafes, restaurants, shopping centres and even an IMAX theatre. I didn’t really go inside the mall, but was just exploring the charming cafes outside it, just beside the sea. The only old structures I saw in the entire area were the ornate office of the Port of Barcelona and some remnants of warehouses from before ‘92.

Sitting there, I was just wondering how underutilised the harbours in Mumbai are. Sure, Dockyard Road, Sassoon docks and many others are hubs for fisherfolk to do their daily business. Also a large part of the harbour line falls under the Indian Navy and some areas are part of oil refineries and so on.

But is that all the potential there is to the Mumbai harbour? Why can’t there be water transportation to reduce some congestion from the city? Why can’t there be a thriving culture/entertainment hub along the harbour? Ahmedabad has developed its river front area into a lovely walkway for its residents, why can’t Mumbai? Sure, Marine Drive, Worli Seaface and Bandra Bandstand have well developed and wonderfully maintained walkways. But the charm of the docks is something else.

Mumbai Port Trust could certainly make some extra buck, if only some of the sea-front areas are opened up for the city, just like it does during the Navy Week celebrations. I mean, the only time I get to see dock areas other than Ferry Wharf in Mumbai, are during the Ganpati immersions. At other times they are shut for the public or if you try entering some promenade, you have to be ready to answer a 100 odd questions. I know I am ranting, but a couple of these thoughts did pass through my mind, as I was enjoying the sunset while having a lovely bacon burger.

I felt there were certainly some lessons to be learnt there.