In the small run down neighborhood of Barcelonta, two blocks from the Mediterranean, on a street corner, without an obvious sign to mark this gem resides Cova Fumada, the oldest fishermen's bar in the area. It's been over 200 years the Sole family have been runs this place, it opens around 11am and closes at 3pm, 1pm on the weekends, you will need to get on a non written list and hope you can get a table in less than 30 minutes. Come hungry but not starving, you will build up a healthy appetite waiting outside or at the bar, and my is it worth it.
I started eating standing up at the bar, first came the nabajas, fresh razor clams that are seared on the plancha and served with a delicate buttery juice. Second arrived the artichoke, 3 pieces of medium sized halved artichoke, perfectly fried with crispy outer leaves and a soft center that melts in your mouth, a touch of spanish paprika and just the correct amount of oil to drip down the side if your mouth. Artichoke has always been one of my favorite foods, and as I was slowly pulling off chunks of leaves and biting into their flavorful soft bottom I couldn't resist an old family tradition and was placing the half eaten leaves in a flower form, surrounding the plate. This little work of art did't go unnoticed, as the plate got picked up (brother number 1) it was presented to the crew and I received a round of applause from the kitchen stuff (Mama, head chef and two of her grandkids). La chica de las flores was now my name, and when jose maria (brother number 2) asked where I was from I also got a loud "viva Israel" from behind the bar. I smiled and raised my second glass of red wine (poured straight from the barrel) and responded: "viva espana!". Immediate silence spread in this normally chatty little room and I could hear the red hot sensation down my neck climbing up to my face. "lo siento, lo siento", I quickly apologized, "Viva Catalonia" .. not a word.. I'm counting the seconds, feeling the razor clams climbing up my throat, am I going to get thrown out? Jose maria raises his beer half way, looks at me and shouts, "eso!!!!"
I survived. What a rookie mistake…
My braided hair and flowery dress must have helped me dodge the potential disaster and I enjoyed the rest of my meal, over the next two hours at a table in the company of two Spanish men, both been living in Barcelona for over 60 years and been dining at this joint ever since they can remember.
We were treated with extra care and kept eating uninterruptedly until the front doors were shut close.
I must have tasted 10 different dishes and that was barely half the menu ..
My favorites were the whole squid, marinated with garlic and paprika, then grilled. The gambas were so juicy and soft that if i closed my eyes I might have not realized I was eating shrimps.
The sardines (and here I must admit that though I often try sardines I usually can't go crazy for them) these were crispy and salty, with a strong fishy flair that was anything but overwhelming. The bombera arrived next, It was (according to Jose-Maria) invented in this bar and since been copied by everyone else in Barcelona, its a ball of meat wrapped in a dough, battered, deep fried and served with garlic aioli and a spicy salsa, I skipped on this one, trying to avoid the red meat, but from the faces of my companions, it was delicious. it sured looked, smelled and sounded delicious. I am going to make another assumption, that the fact they have a fresh trey with roughly 30 balls come out every 10 minutes is a good sign.
What else was there? Pan con Aioli, crab salad, Mussels, more artichoke and a lot of red wine. we finished this nearly 3 hour long lunch with espresso (the men had it with cognac) and I strolled out slowly, with a full stomach and a very happy heart.
This has been my most real food experience in a long time, and it felt refreshing and relevant.
The food was simple and fresh and for me that is always the best way to eat, the seafood comes directly from the port in the morning and there is no need to cover it up, its so fresh and flavorful and is cooked perfectly.
If you get around this part of town look for number 56 on the south west corner of the plaza out side the market in Barceloneta, the name, most likely, won't get you far, but if you trust your nose you will find it, no doubt.