Everything you want to know about chocolate
As difficult as it was during a recent trip to Barcelona to pull my salivating jaws away from the legs of Iberico jamon, boquerones, and practically free flowing olives, I couldn't pass up sampling a bit of what the city offered in terms of chocolate. I mean Spain was responsible for bringing xocolatl from the New World back to Europe, where it evolved into the luscious treat that we know today. As a chocoholic, it was pretty much my duty to indulge here. So I did a little bit of research, grabbed a partner, and set about for a full on day of cacao.
First up, a chocoholic's dream breakfast: churros and chocolate. While heading to the Hostafrancs metro mere minutes from my apartment, I stumbled upon this ubiquitous snack. Though I was told Barcelona wasn't know for its churros, it's a common snack and easy to find. Fried cylinders of dough are served alongside a bowl of thick, barely sweetened chocolate for dipping. Though crunchy, my first churros were on the oily side, and the weak-ish chocolate reminded me of My-T-Fine pudding. Still, who can complain about a city that'll dive right in to a pot of molten chocolate first thing in the morning?
I headed down to the incredibly busy, touristy area of Las Ramblas (Liceu metro stop). I couldn't resist the cakes and pastries at Escriba (La Rambla, 83) and wolfed down a flaky, milky chocolate croissant (croissant de xocolata) that I'd happily recommend.
Off down the side streets to another cafe (or "granja"). Granja Dulcinea (Carrer Petrixol, 2, Barri Gothic) is known for chocolate and "melindres", soft lady finger cakes that are also used to dip into a cup of hot, thick chocolate.
Barcelona is rich with chocolate, with chocolate speciality shops galore. But, not surprisingly, many seem to be tourist traps and while platters of pretty chocolates entice, in the end the cheap chocolate disappoints.
It's important to know that Spain takes siesta seriously and most shops close in the afternoon. Luckily I planned my day around it and scheduled a midday break at Bar Celta Pulperia (Carrer de la Merce, 16) where some amazing octopus and tapas helped settle the cacao buzz. After, it was onwards to my favorite shop of all, and one not to be missed: Cacao Sampaka (Carrer del Consell de Cent, 292).
This paradise for chocoholics was what I was waiting for. It's a massive shop selling all sorts of chocolate related treats (liquor, chocolate bars, bon bons) with incredible attention to quality. The highlight is the chocolate cafe, where I spooned up a rich and intoxicating hot chocolate. The 80% cacao Asteca drink was dark and slightly spicy. Though probably best consumed with something to dip, I drank it down all by itself. The trio of cool drinking chocolates was also amazing: malty, passionfruit, and cocoa-y dark. Though the service seemed somewhat gruff (an across-the-board Barcelona experience that I'd been warned not to take personally) the prices are an absolute bargain.
Cacao Sampaka was tough to beat but I had to fit in one last stop—the self-titled chocolate shop of former Ferran Adria-protege, pastry chef Oriol Balaguer. The shop (Travessera de les Corts, 340) was as close to el Bulli as I'd ever get, and I had to check it out. I was expecting to find some molecular gastronomy, with chocolate potions being cooked up in a sleek, high-end shop, but the reality was the opposite. Oriol's simple, straight forward chocolate bars were some of the best chocolate I've ever had. A sublime ending to my Barcelona chocolate holiday.
About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), and available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.