Friday, 23 April 2010

Week 30

This week I had my first taste of pintxos, snacks on cocktail sticks which originate from the Basque region of northern Spain ('pintxo' means 'spike' in Euskara, the language of the Basque people). They usually come in the form of slices of bread topped with chorizo, ham or cheese, and the one I had was like an exotic sausage roll, if you can imagine such a thing. Pintxos are usually left on platters at the bar, you ask for a plate and then help yourself - a bit like a wedding buffet except you don't have to dance to Come on Eileen after stuffing yourself silly with chicken drumsticks.

The buffet concept is ideal for someone like me, someone who can't leave food alone if it's there. Will has started referring to me as a 'snaffler' because sharing a packet of Doritos turns into an extreme eating contest to see who can hoover up the most orangey crisps. But in my defence, I come from a big family. As fun as dinner times are when there's seven people around the table, there's always the underlying fear that if you take your eye off the potato for just a second, someone else will have it. Usually Dad. So eating takes on a competitive element and if you can leave the table having eaten everything on your plate - and ideally off someone else's - you're a winner.

This attitude is something that Will and I have always bonded over. Neither of us really likes sharing food which is handy when you're living in a country renowned for sociable dining. Whenever I've been for tapas here or at home, I pretend to enjoy the laid-back free-for-all but in reality, I'm compiling a mental spreadsheet of who's had what and if I don't get my fair share of patatas bravas then dinner is, quite frankly, ruined.

The grand hall of the Museu Nacional de Arte Catalan

I love Barcelona’s large population of alternative types. I enjoy the unusual haircuts, massive trousers and multiple piercings of this distinctive tribe. But while non-conformism is generally a positive thing, you can go too far, and that point comes when you start eating rice cakes.

Rice cakes, for those of you who don’t know, are circles of expanded polystyrene foam which have been impregnated with farts. When you crack one in half, the farts escape, and everyone in your home or office looks about and says “eurr, have you let one go? Who’s done a fart? Who’s – ohh, false alarm. It's Jenny, she’s having a rice cake.”

I observed a horrendous example in a bar the other night, while idly watching a couple over Christina’s shoulder. The man, if you could call him that, was a particularly strong example of someone who has gone too alternative. Not content with having bought some alternative-looking shoes, he had them up on the chair, in that self-conscious way that people lounge when they want to let everyone know that they’re alternative lounging types, and he was munching on some rice cakes he’d brought from home, presumably because the bar didn’t serve anything alternative enough. Even in a smoky Spanish bar, the farty whiff of rice cake was all too detectable. The two of them were just sitting around, talking – not drinking, like proper people – while their beers sat, half-empty and ignored, on the table. In half an hour, I never saw either of them take so much as a sip. For them, the bar was nothing more than a public place in which to consume rice cakes. 

Worse was to come. When the lady went off to the loo, the bloke started industriously picking his nose, rolling the bogeys up and dropping them on the sofa and the floor. Now, I’m not above a pick, we all do it. But on a public chair? Why don’t you just smear one on my arm, you disgusting beast?
          Then came the real nightmare: when his missus returned, the hand – the minging bogey hand – returned to the bag of rice cakes. He even offered her one – mmm! a snotty fart-cake! Yes please! Shaking with disgust, I could not help but watch as she munched away on her boyfriend’s nasal detritus. “We’re leaving,” I announced to Christina, the hot tears stinging my eyes as I choked back a throatful of vomit.

We returned to the same bar last night, but my apprehension was dispelled when I discovered that the Alternatives had moved on. They were replaced by a brown labrador in a neckerchief, with whom I spent a good part of the evening.

A bag of rice cakes can cost over a pound, but contains barely a few pennies' worth of rice. If you eat rice cakes, your breath will smell of farts.


  1. Caramel flavoured ricecakes are the only acceptable and edible form of this 'snack'. I hope the labrador had better personal hygiene habits: was it a chocolate labrador? Rosie. X

  2. Week 30 and you've only just sampled pintxos?!? I thought this was cutting-edge bloggery that I'd signed up to!