Mi Casa es su Bahay

Did you know that Barcelona is home to over fifty thousand Filipino immigrants?

We didn’t. Until we did..

High off our spontaneous reservations for 41 Grados, we started off towards our apartment, eyes open and noses flaring. Per our MO, we didn’t have an exact direction in mind, but we were greeted with a sandwich board in the middle of the sidewalk that brought us to a halt.

Spanish took a sudden backseat as it wasn’t necessary to understand the sign before us: “Lumpia, pancit, halo-halo”.

Like the uncontrollable draw towards the dance floor that the “Todo Todo” demands at family events, we moved seamlessly inside the tiny restaurant, “Myramar 2″, with nothing but complete trust in our feet.

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The interior felt like the Tropical Hut, Fil-Am, or Aling Nita’s back in New Jersey. Basic, linoleum floors, TFC on the television, and the omnipresent odor of fried pork.

Hungry for some uber-familiar snack food, we ordered two types of lumpia: vegetable and shanghai along with some San Miguel (how could we not?). The owner also convinced us (it didn’t take much) to finish off our merienda with some halo-halo.

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We chatted with her between crunchy bites of “home” and swigs of “sweet home” as she told us about the ever growing Filipino population in Barcelona and that many of them live in the nearby neighborhood of El Raval.

Feeling very satisfied, we continued on our way and as luck (or the native blood in the veins) would have it, within an hour we were in the middle of Barcelona’s Filipino Town.

We didn’t just find streets filled with brown people and more Filipino restaurants (including the original “Myramar”). We stumbled upon the SIPAG & NABA of Barcelona—a tried and true, Filipino basketball league. We’re talking custom jerseys and color coordination in swarms.

This place was legit.

We were so comfortable, safe and content to just watch our people engage in friendly competition. Even the tikes along the sidelines were playing their own game of football (the real kind, sorry USA).

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The air was filled with a mix of Tagalog, English and Spanish. We went from understanding completely to moderately understanding to having no idea what was going on. Trilingual fail shrouded in overwhelming amusement.

Throughout our travels we’ve mystified many locals because, well, Filipinos, specifically Filipino-Americans are not seen as much as our lighter skinned compatriots in the places we’ve visited. We were greeted with “konichiwa”, “ni hao”, and the occasional “hola”! (not just in Spain, of course). When we’ve told people we’re Filipino while speaking perfect English, they didn’t believe us. For many, it blew their minds. While this did come with some degree of frustration—constantly correcting how everyone identified us—it was plenty entertaining to baffle the masses.

Here in Barcelona, there was no question and no joking—we were Filipino and we were home.

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Third Times a Carm

If so much goodness could come from such tight and informal quarters of the Bocqueria, we were dying to indulge in some of the highest quality preparation as well. We were particularly curious about the culinary conquests of the infamous Adria brothers. Anthony Bourdain has featured El Bulli twice on No Reservations and it is no surprise that the popularity of this Michelin 3-star restaurant has managed to maintain quite a buzz despite its closing in the summer of 2011.

We had heard of  Tickets, a tapas bar featuring Catalonian cuisine brought to life by the genius minds of Ferran and Albert. However, securing a reservation proved to be more difficult than we thought. It was required to have at least three months lead time and all attempts to express interest in filling any last minute cancellations were somewhat lost in translation over the phone. To further confound the situation, there was talk of a cocktail bar named 41 Grados, which was supposedly next door to Tickets and had a limited seating dinner by the famed chefs as well. So, after opening Pandora’s box in the Bocqueria, we set out to find their location and see if we’d have any luck sorting it all out in person and finagling a time slot.

We spent about fifteen minutes ogling at the restaurant fronts from the nearby benches. They were, in fact, two separate establishments right next door to each other: Tickets, decorated in a carnival like aesthetic and 41 Grados shrouded in a mysteriously tinted glass, leaving the contents of its interior to the imagination. Finally, we mustered the courage to plead our case for inclusion. Sadly, we reached a couple of dead ends as the front of Tickets was guarded by a lady decked in old fashioned ticket booth attire and the door to 41 Grados was locked. Intimidation wrapped in disappointment. Luckily indeed three times a charm as Carmela managed to negotiate a reservation for three just a mere three nights later.  We are still in thankful disbelief that our relentlessness paid off!!

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