The Flavour of the Origins




Yes, it’s been a long time and it’s a long story but…

A few months ago I asked my mate Simpson to write about menu’s del dia for Spanish Sauce, but he declined saying he was no longer a menu man. Although it seems I have been living here forever, when I first arrived I met Simpson and he turned my menu del dia hobby into a passion. The menu del dia is the fixed-price lunchtime menu offered by eateries all over Spain. If you are on any sort of a budget you HAVE to take advantage, but this great institution comes in all shapes, sizes and flavours and Simpson is blessed with a veritable Sherlock Holmesian ability to sniff out the worthy ones from amongst the flotsam and jetsam of midday culinary offerings.

Now me and Simpson bicker constantly about everything, but I’m not the only menu lover who takes note when the maestro allows us mere mortals to share The Knowledge. There are many of us who are happy to traipse from one side of Barcelona to another when the man announces that “today is Thursday and toca codillos al horno in the Najera.”Don’t get in our way, because we have appetite and are going to get there By Any Means Necessary.

Beacuse another of Simpson’s abillities is Instant Menu Memory – you can consult him on where to get the best lentejas on a Monday, where the best portions are served and the best place to go depending on where you are. He led me on a merry trail around BCN as my midriff widened and plans were hatched to somehow fund a project called “Pinchen and Simpson Eat Spain”.

Yesterday, out of the blue as is his wont, he called and asked if I was interested in a piece for this blog. It arrived at 1:57 this morning and I read it on the iPhone in bed. As I started putting the post together I checked out the restaurant on Google and realised that it was the kind of place that I would have dismissed instantly, the kind of place that only my trust in Simpson would make me eat in. It is with great pleasure then that I present what will hopefully be the first of many posts by the menu Man. Bugger the Michelin Guide, this is the Simpson guide:

Look, this might take a while………..
Is this a review for a restaurant, a way of eating, how to choose an eaterie…..? Nationalism & cookery, discuss!

This is a tricky time of the year to select what to buy, what to knock up, where to eat and indeed what to choose once you get there.
Autumn, the fall, great time for ingredients and even greater time for getting into a quandry with a sweaty menu in your mitts.
It’s the middle of one season, but it’s unseasonable weather………. do i go hot, do i go cold, is it time to opt for soups, or are salad days back again?
You tell me, ‘cos i don’t know.      

There we were, perusing the menus placed outside Barcelona’s eateries, i was already rueing my – is it conservative or liberal? – choice of layers (when it’s warm & you’ve put on too many, i mean) which didn’t exactly endear me to any of the places that had soups, habas a la Catalana (broad-beans in a sauce and a winter staple in my book) and salads all vying for a place in the list of starters.

Is there not a halfway house? That is to say, some autumnal or spring dishes which could help get punters out of said menu quandry.

There are plenty of seasonal ingedients that abound at the minute: squash, pumpkin, sweet-potato, chestnuts. But do they make it onto a bog-standard Barcelonan menu? Do they buggery. You see, that’s what i want, a bog-standard 10-12 euro menu with seasonal stuff that’s good and plentiful, at the moment, and reasonably-priced.

Then, right in the ultra-touristy and uber-trendy Borne i clapped eyes on a place that i’ve seen reviewed somewhere, no-smoking inside – buttons were already getting pressed – and on its list of seasonal starters was a pumpkin & date soup. La Llavor dels Origens was packed, but there was table available in 5-10 minutes, and the waitress whose accent was heavy French was friendly.
That gave my pregnant lunching-companion and i time to visit the church opposite – her choice not mine – but it was shut –  the priest’s choice not ours, i bet he was tucking into something seasonal as well. This actually played into our hands as while walking around we picked up a summer food-magazine placed outside by the restaurant for people to take, and clocked that there are two sections to the place. (One of them where they keep the bottles, and very nice it looked too).

We were seated in the part which looks out onto the Passeig del Borne and the church, more natural light but the decor was no great shakes. That hardly mattered as the place-mats contain details of the seasonal dishes while the magazine is in fact a menu containing all of the information you might require about their food, drinks and Catalan cuisine en general.

All dishes are well-described, with information on its origin and ingredients, with much, much more besides. If only more places could do such a thing, it would certainly make solo-dining a less boring experience. As the “Tardor” edition was their 11th number, at four editions per calendar-year, that tells me even with my sketchy mathematical knowledge that “Origens” (it’s the biggest word of the name printed on the mag’s frontpage) is one season off its third birthday.
Another foible i have – it’s a long list as anyone who has eaten out with me can attest – is where starters end and main courses begin. I’m a man who likes to mix & match; and again the place obliges so that all dishes are more-or-less the same size and are served, at least in our case, at the same time.      

This is what we had:
She: A spinach-dish (medieval) with bacon, raisins, pinenuts, cottage-cheese and almond-dust; A stuffed-apple of minced pork and beef, lemon-peel, sugar, cinnamon, a touch of egg and a “carquinyoli” biscuit-powder (Empordà).
He/i: Vegetable-stuffed aubergine (general Catalan); lamb in honey & rosemary sauce. i was also pleased that my favourite local-beer (A K Damm) is stocked, i cannot comment on the wines but a lot of variety was stocked and there is a mound of info on them in the magazine.

My companion’s apple dish was one of the best things i’ve ever eaten and consequently was tithed extensively by my greedy fork & remnants of bread. i told the waitress so, who told the Head-Chef which resulted in a conversation via the serving-hatch, which i am wont to do when so moved – i even moaned about my main dish, that it lacked a little something! That little something was probably just of simple solution like being hotter or just more, or maybe it was just that i was sore as SHE had got the best dish.

Total price, 35 euros, and i shall recommend it to anyone who is trapped in the tourist-hinterland of the gothic quarter. i like the idea of a place espousing local traditions and dishes in the nightmare of the false ethnic, cod pizza & pasta and ubiquitous Basque tapas-bars that abound wherever tourist and his & her money abound.  

Give me nationalism over that any time, at least it has a connection to the soil and its food. 








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