Bourdain in Spain Is Pleasure and Pain

The single best bite of food I have ever had in my life was in Spain. The most ridiculous part of this story is that I have no idea what it was. At many bars in Spain the waitress will bring a little morsel of something for the table when they deliver your drinks. My friend and I just popped this appetizer into our mouths without paying much attention… after about seven seconds we looked at each other and cracked up; it was so good, so savory and had such a perfect balance of texture and crunch and flavor that it was totally absurd. Over the years, my friend and I have talked endlessly about what this thing could have been—I think it was a marinated anchovy on a cracker. But we seriously have no idea, and it remains my favorite bite of food ever, and to me it epitomizes what makes Spain so incredible. Simple, perfect food, with an element of surprise.

I think Anthony Bourdain would say the same thing about this extraordinary country. (The Spain episode of No Reservations originally aired on August 18.) Like Tony, I am Spain crazy—I think Barcelona is the world’s greatest city. The architecture, beautiful people, the spirit and energy of the place, not to mention the food, oh, the food! It’s truly incredible.

My last trip to Spain (in 2002) did not involve a visit to El Bulli, Arzak or Mugaritz, I did not meet Albert Adria or watch one of the world’s finest chocolatiers in action. But Spain has so much to offer even without the insider access. Just a trip to Barcelona’s famed Boqueria food market is enough sensual overload to satisfy anyone’s cravings. As Tony says in this episode, the food porn in Spain is “so hardcore, so smokin’ hot,” you kind of need to take a shower afterwards. Walking the streets of Barcelona or San Sebastian induces panic: there’s too much to eat. It’s painful to have to pass up all the hole-in-the-wall spots, each of which would bring infinite pleasure! Bourdain was like a kid in a candy store the whole episode (figuratively and literally, as evidence by his tough-guy pose below in front of the totally mod chocolate easter eggs), just thrilled to be there, humbled in the hands of the world’s masters.

I think this Spain episode is Bourdain at his best—not necessarily the best episode, since nothing really goes wrong, which is always makes for entertaining television—but to watch the passion and enthusiasm of a chef and gourmand in his element is a thrill. I just wanted to see Tony pour wine all over his face from the porron! Or at least invite me along to sample some grilled caviar. I’m free and I have some frequent flyer miles available….