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May 7, 2007 12:06 AM

Boquria Market: Bar Boqueria & Kiosko Universal

A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be right without spending some time at Mercat Sant Josep, otherwise known as the Boqueria. I can wander through the stall for hours. But if your mission is eating, then you have several choices. Of course Pinotxo is well regarded as the top spot in Boqueria, but it’s a small counter, and there’s always a long wait. We showed up around 10:30 am, and already found a long queue of hungry hounds waiting for a seat at the bar. Having only a short time in Barcelona doesn’t leave much time for standing in lines, so as a consolation, we found a couple empty seats at Bar Boqueria towards the rear of the market and ordered a couple simple dishes, like the grilled anchovies, and a tortilla. We weren’t looking for a showstopper, but something comfortable and recognizable to begin our day, and these were just the right thing. I commented that this seemed like the Barcelona version of a Japanese breakfast, with some grilled fish, and some kind of egg preparation. Here’s a photo of the anchovies:
These were good meaty specimen, nicely grilled, aided with an herb-olive oil mixture and lemon. Simple, fresh, and delicious. I’m not sure if I could have had a better version of this anywhere else. After this light pre-lunch meal, we decided to spend a few hours being tourists and head back to Boqueria for lunch.

The counter at Kiosko Universal (located on the far left end of the market as you enter from Las Ramblas) seats a lot of people and the wait didn’t look terrible during the late lunch hours. We were seated within 10 minutes, and found ourselves in front of a very straightforward, and not overly friendly counterman, who seemed to have many tasks around the juice machine, dessert station, as well as waiting on customers. Kiosko Universal has a 14€ (or was it 15€?) set menu and you can choose among a few items written on the chalkboard. As we noticed people enjoying a several items, I made sure to look out for those on the menu, but since everything is written in Catalan, I found it a bit difficult to decipher, but then I would have been happy with an omakase-like experience as well. We started with an order of the calderete, which was a lobster soup with some kind of barley or spelt type grain to give it an earthy texture.
I also asked for the tallarina. My only experience with the term tallarina (or a similar wording in Spanish) is for the pasta dishes you find in Peruvian restaurants, so I naturally assumed it was some kind of pasta dish. But out came a plate of small clams, which turned out to be the same clams we enjoyed at Alta Taberna Paco Meralgo.
Aha. Tallarinas are the name of the clams. And I later realized when I was looking through the photos I took around the seafood counters in the market, I actually snapped one of the tallarinas:
Just as we enjoyed them the day before for lunch, these were just as enjoyable, simply cooked and dressed with that herb-olive oil mixture.

For mains, I knew I wanted to get the chipirones (squid) that I saw circulating among many diners, and I asked our counterguy to recommend something to us. I had trouble understanding him, but after we saw how much we were enjoying our previous dishes, he mentioned a few things and I went with the first item. He described the item using the term pescado, so I naturally assumed it was going to be some kind of fish, but I suppose it refers to most kinds of sea creatures (maybe not). And our counterguy presented us with the plate of what turned out to be cigalas (or Norway lobsters, or the term he was using, escarmalà in Catalan).
This was my first time eating these, and I was pretty impressed with their sweetness and texture. It was like lobster, but the meat I thought was sweeter than the Maine lobsters I’m used to eating. These were simply and perfectly cooked a la plancha, with the aid of that now ubiquitous herb-olive oil mixture. The chipirones dish was also quite nice.
The squid was nice and tender, giving it that 2-minute cooking treatment on a hot grill or pan, and accompanied with some potatoes and that herb sauce. The little squid were gushing juices that mixed well with the herb sauce, and was perfect with the fries.

The desserts offered were of the packaged variety, and I did have something new, which was a flan like item, but seemed to be made with a grainy, slightly cheese-like (as in cottage or ricotta cheese) milk. I did enjoy this, but it was more like an introduction to a popular Catalan item you can probably find at the market, rather than something from a restaurant.

I was very pleased with our choices at Boqueria. Though I could have done more to prepare myself in the chowhoundly way to find the best of the best in the market, I think we did well to find fresh ingredients, simply prepared, and for a good value at two good venues that didn’t require us to invest too much time.

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  1. E Eto,

    I forced my friend to wait with me for 35 minutes in the rain for Kiosko Universal - we watched some of the menu del dia items get erased one by one from the board, as they ran out of items...but it was well worth the wait. The board was written in both catalan (on the left) and castellano (on the right), so we managed (we're Americans studying in Madrid) to order a big platter of seafood for two. It's been a while, so I don't remember what exactly was in there, but it was well as a plate of pulpo gallego that we ordered later on. Those chipirones look delicious!

    Kiosko has gotten some good reviews on this board, and I think half the fun of going to the Boqueria (one of my absolute favorite places) is wandering around and discovering great stalls by yourself...then again, I did check this board before going to Barcelona haha. I saw some flan being taken out of boxes while I was sitting at the bar, so I opted for dessert somewhere else - did you have crema catalana? It's kind of like a loose creme anglaise...

    Another one of my favorite meals at the Boqueria was getting 5e worth of cheese, 5e of jamon, two fresh baguettes, a bottle of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and sharing the picnic on a bench on La Rambla - everything was from a different stall, and it made for great people-watching. I miss it.

    1. E Eto,
      We ended up at Kiosko Universal after failing to be able to find Pinoxto - we were both so hungry (had flown in that morning) that we couldn't look anymore and were lured by two well positioned empty seats and the delectable looking food everyone was enjoying, even at 11AM on a saturday.

      We had the baby squid which was grilled to perfection, tender and flavorful. Also fantastic were the large langoustines (the catalan word escapes me) which were sweet and delicate. My BF described them as the best parts of both lobstermeat and shrimp combined.

      Finally, we had an order of the fresh wild mushrooms - setas, I came to find out the word - which were also grilled with leeks, garlic, and olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Really fabulous side dish.

      We found the service to be more than adequate - the counter man appreciated my efforts to speak spanish (although my knowledge of catalan is nil) and so I also did some pointing as well. He was the one who recommended the langoustines as "delicioso" and was well worth the 25 euro price tag.

      Paired perfectly with a dry, simple cava - it was a fantastic start to our weekend in Barcelona. I would highly recommend this place and will definitely come back!

      1. The escamarlans look lovely. I miss those.

        The desert sounds like 'cuajada', 'quallada' in Catalan. Was that the name?

        2 Replies
        1. re: plaerdemavida

          I don't think it was cuajada. I've had cuajada at other places in Spain, and from what I can remember, the dessert I had at Kiosko Universal came in a package the size of a single serving of pudding or yogurt, and it had a rough/grainy texture. I wish I could remember what it was.

          The cuajada I've had elsewhere looked more like this.

          1. re: E Eto

            Hmm, sounds like a prepackaged tarta de queso or another prefab dessert made with requesón or queso de burgos.

        2. Went here on a weekday early afternoon. Did not have to wait. The seafood was very fresh, simply prepared and delicious. I had the parrillada mariscos: a mixed grill of razor clams, prawns, mini clams, and squid all perfectly cook on the flat top and drizzled with a herb olive oil. Also had some of the similarly prepared wild mushrooms. Great food...simple and fresh. The quality of the ingredients were allowed to take center stage.