Nikkei adventure continues……
I had been waiting to dine at Pakta since Spring of last year and then I finally got the opportunity a few weeks after my trip to Lima where, as I wrote in my last post, I had the chance to taste Mitsuharu Tsumura’s cuisine at Maido as I had at Mesa 18 by Nikkei master Toshiro Konishi on my previous visit to Lima. I have gotten to know a lot of the team members at various Adria restaurants over time, and so I knew Jorge Munoz, the young Peruvian chef, and others like Kyoko Li, the Japanese chef, even as they were all working on the menu for Pakta a good six months before the projected opening. The team, including Albert Adria, were honing their nigiri skills and they did perfect them as I discovered at my meal there after a year.
At Mistura I had watched Albert and Jorge demonstrate some of their plates from Pakta and I was excited about the opportunity to taste them in Barcelona.
While hanging out with the two chefs in Lima, I planned a shopping trip with Jorge to the market on the morning of my first meal at Pakta. I was curious to see how Nikkei cuisine translated in Barcelona and how many Peruvian products were actually available locally. Albert did tell me later that they were growing a number of herbs, chilies, and vegetables on the outskirts of the city.
I have been visiting the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria located in the Ciutat Vella area of Barcelona since the early 90’s and my last trip to the city was no exception. That particular morning I went on our pre-planned shopping trip at the market with my friend chef Jorge Munoz of Pakta, wondering how the products we bought would translate on to plates. Obviously the entire supplies for Pakta are not sourced from this one market, but yet there is virtually nothing that you cannot find there.
The Boqueria market off the bustling Ramblas is usually packed with tourists from the cruise ships and city tours, and navigating it is not easy at peak times, especially in the morning when the local residents are in for their daily rounds. The market that has been around since the 13th century, according to historical notes, and is now undoubtedly a tourist attraction and though you can take organized tours is more fun to discover on your own with an opportunity to sample tapas, paella, or get a cup of coffee or fresh juice and engage in occasional badinage with vendors or feisty local shoppers. The colorful displays at the main entrance of fruit and juice stalls, candy, dry fruits, nuts, and jamon are merely an introduction to what awaits inside.
As you venture further in there are separate areas selling seafood, produce, fruits, cheese,meats and of jambon, counter restaurants, and coffee bars besides a million other foods and sundries. One stop I always make is at El Quim, where if you are lucky you can nab a seat at the counter, and the razor clams prepared simply with olive oil with parsley are my must have.
The rainbow of produce from all over Europe was all around as we walked through the market and I had to control myself from touching anything. It’s a not standard protocol in markets in Europe and can result in rapid fire Spanish (French or Italian based in where you are), distinctly angry and sometimes abusive essentially telling you to get your hands off their goods.You should only point and not handle or touch anything. That is why I prefer to visit with my chef friends since the vendors know them and I can touch and smell the produce and imagine them in my kitchen back in California.
We shopped for a couple of hours till Jorge had to head back for the prep and I headed back to El Quim for a lunch at the tiny counter where the wait was already looking formidable and I was salivating for the razor clams since there were still a few hours before my dinner at Pakta. I had been at Pakta the night before but not to eat just see all my friends before going to dine at Tickets, though I did run into Ferran Adria as he was tasting some new dishes they had been working on. It is the only time I saw a subdued Sebastian Mazzola as he anxiously awaited Ferran’s verdict, and the dish evidently passed muster as I did taste it the next night.