(I’m now in Ronda with Becca, having spent the last week traveling through Andalucia, so I’m playing major catch-up. Lo siento!)
I liked Barcelona so much more than Madrid. Largely, it’s because in Catalonia, Anne and I stayed for a chunk of time with our friend Mao-Mei and her husband Isaac in Vilafranca, a small town outside of Barcelona in the heart of cava, or sparkling wine, country. And partly, it’s because I had massive culture shock coming to Spain from Mexico. After Mexico, I expected salespeople to greet me like I was a long-lost cousin, waiters to smile with approval at what I ordered, and everyone to be complimentary about my Spanish. It turns out that’s just a Latin American thing. In Madrid, until we met up with a friend of a friend who lives in Madrid, Anne and I lived in a little tourist bubble, moving silently among the madrilenos.
But being who I am, one of the big reasons I loved Barcelona was the food. Despite our morning adventures, breakfast was not Madrid’s strong suit, whereas in Barcelona, I had some of the most memorable breakfasts of my life at La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famed market.
Our first morning in Barcelona, Anne and I went straight to Pinotxo, the most famous bar/food stand in La Boqueria, which is immediately visible the moment you walk in the Ramblas gate. Juan, the owner, has been greeting locals and tourists for many years. There’s no menu, so I tried to hold off ordering for as long as possible, to see what everyone else was eating.
We got a big plate of chickpeas in a strong, olive sauce; some ham croquetas that melted away, and two little glasses of café con leche. But we were still hungry. “Could I have one of those donuts over there?” I asked.
“No, they’re not available,” the counterman said. “They’ve been reserved.”
Reserved! We inquired about their name, xuxo, pronounced “chu-cho,” Anne and I looked at each other. The solution was obvious. “Please, could we reserve donuts for tomorrow?”
“Okay, I’ll remember!”
The next day, there they were, waiting for us on top of the espresso maker. (TIP: if you get there early enough, around 9:15, there will be some unreserved donuts left, but you’ll have to move fast.) Anne and I hadn’t even really known what they were when we reserved them, knowing only that they were beautifully brown and dusted with a good quantity of granulated sugar. So imagine our surprise when we bit into them and found a lovely, light cream inside. The outer layers were as flaky and crisp as a good croissant. It was like someone had taken the idea of a Boston cream donut and made it 1000 times better. Later, when we talked to Bego, our cooking teacher about them, she nodded knowingly and said, “Yes, Pinotxo is the place to eat xuxos. You’ll see them elsewhere, but they’re not the same.”
Would it be wrong to name a child, “Xuxo”? Perhaps a dog would be better.