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In Barcelona, 24/7 Tapas

By Robert V. Camuto
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page G01

It is absolutely fitting that the entrance to Barcelona's grand food market lies just across La Rambla from the Museu de l'Erotica, Spain's preeminent erotic museum.

La Rambla is Barcelona's carnivalesque pedestrian boulevard lined with fantastically painted mimes creating human statues alongside sellers of exotic birds, reptiles and rodents.

Juan Bayen welcomes customers at Bar Pinotxo. (Robert V. Camuto)

On the east side of La Rambla you have the temple to the flesh. On the west side is Mercat de la Boqueria, a monument to gastronomic sensuality.

I have been to many markets across Europe, but I had never seen food displayed so dramatically as in the stalls of this glass-and-steel-covered century-old market. There were mountains of ripe melons, huge avocados, miniature mangoes, striped eggplant and lipstick-purple pitaya (Vietnamese dragon fruits). Plump green olives formed perspiring heaps; schools of gleaming fish were piled on crushed ice in the market's fish rotunda; Serrano hams hung over refrigerator cases displaying tripe by the square yard next to beef tongues.

"Beauty will be edible," Salvador Dali once said, "or it will not be at all."

Dali's native coastal Catalonia, surrounding Barcelona, has for centuries drawn on seemingly incongruous ingredients from around the Mediterranean and the world to produce a cuisine that is not merely beautiful, but, it should be said, almost lewd.

And when it comes to eating, there is nothing as easy, and at the same time rewarding, as tapas -- those appetizer-size servings that beckon customers along the bars of Spain. Whether they are montados (mounds) of ham or stuffed pepper or squid stacked on a small round of bread, or small porcións (portions) of just about anything, you point, you get, you eat and you move on to the next. The origin of tapas is often debated. But it's commonly accepted that tapas were served more than 100 years ago as tidbits of food on a slice of bread -- or paper, or a saucer -- placed on top of a wine glass to keep flies out. Tapas were not traditionally popular in Barcelona, but have caught on in recent decades, where they're interpreted with Catalan flair.

There are few better places to sample tapas -- and typical Catalan food -- than at Bar Pinotxo, taking up two stalls of the Mercat de la Boqueria.

My wife and I arrived after 2 in the afternoon and waited about 15 minutes for vacancies at two of the bar's 14 metal stools.

Bar owner Juan Bayen worked behind the counter in his signature striped vest and matching bow tie, firing off the orders to the busy cooks behind him:

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