Review: Jai-Ca, Barcelona Spain

After our successful venture into tapas-dining in Sevilla at Duo Tapas, K and I were keen to make the most of our time in Barcelona and enjoy more tapas meals. Unfortunately, he was struck down with the flu during our time so we spent time recuperating at home and didn’t head out as much as we would have liked. Still, we managed to squeeze in a few good meals, and our tapas lunch at Jai-Ca in the Barceloneta district definitely was a highlight!

Recommended by our Airbnb host as one of his favourite restaurants in Barcelona, it came with a caveat – “you like seafood right?” Jai-Ca is known as a tapas restaurant that specialises in seafood, as the owner comes from a family of fishermen – a lot of their dishes come directly from the family fishing boat!

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We started our meal with a few of the complimentary nibblies from the kitchen – a small selection of olives, gherkins and carrots pickled in a chilli sauce. The chilli was very subtle, but a nice addition as we hadn’t experienced many chilli flavours in our travels as it just doesn’t seem to be used as often in French and Spanish cuisine.

Cod Fritters, 5.50 Euro
Cod Fritters, 5.50 Euro

The first tapas dish to come to our table was fresh fried Cod Fritters – and it’s nice to see the cooks in the open kitchen preparing your tapas right in front of your eyes! These fritters had a lovely crispy batter and a soft centre, not unlike a croqueta but with a more rustic appearance. The cod mix was very well herbed and just that little bit cheesy as well. Absolutely delicious!

Spanish omelette, 3.80 Euro
Spanish omelette, 3.80 Euro

The Spanish Omelette was delivered with two slices of Barcelona’s famous tomato bread – basically just baguette slices soaked in a tomato salsa sauce. The omelette was really more like a slice of cake rather than a traditional flat omelette. Surprisingly, the multiple layers of thinly sliced potato all cooked through evenly without some of the mushy or overcooked parts that you might reasonably expect. A warning that the omelette is very eggy though, which may not suit all tastes.

Grilled squid, 4.80 Euro
Grilled squid, 4.80 Euro

The large grill with its dancing flames is a real highlight in the open kitchen. We ordered the Grilled Squid, and I completely fell in love with the delicate smoky charring on the tender squid. It’s with dishes like this that you truly begin to understand why seafood is the highlight of Jai-Ca, as this was absolutely the freshest squid you could find anywhere in Barcelona. The super tender and creamy flesh on the body required almost required no chewing whatsoever, while the squid tentacles were nice and crispy and crunchy. A winning dish all around.

Anchovy with fried fishbone, 2.40 Euro
Anchovy with fried fishbone, 2.40 Euro

The next dish we ordered was the Anchovy with Fried Fishbone, apparently the house specialty. While the two slices of anchovy were just as salty as you would imagine (it’s not for everyone!), the fish bones were absolutely delicious. Fried in a thin herbed and salted batter, these bones were super crunchy and tasty. I’m only disappointed that there were so few fishbones offered in the dish, as I could have easily eaten it all by myself without sharing with K!

Grilled prawns, 4 Euro
Grilled prawns, 4 Euro

We finished off our meal with another dish from the grill – two plump and juicy Grilled Prawns. With a bit of lemon squeezed over the fish, the marinated prawns were just delicious, bursting in your mouth with a strong ocean flavour. I’m not normally a fan of sucking prawn heads, but I did in this case as they were so fresh that you didn’t get that dirty savoury flavour that you would normally get with prawn heads.

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Jai-Ca serves up some amazing tapas dishes. It’s not the cheapest restaurant around by any means, and you’ll find many other tapas restaurants for almost half the price. Don’t cheap out though – go to Jai-Ca because you will know for sure that the seafood you’re eating is by far the freshest you will find anywhere in Barcelona. I’d definitely go back the next time I’m in Barcelona!

Jai-Ca is located at 13 Carrer de Ginebra, Barcelona.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Sevilla and Granada, Spain, October 2015

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

We had such little time in Sevilla and Granada (only three nights total!) that I feel almost embarrassed in writing this entry. There’s so much more to see and explore in the Andalusia region of Spain that we certainly barely even touched even half of what these cities have to offer. That I think, would have to wait until a future trip – perhaps a month-long driving excursion across southern Spain?

I loved our stay in these cities, more so than our stay in Madrid. Part of this was increased confidence in our ability to make ourselves understood in our limited Spanish! We’d gotten comfortable with the idea of ordering tapas for meals, and had a great meal at Duo Tapas in Seville, a modern tapas restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host. We also had a more traditional tapas meal in the centre of town (photos in the below gallery) which I can’t give a glowing review of – I think I prefer modern interpretations of tapas more so than the traditional!

In Granada, we lucked out by finding some genuine nun cookies, and finished with a simple dinner at a local restaurant – salad and baked potato. Interestingly, many of the restaurants in Granada seem to be Middle Eastern or North African in nature – a reflection perhaps on the city’s long history of Muslim (I hesitate to use the word Moorish, which I’m uncomfortable with!) influence.

This influence can be seen throughout both cities, not just in the restaurants available but also in the architecture and design. The Alhambra in Granada is of course the famous example of royal palaces in the Arabic style in Spain, but as I was unable to buy tickets to enter (note to others – if you want to go, buy your tickets online weeks in advance, not three days before!), we settled for going to the Alcazar in Seville which is still impressive but not on the same scale.

The tiling on the streets and buildings, the design of buildings around a central courtyard – all these are remnants of the Muslim influence and rule of this area dating back almost a millennium. Visiting Sevilla and Granada is almost what I would imagine visiting Morocco to be like – but I’ll let you know for sure after February when we’ve been to Morocco!

One particular highlight for me was visiting the Cathedral and Royal Tombs in Granada. I’d read a lot about Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon in the past, initially prompted by my interest in the English Tudors and Katharine of Aragon, their daughter. To see the actual effigies, tombs, and lead coffins of these two great, though religiously fanatical and absolutely xenophobic and prejudiced, rulers was quite a thrill.

So in summary, Sevilla and Granada have a bit to offer everyone. For the history nuts like me – fantastic insights into the past of both Arabic and Catholic rulers. For those who like to eat – some innovative modern tapas restaurants. For those who love to party – a late night bar and restaurant drinking culture, with some bars featuring signature flamenco shows that don’t start until midnight! I can’t wait to return to Andalusia in the future for a longer stay.

Finding Nun Cookies in Granada, Spain

My quest for ‘nun cookies’ first started in Madrid, where K and I spent a few hours trying to find the hidden convent where cloistered nuns sell home-made sweets to the public through a turntable. We were out of luck – once we managed to find the convent, there was a sign posted on the door announcing that they were sold out and wouldn’t have more sweets for a few days.

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Imagine my delight when we stumbled across a nondescript sign next to the Convento de San Bernardo on Granada’s famous Carrera del Darro, pointing up the small alleyway of Calle Gloria, stating “sweet sales”. Heading to number 2 Calle Gloria, we then saw this sign posted next to the doorway – vente de patisseries, sweets sale.

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Finally, I was going to get my nun cookies! But first, I wanted to make sure that I was ordering the right thing, and luckily they had information pinned up on the door of the sales turntable. For the record, you can buy (in any quantity you want):

  • Rosquitos de anis (10 Euro/kilo)
  • Pastas de almendra (12 Euro/kilo)
  • Pasta de the (12 Euro/kilo)
  • Hojaldrines (10 Euro/kilo)
  • Nevaditas (16 Euro/kilo)
  • Plum cake (4.60 Euro per unit)

Or, if you’re not sure about any of the above, you can do what we did and just buy the ‘Cajas surtidas’, or a mixed assortment. A half kilo will set you back 6.50 Euro, or a full kilo will set you back 13 Euro. They also sell home-made wines, but I decided to give that a miss!

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To order your cookies, you need to:

  1. Ring the nearby bell, and wait for an answer
  2. When someone answers, say “Quiero comprar dulces” (I want to buy candy)
  3. Wait until a Sister comes to the turntable and tell her what you want

This is the interesting part – while the Sisters are supposed to cloistered and you’re not supposed to see them, the Sister who came to the turntable for me was very interested in opening up a little window to see who I was, and what I wanted. I’ve been told that they won’t do that if it’s a man who’s buying the candy, but as I was the one buying (K made sure to wait outside so there wouldn’t be any awkward situations), I think the Sister wanted to see who was speaking Spanish so terribly!

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After I put in my order (half a kilo of assorted candy/cookies), the Sister went away briefly to pack up my order before putting it through the turntable for me. The box was marked with the title the Monastero de San Bernardo, rather than Convento de San Bernardo, as I believe that the monks and the nuns live in the same set of buildings, but separated.

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And here we have the assorted cookies! K particularly liked the anise-flavoured cookies, but I liked the powdered-sugar hojaldrines which was particularly delicious with its layers of pastry.

There’s may be some ethical issues at play here – K asked me whether I was comfortable spending money towards the Catholic Church when we’re both staunch atheists. It did make me stop and think, and I decided that I could be comfortable with it as the money went towards the expenses of cloistered nuns, as opposed to directly to the coffers of the Catholic Church with the aim of spreading religious beliefs.

So there you have it – unique Spanish treats, made for you by (not quite) cloistered nuns! If you miss out on the nun cookies in a big city like Madrid, you can always go to Granada for them instead.

The Convento de San Bernardo is located at 2 Calle Gloria, Granada.