Breaking from the run of restaurant reviews I’ve been posting, this time I want to mention a noteworthy shop for those days when you’re doing the cooking yourself.
Barcelona’s great in that — as well as its local covered markets — it has a proper, old-fashioned greengrocer on almost every city block. This makes access to fresh fruit and vegetables extremely easy and encourages healthy eating.
Unfortunately, most of them are rather difficult to tell apart. They are all supplied by the same giant wholesalers at Mercabarna and the commoditised, fungible produce on sale — while generally of a high standard — lacks character.
El Cabàs “tot del camp” (c/ Provença, 487, 08025 Barcelona, Spain, +34 689 10 47 77 – +34 680 63 12, firstname.lastname@example.org) is very different. At first glance, it’s a greengrocer like any other; in fact its piled displays of fruit at the entrance are less artistically arranged and attractive than many.
The secret is in the magic words on the hoarding above the shop: cosecha propria — home-grown.
El Cabàs (which means ‘the basket’ in Catalan) is owned by the Ollés family. It began when the father of the family started an allotment as a hobby but it has grown to the point where five of his nine children now run El Cabàs as a full-time business. 80% of the produce sold in the Barcelona shop comes from the Ollés’s 8 hectares out towards the airport at El Prat while other items come from the smallholdings of uncles and family friends.
Their speciality is artichokes and piles of them take centre stage in the shop. While I like artichokes, they’re still a bit too fiddly for my young daughter so they remains an occasional treat. Fortunately, the Ollés family grow and sell plenty of other things that she adores: lettuces of every variety; seasonal oranges, apples and pears, all immeasurably tastier than those from big commercial crops; lemons still on their thorny stems, ready to make you swear when you pick them up; tomatoes on the vine at different stages of ripeness; a huge range of brassicas that burst with freshness and vitality; broad beans and peas in their pods direct from the field the same morning. It’s also one of the few places you can easily buy borage and other farming “weeds” that make for delicious eating.
In addition to the home-grown bounty, the gaps are filled by a well-chosen range from Mercabarna so you don’t have to make a separate trip if you decide you want some non-local bananas as well.
It’s always worth checking the back of the shop for some slightly-past-their-best bargains. These often include ripe or over-ripe tomatoes — including the sensational Raf variety — that are perfect for making tomato sauces.
The lack of middle men means that this extra quality comes at no added cost. There really is no downside here: great produce; happy, friendly staff; competitive prices and the satisfied glow of eco-smugness that comes from buying food with so few air miles.
El Cabàs is worth making a trip if you live within easy travelling distance of La Sagrada Família. If you live nearby, you really have no excuse. Go and fill your basket.