My first ever venture outside of the US was to Spain the summer after my first year in college.
I have had a lifelong obsession with Spain for no particular reason. I think lots of people have countries or regions they have always been fascinated with for reasons they can’t quite put their fingers on, and for me, that was Spain. I still remember the first glimpse I had as we approached–olive groves amid an arid landscape. My first week was spent on a tour of the major cities: Madrid to see the famed works of Goya and Velazquez; Sevilla for the best flamenco; Granada to admire the Moorish Alcazar; and finally Salamanca where I would live with a Spanish family for the next month. I spent my days in classes trying to pay attention to lectures on Spanish literature, and my nights dancing like it was my job. In fairness, I am pretty certain that dancing is the job of all Spaniards. No matter what night of the week it was, the clubs were always full of Spaniards until the wee hours (3…4…5 am). I have no idea how anyone actually functioned at a “real” job after dancing all night, every night.
Aside from dancing, one of my greatest memories of that time was the hot chocolate I enjoyed at cafes in my neighborhood. I remembered it being thick and creamy…so thick it was like hot pudding. Rich and delicious and the kind of hot chocolate that makes you realize what hot chocolate is supposed to be like. Not warm milk with the flavoring of chocolate. I am talking about HOT. CHOCOLATE.
After leaving Spain, I had hoped to encounter this again, in a Spanish or hispanic restaurant in the US, or even in Mexico, but no dice. After several years of searching in vain, I began to think that i had created this delicacy in my head…that the Spanish chocolate I remembered was a Shangri-La of chocolatey goodness, and that I was doomed never to taste such chocolate again.
Then in April my boyfriend took me to Barcelona for my birthday. On our 2nd day in the city, we walked up Las Ramblas to visit the famed La Boqueria market. I snapped a couple of photos of the market entrance, and noticed a coffee & hot chocolate vendor to my left, and immediately thoughts of Spanish chocolate came rushing back to me. I grabbed my beau, sidled up to the counter, and ordered two chocolates con churros. Several minutes later we were served miniature cups of HOT. CHOCOLATE.
Ahhh….it does exist! So if you have not yet had the fortune of traveling to Spain, and you love chocolate, do yourself a favor and book a trip to Barcelona. You can find the chocolate anywhere, but only in Barcelona can you enjoy it in one of the world’s greatest markets, before a day exploring the works of Miro, Gaudi, and Picasso, as well as the quirky chocolate museum. But that’s a story for another time…