Rituels d’Orient Spa / Hamman

For several months the lovely Sairica Rose and I had been trying to find a time when neither of us was (a) on some work-related jaunt across the world or (b) working such crazy hours that ‘free time’ was a fond and distant memory, in order to visit the Spa/Hammam she had discovered and had decided I would love. When we finally managed to fix a date and time she inevitably came down with the lurgy, so the onerous task of accompanying me to the rather fabulous Rituels d’Orient fell to Tamsin, veteran of various spa visits across the world with me including jolly Swedes with beer in Stockholm’s Centralbadet and naked supermodels in London’s Porchester.

Rituels d’Orient Barcelona is a small and subsequently exclusive hammam experience tucked away on a side street off Pl Francis Macia…I wouldn’t have known about it had it not been recommended by a friend, but it is quite the find. On arriving at the fairly unassuming shopfront you are buzzed in by one of their charming staff, and as the numbers are limited per 2-hour ‘turno’ if like us you arrive early you can sit on the be-cushioned bench provided and read about hammans in different countries and cultures all over the world, or peruse and play with the gorgeous and mostly organic La Sultana de Saba products on display.

On being summoned into the hammam area at the start of our ‘turno’ the attendant confided to us that as it was 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon there was no-one else booked in and we would be just the two of us in our own private hammam session – how fabulous! So top tip…Wednesday afternoons, or indeed just call or email to ask about which sessions are the quietest. As it was a ‘women only’ session (the website lists times for mixed and single-sex sessions) we went sans cossies, and were given a sarong-type thing to lie on, as well as a lovely big fluffy robe, which we left on the hooks provided in the small antechamber after having the hammam process explained to us.

There is one main room at 37 degrees and 80% humidity, with heated stone benches and platforms to relax on, a chilled pool (although perhaps not chilled enough for Tamsin, the only person I know who swims lengths in the 15 degree C plunge pool) and a great ‘rain’ shower with a huge brass showerhead….often in spas these are freezing cold but this one was perfect for wusses like me as it had hot and cold taps. Then there is a 42 degree, 100% humidity proper steam room…remember not to take your complementary bottle of water in with you as 40 degree water in a plastic bottle is fairly grim.

With the ‘Rituel’ we were given around 40 mins to just natter and laze around on the hot stone platforms with the occasional foray into the steam room and shower/dip to regulate our body temperature before my favourite bit, when the assistants summoned us both into the side room with two marble tables where we lay and groaned gently with pleasure as we were soaped and then fearsomely scrubbed from head to toe. There are few things quite as satisfying as the sensation of having your top few layers of epidermis and the city-grot that resides therein removed by someone with a glove essentially made from fine-grain sandpaper. Mmmmmmmmm.

After the scrub we were sent back to the main room to relax again and to marvel over our shiny new clean skin for around 20 mins before being summoned for a massage…a short 20 minute massage that was very relaxing, although if like me you prefer your massage to be quite firm you should ask for this beforehand as the default seems to be a rather gentle stroking.

Finally there is a beautiful relaxation area where we were brought mint tea and little pastries to bring up our blood pressure/sugar…as the changing rooms/shower area is quite small this is perfect if you are in a group as you can relax and shower/change in shifts before emerging blinking into the Barcelona sunlight ready for a couple of cocktails to undo all that lovely de-toxing…

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Locally brewed beer in Gracia

We like beer. We like people who make beer. Which is why we like La Cervesera Artesana in Gracia, one of the few microbreweries in Barcelona.

It’s a little place, tucked away on a sidestreet off Corsega, but always seems busy, even when I’m not just there to watch the football, and rightly so. The  head brewer has been brewing for 10 years, and all the staff are well-informed about their products and happy to recommend and even provide tasters if you are not sure what to go for.

As well as the beer there is an assortment of tapas ranging from the bar-food standards croquetas and chicken drumsticks to the slightly more alarming (for us anglo-saxon types) ‘capi pota’ and callos (tripe).

There are various styles of beer. Dr DTS favours the honey beer while I prefer the more straightforward Toasted (IPA where I stands for Iberia) or the Rubia. Rather splendidly it’s brewed onsite so you can peer through the windows at the kettles where the beer is percolating away (or fermenting, or whatever the techincal term is!):

Given the pre-ponderance of mass-produced, chemically beers in Barcelona it’s a real joy to see a microbrewery doing so well – show them some love!

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The best Xmas presents ever!

While it’s too early to give away what everyone is getting this year, if anyone is stuck about what to give friends and family for Xmas / Reyes / other suitable festive celebration this year, here is my top tip based on last year’s success:

Make and give everyone *hand made chocolate truffles*!!

All the ingredients can be bought from the 3 shops in Sant Pere and the Born mentioned in previous articles, and you probably have similar shops in your own barrio. This recipe is from Delia Smith and is super super easy:

Ingredients
Basic truffle mixture:
150 g very best quality dark chocolate (at least 75 per cent cocoa solids) (You can get this, like nmost of the ingredients, in all the shops mentioned in the blog so far)
150 ml thick double cream
25 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons rum or brandy (Try the fair trade versions in the Xarxa Consum)
1 level tablespoon Greek yoghurt

For the plain truffles:
1 level dessertspoon cocoa powder

For the ginger truffles:
20 g preserved ginger, very finely chopped, plus some extra cut into small pieces (this is definitely available in ‘Be Organic’)

For the toasted almond truffles:
25 g flaked almonds, very finely chopped and well toasted

For the chocolate-coated truffles:
50 g dark chocolate (at least 75 per cent cocoa solids)
a little cocoa for dusting

Method

For the basic truffle mixture, break the chocolate into bits until it looks granular, like sugar. Now(If you have a food processor then you can use this, but I did it by hand). Put it in a heatproof bowl and steam this over water in a saucepan – bain marie style – until it melts. You can stir it to help it along.

Next place the cream, butter and rum or brandy in a small saucepan and bring these to simmering point.

Add the two liquids together bit by bit until you have a smooth, blended mixture. Now add the yoghurt and stir again for a few seconds. Next transfer the mixture, which will be very liquid at this stage, into a bowl, allow it to get quite cold, then cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Don’t worry: it will thicken up after several hours.

Next day divide the mixture equally among four small bowls, and keep each one in the fridge until you need it. Then proceed with the following to make four different varieties. Make sure you have all the little paper cases opened out ready before your hands get all chocolatey!
Plain Truffles
For these, you simply sift 1 level dessertspoon of cocoa powder on to a flat plate, then take heaped half teaspoons of the first batch of truffle mixture and either dust each one straight away all over, which gives the truffle a rough, rock-like appearance, or dust your hands in cocoa and roll each piece into a ball and then roll it in the cocoa powder if you like a smoother look. Place it immediately into a paper case. Obviously the less handling the better as the warmth of your hands melts the chocolate.

If – like me – you have little hot hands, you may find you need to run them under the cold tap or stick them in the freezer for a few seconds between every few truffle-rollings so the chocolate doesn’t end up more on your hands than in the truffles.

Ginger truffles
Mix the finely chopped ginger into the second batch of truffle mixture using a fork, then proceed as above, taking small pieces, rolling or not (as you wish), and dusting with cocoa powder before transferring each one to a paper case. (These are my favourites!).

Toasted almond truffles
Sprinkle the very finely chopped toasted almond flakes on a flat plate, take half a teaspoonful of the third batch of truffle mixture and roll it round in the nuts, pressing them to form an outer coating.

Chocolate-coated truffles
For these you need to set the chocolate in a bowl over some hot but not boiling water and allow it to melt until it becomes liquid, then remove the pan from the heat. Now spread some silicone / greaseproof paper on a flat surface and, dusting your hands with cocoa, roll each truffle into a little ball. Using two flat skewers, one to spike the truffle and one to manoeuvre it, dip each truffle in the chocolate so that it gets a thin coating and then quickly transfer it to the paper. If the chocolate begins to thicken replace the pan on the heat so that it will liquefy again. Leave the coated truffles to set completely then, using a palette knife, quickly transfer them into their waiting paper cases.

Now arrange all the truffles in a box or boxes and cover. Keep them refrigerated and eat within three days. Alternatively, truffles are ideal for freezing.

Ta daaaaaaa! Your friends and family will be so impressed!

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Call Valls – Organic Fruit Products from Catalunya and Beyond

Almost all the shops I have mentioned so far stock the ‘Cal Valls‘ range of fruit juices. I’ve tried a few – the Mandarina in particular is superb – so I thought I’d try and find out more about them:


Cal Valls is a family business – they have been farming organically since the 1980s, making them pioneers not only in Catalunya but in all Spain, and they are certified organic by the ‘Consell Català de la Producció Agrària Ecològica’.

They have their own farm in northern Catalunya although they also buy in raw materials – mainly fruit – from other organic suppliers, particularly in the south of Spain where the growing conditions for certain fruits are more suitable. The production and packaging is all done at their facilities in Vilanova de Bellpuig.

The website http://www.calvalls.com is really informative – it appears in Catalan, Spanish and English – so I recommend you have a look, and I recommend even more strongly that you try their products as they are yummy!

I recently noticed that Buenas Migas are selling small bottles of Cal Valls juices; the bottles I have seen in shops are 1-litre size and priced between 2.50 and 3.50 euros, so not cheap…more along the lines of buying a carton of Tropicana rather than a tetrabrik of Dia/Eroski el cheapo OJ.

I rather like the fact that the juices are sold in glass bottles instead of cartons – however this does make your shopping rather heavy, so consider taking advantage of the delivery service at Be Organic! Then don’t forget to recycle them.

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More ‘friendly’ cleaning products:

I wrote about the fabulous Lympha brand of eco-friendly, fair trade cleaning products here, however more recently while researching the post on local independent shops selling ethical products I discovered that my most local of locals actually stocks a different brand – ‘Sonett’.

Sonnett are a Germany-based brand. They don’t have their own distribution network so they work with local partners. In Spain they have an on-line partner Bio-Bio, although there is no list of retail stockists – you just have to check out what your local shop sells, and ask them about it. In the UK they work with Greenfibres, a West Country UK-based company that otherwise sells a range of fabrics and fabric-based products using organic and fair-trade textiles.

The Sonett range is really broad, with laundry detergents, household cleaning products, soaps and even dishwasher detergents. Their approach is ‘modular’ in that you buy laundry-detergent, softener and whitening agents separately – this allows you to combine doses at the amounts you need rather than the quantities put together by the manufacturer. A clever idea if you don’t mind taking the 10 seconds extra to consult the recommended dosage chart and add your ingredients accordingly!

Sonett laundry detergent on it’s own has worked for me so far on mixed, lightly soiled laundry. It is runny not gloopy, so be careful when pouring. It has a faint herby smell…rosemary or lavender or something; they also do an entire ‘neutral’, scent-free range which I intend to try out on Dr DTS. I’m also planning to experiment with the whitening agents later this week, on some of my white clothes that are distinctly yellow-stained through a mixture of dirt, suncream and sweat. Gotta love those Barcelona summers!

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Eggs Update!

Happy Eggs are now available in Caprabo – look for ‘Ous Roig’ and/or ‘Ous de Pages’.

You can read (in Spanish and Catalan) about the happy hens and the ‘ruta del huevo’ here:

This is a follow-up to the original article about the difficulties of finding free range eggs in Barcelona.

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Local Shops for Local People – Sant Pere and the Born #3 – ‘Granola’

This little shop – Granola – is on the Placa St Pere, just opposite Mescladis and round the corner from the Xarxa Consum.

This is where I first discovered Lavera toothpaste, so I have a bit of a soft spot for it. Although it’s only a little shop, they have a decent range of packet ‘dry’ goods and a small refrigerated section. Their focus seems to be health and beauty products though, and they stock a number of well-known brands such as Dr Hauschka as well as several I hadn’t previously heard of.

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