Entrevista para el Chicago Tribune - 2008

Fot. Joan Sánchez

Anarchy lit fuse for tasty tradition at Barcelona eatery

The writer and poet Xavier Theros in La Cova Fumada

For Christine Spolar

BARCELONA. Only one tapas in this region of Spain offers a powerful, some might say fiery, narrative of life. Only la bomba--yes, read that as "the bomb"--can be served up with a cold beer, a few cigarettes and a side of political history.

To the uninitiated, la bomba appears to be a mere potato croquette dabbed with thick homemade aioli and hot salsa. But in the dark recesses of La Cova Fumada, the tiny bar where la bomba was arguably born, an order of these urban tapas means chewing over a storied European past.

Xavier Theros is a writer, sometime poet and self-styled historian on the wonders of la bomba. Downing a plate of the freshly fried concoction one day, Theros laid out its culinary adventure with gusto.

Tapas were less of an early Barcelona delight--the wine and chunks of bread, cheese and chorizo nibbled every afternoon in other parts of Spain were not regular fare in the Catalonia region. Instead, independent-minded Catalonians had their own convivial tradition: a glass of vermouth and a plate of olives shared at local bars after church on Sunday.

But Theros remembers eating la bomba as a child, long before Barcelona was a tourist mecca. La bomba was a thrifty, stick-to-your-ribs snack with a wink. For generations, la bomba represented the wit and anachronistic spirit of a particular neighborhood in Barcelona, the hardscrabble streets known as Barceloneta.

Anarchy was a serious means of political outcry in early 20th Century Europe. Italian anarchists favored a bomb--a small, round, iron ball with a fuse on top--that proved to be a portable and effective means of violent disruption. Barcelona's combustible political movement of anarchists soon began smuggling and copying this weapon.

Barceloneta, where warrens of fishermen, laborers and political upstarts lived, was a haven for bombs and bombmakers. At one point, all of Barcelona was referred to as la rosa de fuego,or the rose of fire.

Sometime in the 1930s, the decade of Spain's bloody civil war, a barkeep known as Maria Pla pureed a few potatoes and slivers of meat, fried them in oil and whimsically added white and red sauces to conjure up a kind of fuse.

Today, Pla's grandsons Josep Maria and Magi Solé sell about 250 la bombas every day at the Smokey Cave, beginning at 8:30 every morning--along with hefty breakfast platters of grilled fish, fresh tomato, chickpea or octopus salads, grilled blood sausage and deep-fried artichokes.

The shotgun-style tavern--you can walk from front to back door in seconds--is the only old bar left in a neighborhood that has modernized at a startlingly swift pace during the last 20 years. With chalkboard menus, worn marble tables and chummy friendships, the bar at No. 56 Carrer del Baluard, is jammed any given day.

And yes, in a city of deep creative tensions, there is another bar, La Bombeta, that also claims to have made the first la bomba. But Theros, whose girth suggests he knows his Barcelona eateries, waves off all challenges to La Cova Fumada.

His great-grandfather was an anarchist. Theros hails from four generations of anarchists. The 45-year-old admits disappointment only with the latest generation: "My grandfather didn't smoke, didn't drink, woke up early and worked hard. These children today--they have a sit-in and party."

"I've been coming here since I was a boy," Theros said. "You can only get la bomba in Barcelona. And this food you aren't going to get anywhere but Barceloneta. It reflects the sense of humor of the time, the sense of humor we still have--and you're eating it where there are, still, the working-class people."

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