In the neighborhood of Sant Andreu we encounter very few city visitors wandering the cobbled streets or peering at the 19th-century two-story houses that pepper this district. Through the doors of Taverna Can Roca, we find even fewer. This is a place that can be considered muy del barrio.
What hit us when we stepped inside on a recent Saturday morning were the exuberance and noise of the busy throng sipping red wine and enthusiastically tucking into huge baguettes and Can Roca’s famed Catalan esmorzars de forquilla. These “breakfasts with a fork” are a departure from the usual coffee and pastry that Barcelonans grab to start the day.
As we propped ourselves on a bar stool for the inevitable – but short – wait, we felt the faint rumble of the subway beneath our feet and soaked up the electric atmosphere. The owner, Laura, showed us to our table and proceeded to tell us what we could choose for breakfast, as there’s no printed menu: tripe with chickpeas, stuffed or grilled pigs’ feet, cap i pota (head and leg of pork), stuffed squid…
Offal may not be our first thought for breakfast but the braised tripe with chickpeas, bathed in paprika sauce, would convince the most skeptical eater and is really worth giving a try.
Laura brought our carafe of wine – so what if it’s 11 a.m.? – as we ordered our plate of pork meatballs with cuttlefish. Less than a year ago, Laura lost her husband Josep Maria Solé Roca, who died while at work in the tavern. Roca’s grandmother first acquired the place in 1952, and his mother had passed it on to him. Josep was considered the soul of Can Roca, and, as Laura explained, “He liked a good strong breakfast to start the day and was a champion of the esmorzars de forquilla.” It is clearly still difficult for Laura to talk about her husband, but as our plate of meatballs and cuttlefish arrived, she gestured towards the wall to Josep’s portrait, watching over all the clientele.
We’re sure Josep would have smiled to see us devouring the meatballs, lightly caramelized and sitting with miniature pieces of soft, stewed cuttlefish on a mound of tender, creamy baby white beans. We dipped a crusty chunk of bread from the laden basket into the tomato sauce, sharpened and soured with a hint of vinegar, flecked with tiny peas and earthy saffron milk cap mushrooms, rovellons, which are at the height of their season at the moment. The whole dish was brought together by a dash of deep green extra-virgin olive oil and a smattering of raw garlic and parsley, which are used to finish so many Catalan dishes.
If our stomachs need easing into the morning, there’s always the half baguette sandwiches brimming with French omelet and bacon or sausages topped with a pickled green pepper or two or drizzled with parsley oil and blanketed by a generous helping of pungent Grana Padano cheese.
The wine we ordered came in a carafe, and groups might get a porrón, the traditional glass vessel with the narrow spout that can be passed round the table to ensure everyone gets a drink but no one’s lips touch the bottle. (Invariably more will end up down our clothes than in our mouths.) Yet you don’t have to finish it all; you pay only for the amount you drink. As we settled our bill, Laura returned from outside with yet another cloth bag bursting with long loaves for her hungry customers. We nodded our appreciation and thanks to Josep as we left.