Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Charming Dive

Another well kept secret of Barce-loneta's narrow streets is Can Maño. When Wee and Nuria, our friends from the barrio, told us about it, they begged me not to include it in the article I was writing at the time. It's hard enough to get a table as it is, they say. Locals don't need the extra competition.

I've never been very good at keeping secrets, unfortunately, and I can't help but share Can Maño with you, at least by way of blog. My compromise is that you'll have to find it on your own.

The truth is that Can Maño isn't for everyone, and certainly not for the average tourist. It has the look of a neighbourhood dive, right down to the flourescent lights, peeling tabletops and old school proprietor who moves from table to table at his own rhythm, occasionally with a cigarette dangling from mouth or hand. All this, however, is part of its surprising charm, a charm that emanates largely from the friendly bustle of the place: wine still flows freely from traditional porros at Can Maño; musicians enter to sound a trumpet a foot from your ear; the proprietor's daughter comes out to hand a loaf of bread to the street person at the door; and locals order from memory or from the faded list of platos combinados (mixed plates) posted on the wall.

When we first tried Can Maño, the few tables of tourists present asked for a menu, which was dutifully brought out, but we were so captivated by the dishes sailing by our heads that we ordered on the basis of "we'll have what they're having". The unbelievable oven baked mackerel and tasty grilled squid didn't disappoint. Neither did the price. The sizable mains along with a large plate of french fries, dessert (not their forte), half a bottle of wine, a soda and coffee came to 22 euros. I doubt you could do as well anywhere else in Barcelona, especially for such well prepared seafood. And, it's worth noting that at Can Maño it's not unreasonable to expect to pay considerably less--the squid, at 8 euros, was among the most expensive items on the menu.

There is one enormous drawback to eating at Can Maño, however, and it is the one hinted at by Wee and Nuria when they first told us of the place. That is that the restaurant doesn't take reservations and, at peak hours, the wait (in the street outside) can be considerable. The solution is to arrive early. By 8:30pm the place is full so it's best to go just after 8pm, an ungodly hour at which to dine by Barcelona standards, but given the number of locals in the place even at that time, a reasonable trade off for one of Can Maño's in-demand tables.

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