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The perpetually packed Bar Mundial is one of Barcelona’s elder statesmen. It opened for business in Santa Caterina-El Born in 1914 under the name Bodega La Chispa, and was rechristened with its current name in 1925, when the Tort family took over. The place is now run by third-generation owner Paco Tort. The old bar has history, that’s for sure – even El Chispa (“Spark”), the bartender, is a 30-year veteran of the place. And what keeps people coming back to Bar Mundial are the delightful seafood tapas, classic and contemporary, that issue from the tiny kitchen.

The name of the place refers to the numerous people from all over Spain and from abroad who used to gather at the bar, both before and after the Spanish Civil War. Mundial’s walls are lined with old black-and-white photos of boxers, their gloved hands at the ready, with autographs and dedications to Paco’s grandfather, the manager for a lot of the poor but strong lads, newly arrived from the country, who got their start in the boxing ring. For many of those young boxers, the first warm food they had in the city was at Mundial and made by Paco’s grandmother.

Up until 1979, Mundial specialized in classic vermut accompaniments: pickled vegetables and conservas like tinned anchovies, tuna, cockles or even the more exotic sea urchin or dates. But since then, the bar has slowly worked its way towards its current menu of fresh seafood and tapas. Paco Tort has worked with the same supplier of fish and seafood these last 35 years, choosing specimens that come from all over the country, such as lobster from Galicia, langoustines and red prawns from Andalusia, and tellerinas and escupiñas, two types of shellfish that come from the coasts of Maresme and Menorca, respectively.

Ten years ago, Tort brought in the chef Andreu Rosillo, whose CV was full of experience at high-end restaurants, to lend a more refined touch to the kitchen. Today, Rosillo’s disciple, Joana Salinas, brings the menu up to date with the Asian flavors he loves, as in the grilled langoustines with ginger. The rhizome’s intense, full-bodied flavor perfectly complements the sweet, tender flesh of the crustacean. Salinas also adds a bit of sophistication to more traditional Mediterranean flavors, such as with the grilled cuttlefish flambé with rum, truffles and foie gras. The famous tapa of eggplant chips with goat cheese and honey has been drawing customers in since its introduction to the menu four years ago. There are also a few classics, including ensaladilla mar i muntanya, with vegetables and cuttlefish tentacles, and a salad made with tuna and piquillo peppers.

Rosillo also makes calamari a la romana, a typical dish throughout Spain. The name of the dish refers to its origins with the Portuguese Roman Jesuits, who in the 16th century were battering and frying fish and vegetables for Lent, as they had taught the Japanese during their missions in Asia (“tempura” comes from the Latin tempora ad quadragesimae, or “in Lent time” in English). The squid is sliced into rings, dipped in a mixture of flour and egg and fried in sunflower oil, whose neutral flavor allows that of the seafood to shine. Rosillo also cooks chipirones, or baby squid, the same way, giving them a light, satisfying crunch. A squeeze of lemon points up the subtle flavors of both.

Perhaps the best-loved items at Bar Mundial are the tellerinas and escupiñas. Rosillo grills them just until they’re tender and tasty, adding the one-two punch of garlic and parsley. We love to eat them accompanied by a zippy white – something refreshing, like Albariño or Verdejo.

Rosillo’s cooking is the kind we call para chuparse los dedos – finger-licking good. Or, as Tort’s grandfather might call it, a total knockout.

Editor’s Note: We are sorry to report that Bar Mundial is closed.

Published on April 18, 2014

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