The Generosity of Others – Lal and his Restaurant

In the land of paella and tapas, who would have thought that we would find the best Indian restaurant in Barcelona?

The morning started out a bit grey and rainy. We were easing into our first day in Barcelona and were in the kitchen preparing to make a second pot of coffee.  Instead of the wonderful sound of coffee dripping through the coffee filter and more heavenly aroma filling the air… POOF!!  There was a loud pop, sparks flew out of the button and all the lights went out in the apartment. Uh, oh… now what? My travel buddy had not yet set up the cell phone and the apartment did not have a telephone, so what do we do?

The first thing I had to do was calm down my friend and reassure her that she wasn’t going to be liable for an electrician’s bill because I was sure that it should only be a matter of finding the breaker box and flipping a switch or replacing a fuse. That’s what usually needs to be done back in Canada when a fuse blows. Not a big deal.

Unfortunately, she was already in panic mode and could not listen to reason. It was not yet 9:00 am but the panic meter was already on high as I suggested to my friend that she go out and hunt for a pay phone, or any business that might be open and willing to let her use their telephone, to call the agency and let them know what had happened. Off she went into the pouring rain as I hunted around for a fuse box that was nowhere to be found. My friend returned 30 minutes later, soaking wet and in even more of a panic, to say that she could not find a payphone that would work (or one that she could figure out how to work), but that the Indian restaurant at the end of our street had  let her use their phone. Pacing back and forth, trying to dry off, she said that she could not get through to any of the numbers that the agency gave us.  We decided that we would go back to Swagatam for breakfast and keep trying to reach the agency. Her anxiety kept mounting as she was now on the hunt for her umbrella. Well… it’s in the bottom of your purse where you put it before you left to hunt for a telephone.

Hmmm….  still in high panic mode, possibly ultra-high and heading into the next gear, to the stratosphere.

As we made our way to the restaurant I kept reassuring her that there was no need to be anxious and that the power out was a common problem – flip a switch, change a fuse, power is restored, not a big deal. Someone from the agency will drop by, do what they have to do and everything will be taken care of by the time we get back from exploring the city.

Fortunately for us, the owner spoke English.

Swagatam means “Welcome” and Lal the owner certainly was. As we entered his restaurant, he rushed forward informing us that he had kept trying the numbers but was still unable to get through. At this point it was 9:45 am and we sat down for a cup of coffee. He regaled us with stories of when he had first arrived in Barcelona and how people had helped him out. Because of that, he always made a point of helping anyone in distress.

Good karma… pay it forward!

I now had a team mate on my side who was also trying to reassure my friend that our situation was simple and a common problem. Still unwilling to listen to reason, I asked my friend for the page that had the agency information on it and pointed out that, according to the information…  the office did not open until 10:00 am. Oh boy, more time to sit, not relax, and create even greater worse case scenarios.

In retrospect, maybe espresso was not quite the best choice of beverage for her at that moment. Maybe Lal could have added a shot of hard liquor to her coffee to calm her down… something to calm her down… anything!? Does anyone have a valium?! Anyone?!?

When we finally got through to the agency, they reassured her that the power goes off all the time. “The neighbour flips a switch somewhere and everything will be back to normal. Should be taken care of in the next, forty minutes. Don’t worry about it, not a problem. Go and explore the city.  When you get back, the power will be back on.”

Tears of relief came to my friend’s eyes as she passed the receiver back to Lal with a trembling hand. Crisis averted, panic lights and emergency alarm turned off! Now sit down before your knees buckle and you fall. I know we’ll be laughing about this by the afternoon while we’re sitting at an outdoor cafe enjoying Sangria…. a LOT of Sangria.

After thanking Lal for his generosity and helping us, we had assured him that we would definitely be back for dinner at some point before we moved on to our next destination. Whenever I travel, I like to carry a few bottles of Canadian Maple Syrup.  You just never know when it will come in handy.  If anyone deserved our entire supply, it would have to be Lal.

Swagatam – Hindi Indian Restaurant

10 Sant Agusti, 08012 Barcelona (tel: 932228226)
Open every day from 08.00-16.30 and 19.30-24.00
~Closed Sunday mornings~
The daily special for 9.85 € has 11 savoury items for you to enjoy

First, I should explain that my friend does not care for Indian cuisine. A bad experience a few years ago has made her avoid it completely. Truth be told, she is also a very picky eater but, as we looked over the menu, I reassured her that there were many other things she could try that would not be swimming in hot curry sauce. I chose a selection of items and Lal reassured me that he would make sure that nothing would be too hot for my reluctant colleague.

  • Baingan Bharta – aubergine cooked in traditional spices 7.90€
  • Mixed Grill Platter – fish, prawns, meat and chicken marinated in yogurt and spices cooked in Tandoor 14.90€
  • Steamed Basmati rice 2.50€
  • Garlic Naan 2.90€ and Mint Naan 2.90€
  • Duc de Foix, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 16.50€

Lal’s food did not disappoint. Everything was seasoned to perfection. The Grill Platter was heaped with succulent fish, prawns, lamb and chicken served on a bed of sautéed mushrooms and onions.

   

The naan bread was light and fluffy; the rice steamed to perfection and the aubergine side was a wonderful compliment to the meal. Even my friend enjoyed everything. Swagatam is not a very large restaurant (it may seat 40) and it does not have much character, but it is very clean and Lal does the utmost to make sure your meal is served quickly and with only the very best, freshest ingredients.

As more people arrived, Lal became ever more jovial and animated, zooming back and forth from the kitchen to the patrons, serving the most amazing dishes. As at September 2012, Swagatam had only been in business for 1 month but his clientele was already beginning to increase. I cannot wait to see how the restaurant evolves the next time I am fortunate to visit.

As we stood up to say our goodbyes and leave, Lal gave us yet another dish to take with us for the train ride to Madrid the next morning.  I cannot remember what it was, but it was delicious and it was excellent for breakfast the next morning with the leftover naan and rice. Some lightly spiced, creamy chicken curry that was just too delicious to wait for lunch or the train ride.

If you ever go to Barcelona and would like to try some wonderful Indian food, make sure you go to Swagatam.  You will not be disappointed.  Bring Lal a bottle of maple syrup and tell him the two Canadian women say hi!

Visit Swagatam and feel Welcomed….

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