While many businesses are still waking up to the volatility of tourism in Barcelona, one entrepreneurial couple dared to place their future in the hands of the local community instead. Say hello to Nyamnyam, an organisation which harnesses food and art in Barcelona to open conversation among locals. Today it’s flourishing as a multifaceted cultural association with gastronomy and human connection at its core.
Back in 2012, Ariadna Rodríguez, her partner Iñaki Alvarez and their baby daughter moved from Barcelona’s bohemian Gracia district to the relatively unexplored industrial barrio of Poblenou. Aware of the lack of opportunities for creative professionals, they decided to try something new. “We wrote down a list of our transferrable skills and agreed on cooking almost immediately,” Ariadna tells me. The entrepreneurial couple christened their modest studio and living space Espai Nyamnyam and debuted a weekly lunch club called Al buit (Into the void, or Until it’s gone).
After crafting a menu based on “zero-preservative, zero-kilometre” principles, they uploaded images of each meal onto the website – slithers of blushing steak, a velvety mushroom fideuá (a pasta version of Paella) beetroot soup or aromatic salmon – for attendees to choose two dishes at the crisis-busting cost of 7.50€.
We soon realised that food was an excuse to open dialogue with people around us. Breaking bread is a democratising element, a conversation starter.
The concept was an immediate success. “We soon realised that food was just an excuse to open dialogue with people around us”, Ariadna tells me. “Breaking bread is a democratising element, a conversation starter.” That’s when Ariadna and Iñaki decided to harness their creative backgrounds in visual arts, performance and music by transforming Espai Nyamnyam into a cultural centre that would go beyond sociable lunches.
EverythiNG i LIKE IS ILLEGAL, IMMORAL OR FATTENING
Today, the couple host a gamut of workshops focusing on their love of art and gastronomy. Artists use Al buit lunches as a platform to share their creations. They also tailor the structure of Nyamnyam’s leitmotif, Todo lo que me gusta es ilegal, inmoral o engorda (“Everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening”) to their work.
Artists use Espai Nyamnyam as their working studio for a month, cohabiting the space with Ariadna and Iñaki and working in cahoots with Nyamnyam’s other projects – workshops for kids and adults, fanzines and cooking classes.
It’s Wednesday and the kitchen island is marooned in a forest of leafy greens, beans and brassicas. Twenty kilometres away, Aurora del Camp delivers eighty kilos of organic produce to Nyamnyam every week, enough to feed the project’s growing appetite while providing an abundant supply of vegetables to the local community. A stream of friends, neighbours and socios trickles through to collect crates of muddy vegetables.
Ariadna and Iñaki craft the menu around whatever’s been uprooted at the farm, aligning Nyamnyam with the seasons in a way you’d miss going to the supermarket. One week, Aurora harvested a glut of basil, leading to several new pesto recipes, “green” risotto, mussels with pesto vinaigrette and calamari with pesto mayo. It seemed logical to record the different dishes of each season, which inspired Nyamnyam’s first fanzine, Green Day. Friends took photographs and they worked in collaboration with a writer and graphic designer before printing the booklet nearby.
Ariadna and Iñaki craft the menu around whatever’s been uprooted at the farm, aligning Nyamnyam with the seasons in a way you’d miss going to the supermarket.
Cooking is a Political Act: Uniting FOOD and ART in barcelona
One of Nyamnyam’s recent workshops, Cooking is a Political Act, invites diners to contemplate how to maintain a mindful relationship with food, even when our consumerist culture pushes us away from its source. Each session opens with a question inspired by Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation and culminates in a “kitchen party” where everyone prepares and eats their favourite dishes together. In his book, Pollan writes,
“Cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us.”
Because food is intrinsic to our cultural identity and health it should be an integral part of our lives from an early age, Ariadna tells me as she watches her daughter peel a plump green bean from the kitchen worktop. “It’s so important to create an exciting and digestible format for children to learn about food.”
As part of their Everything I like… series, resident artist Aimar Pérez Galí explored micro- and macro-scales through the phenomena of fermentation and its associated organisms. He later repackaged the idea into Galactic Nigiri (see featured image), transforming fluffy rice, fish and algae into stars, planets and satellites of the solar system through interstellar fancy-dress and hand-crafted, cosmic sushi. It was a (g)astronomical hit!
Wilder and Freer: Food on all fours
A Cuatro Patas (On all fours) is another hands-on workshop, this time forcing grown-ups into more personal relationships by getting the group to construct a table using locally felled timber before eating on it.
It’s about rewiring our resourceful instincts, says Iñaki. “The workshop might get us on all fours like the four-legged beasts we still enjoy eating, or even just a little closer to something we once were ourselves – wilder and freer”, Iñaki chuckles to himself. “¡Viva la comida libre!”
Ariadna and Iñaki create fuss-free cuisine to refresh our ideas of provenance, and their messy, playful workshops help us to fortify our relationships with food and each other. For most of us in the city, food is the main thread that ties us to the natural world. Doesn’t it make sense to spend more time thinking about it?
Find out more: nyamnyam.net (Catalan)
Photos courtesy of nyamnyam.