Few cities have as high a reputation for fine food as Barcelona. And with good reason: a perfect combination of the finest chefs with access to the finest ingredients, cooking for a people for whom a meal is not just a meal but a celebration. The general thought in Spain – and particularly in Catalonia – is that if a meal is not enjoyable there is no point in having it. And Barcelona truly strives to make every meal a thing to write home about.
Tapas have become synonymous with this Mediterranean city. But, don’t expect the skimpy over-priced portions that you can find in places like London or New York. No, these tapas are freshly made, generous and with particular attention to the quality of the ingredients and the preparation.
To sample the best, head on to Cervesería Catalana (Carrer de Mallorca 236). The fact that it is always packed with locals is a tribute to the excellence of its offerings.
And for another great place in a completely different location, head to Lonja de Tapas (Pla de Palau 7). Different tapas on the menu but an equal devotion to quality and flavor, and after a meal there you can go for a walk through the streets of the old town, and enjoy a coffee close to the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar, a few steps from Lonja de Tapas.
Mediterranean and Catalan Cuisines
Being in the Mediterranean coast, the food and flavors of Barcelona share a common spirit with the rest of Spain, with Italy and France, with Greece, and even with North Africa. Fish and seafood share the menu with pork and chicken, and wild boar. Cheese and cream are there, as are tomatoes, and herbs, and fresh salads, and creamy desserts that melt in your mouth.
Wine accompanies most meals, but the local beer is an excellent alternative to enjoy in an open terrace in those warm Mediterranean nights. But don’t expect standard fare – Barcelona’s approach to Mediterranean cuisine is one of tradition, yes, but also one where innovation and creativity are highly prized. And then there are the local specialties, the kind that have been made by Catalan grandmothers since as far back as you can imagine: pa amb tomaquet, crusty bread with olive oil and tomato rubbed in; calçotada, grilled onions smothered in salvitxada sauce; crema catalana, a custard-like dessert very similar to the French créme brulée; and many, many more.
Fish and Seafood
Mediterranean and Catalan cuisines are not the only specialty of Barcelona – for a taste of Spain’s rugged North Atlantic coast, head on to Botafumeiro, (Gran de Gracia 81). The specialty here is seafood, cooked in the style and flavor of Galicia. The ingredients are fresh – usually the catch of the day – and the cooks’ mastery is evident in all the dishes, whether a starter of sea cucumber and chickpeas or a main dish of sole cooked in cava with shrimp. And if seafood is not your thing, you can order a Galician pork steak – it is simply extraordinary.
Or perhaps you would like to try some traditional Basque food, from the north of Spain. In that case, you might want to try Beitxenea (Mallorca 275) and some of its excellent dishes, so different from the Catalan fare. And for something more casual, Maitea (Casanova 57) features some of Barcelona’s best pintxos (the Basque equivalent to the tapas). Other regions of Spain are well represented in Barcelona, but the local specialties definitely hold the position of honor in this ancient city.
Foreign cuisine is also well represented in Barcelona, and the local chefs have achieved degrees of mastery that rival those of foreign chefs. Khana (Casanova 68) is a fine Indian restaurant, easily as good as any in the Subcontinent. And if it is French cuisine you’re looking for, try Drolma (Passeig de Gracia 70) – it will make you feel right in the heart of Paris. Indeed, most cuisines in the world are represented in Barcelona, and all strive to meet the high standards expected by the locals.
No culinary description of Barcelona would ever be complete without mentioning Ferrán Adriá, him of elBulli fame, whose recipes sound more like flights of fantasy (cloud of carrot or apple caviar, anyone?) and who is credited with inventing molecular gastronomy. But while these inventions have given Adriá fame, it is his mastery of ingredients and his passion for food that have earned him the love and respect of his countrymen. And Adriá has inspired Barcelona’s chefs like nowhere else. You can head to Alkimia (Indústria 79), the brainchild of Jordi Vilà, and discover dishes that are pure artistry. Or visit Comerç 24 (Comerç 24), another place inspired by Ferrán’s mastery but with a soul all its own.
The truth is that Barcelona is blessed with fantastic gastronomic experiences, whether at the most upscale restaurant delving into the most artistic nouvelle cuisine or at a small corner joint serving tapas and sandwiches for a couple of euros, the truth is that Barcelona is a dream destination for those who love to eat. And not only because of the food, which is extraordinary, but also because of the warmth and hospitality of the people of Barcelona. This charming city is truly magical, and few are those who come and fail to fall in love with the city. So next time you visit Barcelona, just start walking until you work an appetite, then walk into the closest restaurant you find. You are sure to be delighted beyond measure.