In my humble opinion, food is a quintessential aspect of traveling. I love eating and drinking my way through a city; trying the local fare, talking with fellow restaurant patrons, sampling local beers and cocktails, enjoying delicious desserts, all of it.
While I was researching restaurants in Barcelona, I came across a blog by Devour Barcelona that had wonderful recommendations. Upon further digging on their website, I realized they were actually a food tour company and their blog was just a side gig.
I’ve done two food tours before, one in Chicago and one in Parma, Italy. Both were absolutely incredible, a fun and delicious way to learn the history of a city, discover a new neighborhood and try some of the most quintessential foods of the area. So I quickly signed up and headed up to Gràcia.
I was joined by a family of six from New York who neither drank nor ate pork, so the tour guide, Esther, joined me when there were drinks served and I was given the family’s serving of pork while they enjoyed my fish. Seemed like a fair trade. Esther is originally from Amsterdam but has lived in Barcelona the last 10 years. Ironically, she lives around the corner from me and we realized we were both at the same coffee shop the day before. Small world! Or in this case, city.
Here’s a recap of the restaurants and local fare we sampled:
Freshly baked, almond croissant
We started the day off on a healthy note…
When we rounded the corner, you could smell the bread baking and it was heavenly. On the weekends, the line wraps around the block with locals picking up breakfast and/or bread for the next few days. The owner grew up in a family of bakers, but started Forn Baluard several years ago, wanting to bring fresh baked bread and other bakery items to Barcelona, using simple ingredients and old-fashioned techniques. She expanded to this location, Baluard Bakery, a few years ago. The croissant was divine – melt in your mouth with the perfect almond taste.
Selecció d’olives I conserves Glória
Olive, artichoke and sun-dried tomato skewer
Our next stop was the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central, aka, the Gràcia local market. The major tourist market in Barcelona is the Mercado de la Boqueria. We were told this is tourist-central and no locals do any shopping here. The market across from my apartment, Mercat de Santa Caternia, is a step-down – still a little touristy given its location, but also an actual market for those living in the area. This market is truly a local experience. A lot of the stalls were closed since it was August and most Spaniards (and Europeans in general) take their holiday the entire month. But the stands that were open had quite a few shoppers and the vendors were more than happy to talk to everyone. Apparently people’s daily visit to the market is basically social hour, catching up with neighbors and hearing the latest gossip.
This “course” was supposed to have anchovies, but the family on the tour with me enjoyed mine and the vendor made me a special one sans fish (gracias, señor). The olives in Spain are incredible and you can’t really go wrong mixing it with an artichoke. The sun-dried tomato was a nice added touch.
Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico
This was another vendor at the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central. Actually, it’s a bit of a Gràcia market love story. Apparently the owner of this particular stall is married to a man who she met at the market when she was but a wee child. Both of their parents owned stalls and they would run around as kids while their parents worked. Awwww.
Since the family didn’t eat any ham, I got their portion. But there were six of them, so really I ate my portion and then they wrapped up the rest of the gigantic mound so that I could have it later for dinner. Both were delicious but I think I slightly preferred the Jamón Ibérico.
“Bomba” potato and ground beef croquette with brava sauce and aioli
Make-your-own pa amb tomaquet (pan con tomate)
Pimientos del pardon (spicy green peppers)
This was a local tapas restaurant. The owner and his wife lost their jobs during the recession. They figured no one would hire them at their age, so decided to make their own jobs and they have run this restaurant ever since. He was extremely gregarious but spoke absolutely no English. Esther translated for us but you could tell that he loved being the center of attention.
The “bomba” was a fried croquette filled with beef and potato. It was ok, but the sauce was delicious. Pan con tomate is a Catalan appetizer served at pretty much every restaurant. It’s grilled bread, rubbed with a halved, fresh tomato drizzled with olive oil and salt. This was one of the best I had the entire time I was in Barcelona. The pimientos del pardon were incredible – nothing fancy, just grilled mini-green peppers. Apparently 1-in-10 are spicy. I never got one, but one of the boys of the family apparently did. He stopped eating them after that. And the Moritz beer was obviously tasty. Moritz is brewed in Barcelona and the most common generic beer served throughout the city.
Handmade Syrian pastry
Why did we go to a Syrian pastry shop on a Barcelona food tour, you ask? Well we did too. Apparently the owner visited Barcelona 30 years ago. He fell in love with a Spanish woman, married her and never left. Since then, his pastry shop has become a local institution, hand making and delivering 2,000+ pastries a day! He also does a lot for the neighborhood, so he’s been adopted as a local at this point. I had a pastry with a pistachio filling. I’ve never had a Middle Eastern pastry before but I’ve definitely been missing out.
Bodega E. Marin
Potato chips fried in extra virgin olive oil
This is how I was introduced to the wonders of the bodega. I mean, this stop alone was worth the whole food tour! Vermut (better known as vermouth) is wine flavored with herbs, spices and fruits. Each is made slightly differently based on the mixologist (ahem, old men making it in a barrel in their kitchen). I sampled three while in Barcelona and I enjoyed the all. Vermut is served on the rocks and goes down very smoothly with a slight smoky flavor. I passed on the anchovies so I have no description for you. But the potato chips were delicious, especially eaten while sipping on vermut…at 1:30 in the afternoon…standing on the sidewalk…eating from a plastic table set-up for us. Apparently this is how the locals eat sandwiches at lunch from the bodega. Just call me Catalan.
Botifarra sausage & escalivada with romesco sauce
Jaume Serra Brut Nature Cava
Entering our final stop, I was a bit buzzed and really full. But I managed to find room to sample our last few things. The restaurant itself was a bit odd – it was in a garden level and had the slight feel of a banquet room. But it was packed with people eating lunch and it turned out to be very tasty, so I’ll forgo the less-than-ideal atmosphere.
The sausage with romesco sauce was one of the best things I had my entire month in Spain. I actually tried several other botifarra sausages hoping to find one that tasted similar, but to no avail. Escalivada is just a fancy Spanish word for grilled vegetables, which were basically used as a medium to eat more romesco sauce. The cava was ok, but I’m not much of a sparkling wine fan, so I didn’t expect much. The crema Catalana, however, was incredible. It’s very similar to crème brûlée except it uses milk rather than cream, so it’s ever so slightly lighter.
Overall, it was a great afternoon of over indulgence. I learned a lot, my fellow foodies were really nice and our tour guide was wonderful. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Barcelona!