A Catalan Craving: Barcelona’s Fresh Flavors

From tasty tapas to staples like pan con tomate and bacalao, Barcelona offers distinct, modern Mediterranean cuisine.

Because of its location, Barcelona’s traditional recipes include quite a lot of seafood and the typical Mediterranean ingredients such as tomato, garlic and olive. The Catalan/Barcelonese diet is a fairly healthy one, with the exception of a few greasy tapa items such as bravas and croquetas. Catalans are proud of their food and their slim physiques speak to the benefits of munching a Mediterranean diet. While food in Barcelona is generally good, you’ve got to spend more and make an effort for truly divine eats.

Essential Eats

When in Barcelona, there are a few favorite dishes that you must try. Quite possibly Catalonia’s most important dish, pan con tomate is a simple thing really, but no true Catalan restaurant or home is without it. It is presented to the diner as large toasted slices of bread, halved tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic and olive oil. The process is as follows: take the bread and drizzle olive oil on it, then rub it with fresh garlic (not too much) then rub it with the halved tomatoes, squeezing the tomatoes as you do so. You may also want to add salt and then, presto, you’ve got pan con tomate, the most popular breakfast/lunch/dinner food in Barcelona.

Beside pan con tomate and bacalao, a cod fish tapa that is another Catalan staple, there are a few other Catalan favorites that are found on most menus in town. For dessert, my choice is always crema catalana, which is like crème brûlée but richer. Many meat and fish dishes will also come accompanied by ali oli, which is whipped olive oil infused with fresh garlic resembling mayonnaise. This is a delicious dip, but will stay with you all day.

Tapas Bars and Elegant Eateries

To sample some of the most outstanding tapas in town, head to Barcelona’s port. Here you’ll find El Vaso del Oro (€15/$19 per person), a stand up or bar stool tapas place where the ingredients are laid out and rendered into delicious bites before your eyes. The tapas here are top notch and the selection is huge. Unlike in northern Spain, where tapas come on small slices of bread, in Catalonia the tapas are usually hot and served on tiny plates.

At Vaso del Oro try the typical patatas bravas (basically potatoes with a spicy sauce), calamares al la romano (fried calamari), and some button mushrooms sautéed in a white wine and garlic sauce (champiñones) to start off. El Vaso del Oro pours wine but specializes in beer on tap served in giant glasses. Not a huge beer fan, I usually opt for a clara which is a mix of lemon and beer. One tip: El Vaso del Oro is not for the meek. You must be ready to shout your order to the waiter/bartender/cook when he asks for it. This is a noisy and usually crowded place, which is 100 percent authentic, and truly delightful. Calle Balboa, 6; tel. +93-319-3098.

If not up for the rowdy scene at El Vaso del Oro, try a quiet and sophisticated tapas bar in the Barri Gotic. Onofre (€25/$31 per person and up) is an intimate restaurant with a five-star selection of Catalan wines and a creative tapas menu. Here you’ll find old recipes served with a modern touch. Try the bacalao and a plate of local goat and sheep cheese with a bottle of red from Penedès. Onofre also does dinner starting every night at 9 p.m. Calle Magdalenes, 19; tel. +93-317-6937.

For a sit-down dinner in an elegant but unpretentious setting, try LOucomballa (€40/$50 per person and up) in El Born. Here the Routard Guide-listed restaurant serves Mediterranean dishes while jazz hums in the background. At L'Oucumballa, taste its brie and honey version of bacalao plus salads served with local favorites such as figs and dried fruit. Calle Banys Vells, 20; tel. +93-310-5378.


Seafood Central

For classic seafood, (Barcelona is on the beach, after all) it’s best to go to Barceloneta, the city’s seaside neighborhood. At El Nou Ramonet (€35/$44 per person plus wine) the catch of the day is laid out on ice, and tables are made from old wine barrels. Here it’s best to order what’s fresh and recommended by the waiter, but the oysters with lemon always make a nice starter. You’ll also want to make sure to order pan con tomate here. Calle Carbonell, 5; tel. +93-319-7013.

Midnight Munching

Last but not least, remember that meal times are much later in Barcelona than in other European cities. Breakfast is a coffee at 9 a.m. followed by a sandwich at 11 a.m. Lunch is an enormous meal at 2 p.m.; dinner is served from 9 p.m. on. If you’re starving at 7 p.m., have some tapas and hold out for a later dinner. If a restaurant is serving dinner at 6 or 7 p.m., it’s for tourists; most good restaurants won’t even be open before 8:30 p.m.

¡Buen Provecho!

Destinations: Spain, Barcelona

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat

User Comments

one of the places i liked to go are cerveseria catalana and boqueria, i think that both places are a must to go, foods are very great and in the market la boqueria, i ate fresh seafood, cerveseria catalana is a tapas bar but the tapas are really really good, may i suggest this page for travelers because tons of local info written by a local guy, very helpful to plan the trip, at least for me

Barcelona: Here I come! Nothing entices me more to visit a foreign locale than a description of the culinary delights I will find there. I can just see myself: a big worm happily eating my way through the city.

Yum! Ok, now I'm hungry. Good food details!