Eating My Way Through Barcelona on a Food Tour
From the reading I had done before my first trip to Spain I thought that I’d want to stick close to Las Ramblas during my time in Barcelona. It seemed like the popular spot for shopping and restaurants. I can tell you, after one stroll up and down, I actually wanted to stay far, far, away. The majority of shops are tacky souvenir shops run by pushy Middle Eastern men and most restaurants serve up low quality paella and tapas and inauthentic pitchers of sangria.
So I’m very glad that the Barcelona food tour I was booked on steered us in the opposite direction from these tourist traps. Devour Barcelona instead explores the eclectic, bohemian neighbourhood of Gracia, just north of Eixample, where I was staying. During our nine (yes, nine!) food stops we visited family-run restaurants, local markets, and artisan shops. If authentic is what you’re looking to discover, this is the tour for you.
I met Renée and the rest of our group in front of Valentino on Passeig de Gracia. After they peeled me away from the window display (so pretty!), we headed off into the heart of the Gracia neighbourhood. We started off our morning right with a glass of cava (sparkling white Spanish wine you can order just about anywhere) and a botifarra (Catalan sausage) breakfast sandwich. I could’ve stopped right there and been happy. But that was only the start.
It was off to the market next. La Boqueria is the market you’re going to hear most about but it’s mainly for tourists. Mercat de l’Abaceria Central is where the local shop. It’s the real deal. It may take twice as long to get the ingredients for your night’s supper but going to a Spanish market is just as much a social event as it is a necessary shopping chore. Whether you need meat, veggies, cheese, or fish it’s all here.
Our provincial identify has been so closely tied to cod for so long that I often forget that it’s not just a Newfoundland fish and it surprised me to see so much of it at a market in Barcelona. Bacalao (salt cod) is a pretty important Spanish dish and it was also an important ingredient in this little flavour bomb we were served at a family-run olive stand. I’m not really one for olives but I have to say, I would totally eat this again.
Over the 4 hours of our walking tour, we were schooled in the ways of good olive oils at a local artisan shop; learned about local award-winning cheeses; sampled some pinxto (small snacks) and meatballs in chickpea gravy at a tiny takeaway; and taught how to make pan con tomate (one of my new favourite things) at a tapas and vermouth spot.
Vermouth is making a comeback in Barcelona, especially with the young hipster crowd. It has a slightly higher alcohol content than regular wine, can be ordered almost anywhere, and is cheap. I had my first sip of the fortified wine at C’al Pep, a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint that was essentially someone’s living room. I love finding places like this.
Gracia has always been a neighbourhood that attracted a lot of immigrants and it shows in the shops and restaurants. Even though our tour highlighted mostly Catalan cuisine we also made a stop into a popular Middle Eastern sweet shop. Sometimes the flavours of a neighbourhood come from away.
Our tour covered all the basic tastes, but ended on one my favourites: sweetness. At a traditional bakery we were introduced to a special pastry called a cremat: a bit like a jelly roll topped with a dollop of crema catalana (similar to crème brûlée custard) on top. If ever a sweet could be refreshing, this is it. It’s best they only served us a small portion with our café con leche. I didn’t want to have to return the new pants I’d just bought at Zara.
I love how exploring what people eat on a day-to-day basis can give you a little window into the culture of a place. Food tours, if chosen correctly, can help me take a peek through that window. Though Gracia is only a single mile from Las Ramblas, it felt worlds apart. If you’re in Barcelona, you owe it to yourself to check out a slice of real life in this hip, independent neighbourhood. Send me back some cava and crema catalana while you’re at it.
Note: I was a guest of Devour Barcelona but all opinions are my own. They didn’t ask that I write a favourable review or that I start drinking cava with every breakfast.