Food / Drink, Barcelona
I live in Barcelona and would like to give some tips for people who come and visit the city and want some REAL typical BCN/Catalan food. The area around La Rambla is fantastic to take a stroll, but it's a definitely a no-go area when it comes to food! In the small streets of the Barrio Gotico there are some nice places, but the Eixample, Gracia and Sant Gervasi offer a lot more. If you want to eat tapas the right way, La Cerveseria Catalana (Rambla Catalunya), TapaTapa (Passeig de Gracia), Lizarran (Typical Basque tapas) or Irati (Calle de la Palla) are the places to go, NOTE: do not always expect nice silverware or extremely friendly service, it's tapas we're eating folks, not dinner :-). Be aware of the fact that practically all restaurants in Barcelona (and the rest of Spain for that matter) offer a "MENU A MEDIODIA" (lunch menu from 14:00 to 16:30) which is a very economic way to try typical Spanish dishes. For sandwiches, do not go to chains like Pan&Co or Bocatta, but go and find one of the smaller bakeries such as Moli Vell or any place that puts FORN on it, and you won't be disappointed, Bopan on Rambla Catalunya/Calle Provenza is my personal favourite, not cheap, but real value for money! There is another top classc place on Rambla Catalunya, just before getting to Placa Catalunya. For pizzas, go to "Al Passatore" on Via Laietana, La Bella Napoli on Calle Casanova, Little Italy in the El Born area. For good paella's, Elx is one of the best places (there is one on Calle Vila i Vila in the Poble Sec area, and another one in the Maremagnum). For Barcelona's famous seafood, Botafumeiro is the place to be, it is very expensive though (80 E pp). But there's more, The Lobster House on Calle Paris/Calle Aribau is perfect to enjoy some nice fresh prawns or Lobster (what's in a name?). Near the Sagrada Familia is a place where all kinds of seafood and shellfish are actually "swimming around" in aquariums, so you can pick the ones you want to eat, and they will be prepared for you right there!
Believe or not, tapas are not typical from Barcelona. It's a relatively new thing, and for people of my parent's age, these are not a 'proper' meal :)
The typical custom was having a 'vermut' on Sunday morning = Going out to have a drink (can be the tap-vermouth, but as well wine, beer...) and some food. Ideally, on a sunny terrace seeing the world going on and discussing about 'all human and divine' with friends :)
You can find many of these old little places to have a 'vermut' at La Barceloneta, or any popular neighborhood. For instance in Barceloneta "Bar Electricitat" and "La Bombeta" are good old places to do that, with some simple and good traditional foods.
In the city centre, and next to the tourist sights, be careful as most 'tapas' restaurants (not all) will be chain Basque-style places. More expensive, even food is usually ok (or even good). But as authentic as McDonalds.
As said, when we Catalans go out for tapas, is something 'foreing' for us (this does not mean we do not like it). So we say "let's go to a Basque tonight" nearly like we could say "let's go to a Chinese" :) So, the best bet of finding the "real" stuff is going to Basque restaurants as Maitea (near Hospital Clinic). Galician eateries usually have great tapas options too (some in Gotic, around c/. Ample). The Andalucian places are the best to sample great "pescadito frito" (quite a few around La Barceloneta, even the best and cheapest ones are quite out of the way, where people of Andalucian descent do live).
In the very city centre there are still some "old school" basic places surviving, do not expect anything fancy, but cheap and basic:
- "Bar Flassaders" in El Born (Carrer dels Flassaders 9)
- "El Drapaire" near Ramblas (carrer Sitges)
Other good places, authentic classics of Barcelona, even a bit out of the way:
- "El Tomas" in c/. Major de Sarrià. It's said they do the best "bravas" in town! (incidentally, the pic above was taken there)
- "La Publilla del Taulat" in Poble Nou. Go for their special shrimps there.
- "La Esquinica" in Nou Barris, Fabra i Puig 296. Be prepared for very long queues!!
As well, you can find creative tapas in many trendy restaurants (so many around), especially at El Born, the hypest part of the city. If budget is not an issue, and you want to sample really imaginative stuff, Tapaç 24 (Diputació, 269) is quite interesting, but on the expensive side.
As a rule, the best way for you to enjoy local food without spending a fortune is having the main meal at lunchtime (as we locals do). Look for “Menu del dia” at most restaurants (3 courses for a fixed price, including drinks, from let’s say 7 to 20 euros, depending on the place). These “menus” are usually offered only on weekdays (even on Sat-Sun some places have menu option too, but probably more expensive than from Mon to Fri).
Funny enough, the very city center is an ideal area where to find really good deals. There is plenty of offices in he city center, we local workers usually have 1 hour for lunch (no, no siesta here! :-) so most of us do eat near the office. Hence, there are many restaurants trying to attract local customers. A phrasebook may be most helpful if you don't speak Spanish: "menu del dia" deals are usually written in a board outside the restaurant, usually only in local language.
For dinner, you may have just some tapas/pintxos or a sandwich/ salad. Of course at any non-touristy spot, in the touristy restaurants you will spend A LOT of money to eat very little, as they charge too much for very small tapas). By the way, “tapas” are a relatively new thing in Barcelona, but this will be another tip...
Each part of Spain has different and distinctive typical dishes. You can find most of them in Barcelona, both in specialized regional restaurants, and in regular or touristy places. Many tourists ask for some dishes as gazpacho, paella, etc thinking these are typical from here, when they are not.
When you are in Catalonia, it seems more logical trying some really traditional food from the area.
Catalan dishes you may try are:
- esqueixada (salad of preserved cod with tomato, bell peppers and olives)
- escalivada (roasted vegetables) usually served as side dish
- fricandó amb moixernons (veal meat with mushrooms)
- suquet de peix (traditional fishermen’s fish stew)
- escudella (traditional soup made with meat and vegetables, that you eat later as main dish... not a summer thing!!)
- cargols (snails)... yes these are very popular here. I can't eat them indeed. I tried, but I can't ;o)
- crema catalana (similar to creme brulee) for dessert
You can find these at many restaurants
But what I would say is more different at Catalan cuisine from other dishes from Spain, is the use of some sweet and sour combinations, as ànec amb peres (duck with pears) or pollastre amb prunes i pinyons (chicken with dried plums and pinenuts).
Other very traditional Catalan dishes that my friends from other parts of Spain find amusing (if not plain disgusting) are the ones that mix meat and seafood, like mandonguilles amb sepia (meatballs with sauce and pieces of cuttlefish) or pollastre amb llamàntol (chicken with lobster).
And, of course, do not forget to accompany all this with pa amb tomàquet (tomato bread): Slices of country bread, slightly toasted, rubbed with special small tomatoes and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and salt to taste. In traditional places they will serve you the bread and the other elements so you make it at your own taste.
Lunch and dinner in Spain usually starts later that in the rest of Europe.
Most people will have lunch from 14.00 to 16.00 and dinner from 21.00 to 23.30.
One thing that we noticed is that you are usually rushed in the restaurant.
Most of the time the waiter will come and take your order just a minute after you receive the menu, then if you order appetizers and main courses often you get one before finishing the other.
Then you are rushed into ordering desert and/or coffee... and you might or not be given the bill.
After that, however, the waiter will leave you alone for as long as you want. Often you would see people just talking after the desserts for more than an hour... strange.
As they say, "when in Rome..." Therefore, when in Barcelona (or anywhere in Spain), better adapt yourselves to the local timetables. Yes I know it's difficult sometimes (I've to adapt on the reverse way when traveling abroad) However, if you insist on having an early (for Spanish standards) lunch or dinner, you have BIG chances to end in a tourist trap.
As well, the best way to know if a place is good is checking if it's full of local people… but, how you will know, if no one is there yet? ;-)
We Spaniards do have usually a small (too small) early breakfast. Many people have just a cup of coffee before leaving home. Later we may have another coffee (yes, most of us are caffeine-addicts!) with some food, at mid-morning, to have energy enough until our late lunchtime, around 2 PM.
Dinner is a late meal as well, at home usually around 9 PM, at 10 PM or even later when going out.
Born in Barcelona, and I think you could be interested:
-Always look for bars that offer 'menú'. That means a starter, a main course and dessert/coffe (pretty likely both) for around 8-9 €. That includes one drink, or if u ask for 'vino con gaseosa' (wine and soda), they usually leave the bottle.
Chinese restaurants are even cheaper (none of my friends from abroad ever belive it), but for the 'menú' you get three courses -starter, a plate of rice or noodles and a main plus coffe or dessert for....the cheapest I know is 4, 50 (four, yeah!), tought usually is around 6 €.
Beware that sometimes chinese can have a week day menu and a weekend menu (more expensive -around 9 €...avoid tourist traps and try to go to working areas (anywhere up the Ramblas past Pza. Catalunya, left of right would do nicely.
With your meal you will very likely be served you bread like this. "Pan tumaca" in Spanish or "Pa amb tomàquet" in Catalan.
What do you do with it?
Well, First you cut one of the garcic cloves in half and rub it over the toasted bread. Then cut a tomato in half and rub in on the bread too. Then drizzle a good amount of olive oil and salt to taste and enjoy!!
Now why isn't bread served like this everywhere???
Wine is about as Spanish as bullfighting. Not only is it cheap, but it's good. I found the best place to buy wine was in the local grocery store, where bottles could sell for as low as .89 euros. I didn't buy any that cheap, but for three euros you can get a bottle that is really very drinkable.
Some of the vintages are a bit foreign, meaning made from grapes that aren't quite standard to the main markets, even if most people will recognize the names. Tempranillo is excellent, but I also liked anything that came from the Rioja. Jumailla is another vintage which is unique to Spain, but there are many more, including an obscure favorite of mine called Yecla. Don't ask me about white wine, I hardly ever drink it. I tried a glass of cava (champagne) and found it great as well.
If you want a sure thing without being adventuresome, try Torres, which is a very standard, very affordable line of table wines. They also make brandy. You can find Torres wines in just about every restaurant, store and even rest stops on the highway. Quality wise, I rate it above average, and it retailed for about four euros in the grocery store. I realize this is the equivalent of encouraging stateside visitors to try Ernest & Julio Gallo, but I really did find Torres wines to be very affordable, widely available, openly consumed, and consistent in quality.
Sadly, during my visit to Barcelona, I couldn't synchronize a visit to the true corner wine shops with the afternoon siestas, Sunday closures, and sightseeing. It will have to wait for next time.
On a recent trip to Barcelona, I was blown away by the amount of chocolate in this town! I am a real chocoholic, but moreso a "foodie", so it's fun for me to find the little local out of the way places, where I can see and try something new. While walking around the Gothic Quarter, I found Dolso, the best little pastry and chocolate shop. I coincidentally met the owner, Pablo, who offered me a sweet wine to taste with some of his specialty hand made chocolates, and as they say in Spanish, Que Bueno! This may have been the best bite I took the whole trip- and that says a lot because we ate at some fabulous restaurants. I highly recommend Tapa 24 and Montiel. Come to find out, Dolso also has a restaurant, and unfortunately I found out about it too late and didn't get to try it before I had to come back home. It will surely be on the top of my list the next time around!
As maybe you've read before, you can find good prices to eat with the menu (usually cheaper from Monday to Friday) in a lot of bars and restaurants. If you are very interested to try a paella, get the menu in Thursday, as this is the "oficial" day for the paellas in the menus. As is already expected, the cooker have the time to prepare it. Maybe you will take a menu for 10-12 euros all included. If you take a paella out of this day maybe you will pay even the double for 1 person!
Don't trust or even taste this kind of s**t that some restaurants offers you in the Ramblas and near there, or in a lot of touristic places called PAELLA D'OR. It's a kind of half-prepared paella, quite similar as a fast food meal. Don't try it! thanks.
If you want a paella, always is beter when you go to the bar or a restaurant (maybe you can check close to your place/hotel), and you request it to make it to you (where it's offered). Usually you go in the morning and you ask your paella for an approximately hour. Is a dish that takes 1'30 hour at least! to be done. So, if you ask a Paella d'or, you will see how runs the spanish fast food.
Paella is the signature dish of Catalonia. It comes in all sorts of different styles, my favorite being seafood. It is essentially rice cooked in a large shallow pan with different ingredients blending into a sauce.
VT's labeep (no longer on VT but infinitely willing to assist visitors to Barcelona) informed me that Thursday is paella day, and that most neighborhood restaurants will carry paella on that day. She also says that many places won't put much seafood in it to save money. Most people told me that for old school paella, you need to go to Barceloneta. When I went there, everything met my expectations. I should add that the shrimp they used was extremely fresh even by European standards. I hadn't tasted anything that fresh since, quite literally, waiting on the pier and buying shrimp off the fishing boat as it came in.
This is one of the most famous dishes in all of Spain, you can not be in Spain without trying this!
The most normal ingredient in the paella is seafood, chicken and rice, but there are a numerous ways of making it. Usually every chef (or family) have their own variations. So if you don't like it in one place, give it a try somewhere else and you might love it.
The paella is cooked in a special pan that is very wide and the sides go up a little bit. The more surface the better. Many of the toppings are added as a last step at the top of the paella.
I found in Barcelona that the whole day seems to be moved forward compared to England.
Lunch time here is 12-1.30pm usually, however in Barcelona it is more likely at 3-4pm (for locals anyway). Evening meals in England are taken usually anytime between 5-7.30pm, and in Barcelona, no one usuallly eats out until 9.30pm at the very earliest!
This is a traditional Spanish rice dish which is prepared in an number of ways. It can be mixed with different types of vegetables and meats, seafood only, Valencia style (with chicken and vegetables), or vegetarian. There are different types of rice you can have with it as well. All of them are great and a good meal to keep you going as you tour the city. It is usually a thick rice platter that is usually still sizzling when it comes out. The bring the skillet out to you when you are served.