There are tons of restaurants in Barcelona, Spain – and a lot of them are very good. You could take the most popular choice and wade through the crowds of tourists on La Rambla in order to wait in line for a plate of paella. But we suggest a different food experience that will bring you into a neighborhood with tiny restaurants that have been making the traditional foods of Barcelona for generations. For this we placed ourselves in the hands of the experts at Devour Barcelona.
The food tour they have created took us to the quiet streets of the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. Here people greet each other with large gestures and big smiles, but in traditional Catalan, the preferred language over Spanish in Gracia. The neighborhood pride in evident in the form of Catalan flags draped outside many windows on the narrow streets as you pass by. And that pride, warmth, and tradition is also reflected in the food.
But first a word of warning: if you take this tour, DON’T EAT BREAKFAST. You will thank me later for that little piece of advice.
We started out our walking tour by stopping into a bakery filled with freshly baked bread and pastries make in-house. We were treated to an almond pastry that was the perfect thing to bring along with us as we strolled up the street and began taking in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.
After a short walk we stopped into the local market (Mercat de L’Abaceria Central). Although “market”doesn’t really fully described what happens here. Beyond doing their weekly grocery shopping, here is where locals come to visit with each other, share current gossip and connect as a community. And, to taste some seriously good food.
We sampled a skewer of olives and marinated cod from a stand that has been vending local delicacies in the market for generations.
When the current owner inherited the shop from his in-laws, he changed the name from that of his father-in-law to “Conserves Gloria” honoring instead his mother-in law’s name. Bold move, until you learn that Gloria spent each day working away in the shop during which time its former name-sake wandered the market socializing with his buddies. Gloria must have been quite pleased by the change.
Then we stopped in on another market shop to try a sampling of cheese, many made from sheep rather than cows milk which is more readily available in the area.
After a morning of walking it was time to stop into a small tavern and apply ourselves to a freshly made sausage sandwich (grilled botifarra). It was perfectly seasoned and surrounded by a dense bread that was hardy enough to soak up the juices. Made even better by pairing it with a glass of Cava – Barcelona’s answer to champagne.
You get the picture that this is not the “light eaters tasting tour of Barcelona.” This is an all-out, don’t by shy, dainty eaters beware, leave no taste behind eating experience. And so far, I was enjoying every bite.
Our walking party continued on to what I’ll call an olive oil boutique. We were able to sit and sample a variety of oils while our guide Renee gave us a tutorial on the differences and how to know when what you are buying is truly “Extra Virgin” or what the Spanish have dubbed “Lamp Oil.” I left fully acknowledging to myself that I’ve likely consumed more than my share of that.
We rallied our appetites to take on our next taste – The Bomba or (the bomb). A meat and potato croquette served with a spicy tomato (brava) sauce and crowned with garlic spiked mayonnaise (aioli). It was so good that all conversation dropped off as we each savored our Bombas. It was paired with some local brew and a slice of bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled lightly with salt (pa amb tomáquet). This way of serving bread used to be a method to revive stale slices from the previous day. Now it is the most common way to serve bread (although now fresh) with meal in Spain. One taste will make you wonder why garlic bead isn’t always served this way. So much simpler, and so much better.
After sampling all of the savory dishes it was time for a nibble of something sweet. We made our way into a shop filled with an assortment of little confections and were given our choice of which we wanted to sample. We asked the owner which was his favorite, and he refused to suggest that one was better than the next – “They are all my children – how could I choose.” And his passion for the pastries that he creates every day was evident in every small package.
I thought that perhaps our tour was coming to a close after this sweet bite, but after consulting the tasting menu for the day I found another 3 stops. And scanning through the brief descriptions, I was very happy with what was to come.
We headed to a small quirky shop – so small that our group of 12 sampled outside on the narrow street. But I’d imagine this is the way many people enjoy the food from the shop, as it serves as a lunch counter filled with slow cooked traditional Catalan foods that working families no longer have time to make during the week day. And who would, when you can stop by the corner shop and buy your lunch from this guy? One taste explains it all – but we were lucky enough to have two.
Checking her watch. our guide told us that it was now 1:00 p.m. – in Barcelona, that means it is time for a drink. Or more specifically, it’s time to savor what has become the tradition of heading to the local pub to fill your bottles of wine for the evening meal. While there, it wouldn’t be right not to catch up with your neighbors and relax with a small glass of vermouth and a small tapa. The dusty tiny establishment was full of jovial locals of all ages partaking in this daily ritual. As I took in the atmosphere I began to wonder what it would be like to live life in a similar way. To slow down and savor the small pleasures each day is a luxury that the patrons seemed to have achieved. Experiencing the neighborhood and the culture of Gracia was just as flavorful of tasting the food.
Our final bite came from a pastry shop who created what our tour provider called the “most heavenly mouth-full of food in all of Barcelona” — a mini cremat (carmel custard and cake), served with coffee. But, with so many amazing flavors of the day, I’m not anyone could name one as the best! Curious? You’ll have to visit Devour Barcelona and take the tour to judge for yourself…..
Thank you to Devour Barcelona for supplying us with this flavorful adventure! Our opinions and our story is as always, our own.
Inspired? Remember this post on Pinterest so you won’t miss out on this experience on your trip