Eating like a local in Barcelona
Food is integral to Barcelona. And it is likely to be integral to your tourist experience of the city. But unlike some European cities, you don’t have to part with the contents of your wallet in honeypot restaurants. If you eat where the locals eat, and when they eat, you won’t go far wrong. And happily, they seem to eat all the time…
Eating like a local – Barcelona food guide
“The most authentic thing you can do in Barcelona is visit one of the markets like La Boqueria, buy a baguette and some cheese and a bottle of wine, and go and sit in the park,” says our guide Margo Ford from Fat Tire Bike Tours. “And if a local says they are going to the park, then this is the park they are usually talking about.” she continues, gesturing around her.
It is Sunday lunchtime, and there’s Lindy Hop going on at the bandstand, and table tennis by the gates. People are walking to the zoo, taking selfies in front of an ostentatious fountain and boating on the lake. And everywhere, they are having a picnic.We are in Parc de la Ciutadella, right in the heart of Barcelona, and this is the Catalan version of street food. Unlike other cities it’s not about stalls at the side of the pavement or a pancake or samosa eaten on the run. It’s about a leisurely afternoon spent grazing on bread and cheese. It’s about a coffee and a pastry on a terrace. It’s about a long family dinner in the fading sunlight.
Fresh food and local ingredients
Of course, this being a thriving European City and tourist hub not everyone chooses to sit on the grass. There’s no shortage of world class restaurants producing just about every kind of food on the globe in Barcelona. The one thing many of these have in common is fresh, local ingredients. They use the tried and tested flavours of the Mediterranean and the produce of land and sea to create a fusion of old and new.
Margo says one of the things that keeps her in Barcelona is good, wholesome food. Her favourite Catalan dish is Pan con tomate (also known as Pa am tomaquet) “When I first got here I thought bread with tomatoes? What could possibly be exciting about that? But I’m addicted to it. It’s toasted so well and it’s all about quality. You have unbelievable bread and unbelievable olive oil and perfect tomatoes with a little bit of salt, and maybe a piece of cheese and ham. I know it sounds simple but it hits the spot.” We try some. She’s right.
How to choose
But with so much choice when it comes food in Barcelona, how do you decide where to spend your euros? One way is to simply wander out of the touristy areas and find a place that looks good. Alternatively you could ask a local. If this is a bit daunting then renting a hosted apartment or house often gives you the chance to pump your host for information, as well as putting you right in the heart of a local district. The accommodation website Housetrip has a good range of properties in Barcelona, and it also has an online food guide to several European cities including Barcelona. In it, local contributors tell you what dishes to try and what restaurants are hot right now.
My local food tour of Barcelona
Following some of their tips and my own nose, I decide to do my own taste test of the city, eating like a local wherever I can. Here’s how I get on…
Catalonians eat little and often and I mirror them on my journey around the city. They start their day with good coffee at their local bar or cafe. So at 7am each day, I seek out a character coffee shop in Eixample; the district where we are staying. On the first day, at a bakery near Sagrada Familia, the caffeine gives me the energy to concentrate on Gaudi’s creative legacy. The second day, a patisserie near St Pau Hospital sets me up for an adrenaline filled ride at Tibidabo; Barcelona’s oldest amusement park. The third day, shortly after my car is towed away to the city pound, it is coffee in a darkened bar back in Eixample that brings my blood pressure back to normal. The small street cafes are all so different and a charming way to start the day.
By 10am the rest of the family is up and we’re all ready for breakfast. Catalonians have theirs on the run, and so do we; with more coffee and pastries. At Mr Bread on Calle Mallorca, we have the ‘Hoy Sabado’ weekend deal of cafe al gust and croissante xocolate, while the kids have licorice scented churros – the Spanish version of doughnuts. It should see us right through to lunch, but the Housetrip food guide told us about Crema Catalana. We figure it would be rude not to try one; leading to another unscheduled stop!
Ah lunch, the best meal of the day. In Barcelona anyway. Catalonians have their main meal at this time, often returning home from work to make it a family event. But we find the famous tapas perfect for a lunchtime snack. The children particularly love Patatas Bravas, fried potato with a spicy dressing. You can enjoy your tapas just about anywhere in this city. If you want to embrace your inner tourist, there are some excellent bars in Placa del Rei, with a view of Gaudi’s famous lamp posts. We go on a little further to Santos Tapes, a bar near the Palau de la Musica Catalana, where sun streams through the window as we sit on high bar stools and eat with toothpicks.
Mid afternoon snacks
An hour after that and it’s time for coffee. We find a little place called Gelateria Pagliota in the busy Gothic Quarter that has been making ice cream in the city for 27 years. An expat we meet tells us new cafes and bars are springing up all the time, “I didn’t notice that bagel shop until today,” she cries, adding “I love bagels!”
Late afternoon snacks
Many locals weekend at one or other of Barcelona’s many parks. First you must call at the market and pick up some snacks. La Boqueria, near La Rambla, is a tourist favourite. Check out the hedgehog chocolates and gorge on the sight of football sized watermelons. But locals prefer the gothic Mercat Santa Caterina, with its Gaudi style roof. There are a huge selection of parks you could take your food to in Barcelona, from the hill of Montjuic, with its Olympic stadium complex, to the fabulous Gaudi shaped wonderland of Park Guell. We refuel in Parc de la Cuitadella. And in Park Guell. Ok, I’ll admit, we pause to eat just about everywhere.
After your afternoon in the park, it is time for dinner. Our first night sees us wandering the seafood restaurants at the Port Olimpic, peering at the strange fish on platters outside. We settle for a rather more prosiac kebab as none of us are sold on seafood and we are on a limited budget. And we finish up with an ice cream on the beach under the 56 metre copper Frank Gehr fish.
As a family we can’t afford fine dining experiences. We also despair at the table manners of our kids. But you can’t do a foodie piece without finding out some restaurant recommendations. We ask a couple of Barcelona residents; guide Margo Ford from Fat Tire Bike Tours and Claudia Calamia, manager of our own apartment, to share some of their favourites. If you are visiting Barcelona soon, with or without your family, check out their ideas and let us know what you think.
- Caldeni – “It was voted one of the best places to eat meat in Barcelona. Try the set menu.”
- Sibar Plats i Vins – Catalan food in a house two centuries old.
- La Paradeta – Seafood restaurant. A new dining experience in Barcelona; there are no waiters, you collect your own food from the kitchen.
- La Cerveceria Catalana – Tapas bar.
- Firo Tast – “a great place for breakfast in L’Eixample.”
- Con Gracia – Intimate. Only 10 tables and food for the gourmet.
- Paco Meralgo in Eixample – best tapas in Barcelona.
- La Taverna del Clinic – cross between tapas and restaurant with the emphasis on food rather than décor.
Over to you
Do you have a favourite place to eat in Barcelona? A favourite dish or a recommendation? Do leave a comment and let us know.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to support from Housetrip. The tastings and experience are, as ever, entirely all our own. The suggestions and recommendations are those of people living and working in Barcelona.