Barcelona is a dream destination for foodies, but not everyone realises just how varied food is from one region of Spain to another. The gist is that if you are planning a tour of Barcelona, the renowned regional capital of Catalunya, there are lots of traditional and local dishes to enjoy.
Here are some of the incredible dishes that you simply can’t afford to miss throughout your stay in Barcelona.
Back in the dark days of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was burdened with hazard. Even before that, the favourite mayhem-creating weapon of the anarchists was a round iron ball stuffed with explosives and lit by a fuze. Yes, exactly like the ones you’d see in cartoons. The wide-spread use of these grenades stirred a highly esteemed local chef to make a tongue in cheek dish, which is now known as one of Barcelona’s most iconic tapas, la bomba (or the bomb).
Bombas are made out of mashed potatoes and minced meat shaped in the form of one of the infamous grenades and served with red brava sauce and aioli.
Bombas are not only tasty, but they are quite literally a piece of Catalan history, and a great dish to try out in Barcelona!
Where to have them: There are countless places to eat bombas in the streets of Barcelona, but it’s rumoured that they were invented at La Cova Fumada, a crumbling old hole-in-the-wall type of place in the heart of Barceloneta. It can be a bit hard to find but the food is worth it.
Like so many iconic Spanish dishes, escalivada also sometimes transcribed in Castilian* as escalibada, is all about exhibiting the uniqueness of its ingredients. It’s made just by grilling eggplant and scarlet peppers over an open wood fire and serving them on toasted bread with a sprinkle of olive oil and sometimes garlic, tomatoes, onions or salt.
Not hard to prepare but spectacularly delicious.
Where to eat it: slide into Sésamo in the ever-relevant Sant Antoni neighbourhood, and you will be able to tell why locals love this ancient dish so much.
*Once in one of my favourite pubs in Barcelona I went out and asked, with the little Spanish I knew, for a “menu in Spanish”. The waiter (surely a proud Catalan, not that is something wrong with that) stared me in the eye and snappily replied, in Spanish, “menu in Castilian, si?” In that awkward moment, I learned that Spanish is also known as Castilian, especially in a province with certain issues, like Catalunya.
3. Calçots and romesco sauce
Your tour to Barcelona is incomplete without tasting freshly grilled calçots. The calçot is a type of scallion that is unique to the province of Catalunya. They are so local that calçots from Valls even come with one of those EU Protected Geographical Indication statuses.
Calçots can be appreciated from November to April and are best enjoyed during a gastronomic event known as calçotada.
These sweet onions are grilled until charred and after the charred layer is peeled off they are served with homemade romesco sauce, a tomato-based Catalan salsa made with garlic, hazelnuts or almonds, and red peppers. They are usually followed by grilled meats.
Eating calçots is the definitive foodie experience, especially as the way to eat them is by using your bare hands. And don’t you worry, most places I know provide plastic gloves and a bib.
Where to eat them: You can enjoy this rustic ritual at restaurants Carmen, Quinabarra or L’Antic Forn in the city centre. Or if you happen to be in Barcelona in January and feel like exploring Catalunya a bit, why not go to Valls where these originated from, for the famous calçotada? Valls is only 100 kilometres away from Barcelona and can be reached by train or bus in under 1:30h.
Perhaps the tastiest Catalan salad a foodie can enjoy, this light and rustic feast, considered by many a summer dish, is made with “uncooked salted cod”, tomatoes, onions, black olives and sometimes served with romesco sauce. It’s fresh and zesty, ideal with a glass of sparkling Catalan Cava!
Where to eat it: you can get this delicious delicacy at the traditional restaurant La Vinateria Del Call (which is claimed to be the oldest wine bar in Barcelona); its the perfect eatery to try this must-eat old local dish.
5. Pa amb Tomàquet
As the saying goes: “The simple things are always the best.” And it’s especially true in this case. “Bread with tomato,” whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, is an indispensable dish that can be enjoyed on its own in most Barcelona corner restaurants or as a base for virtually any tapa! My Spanish friends laughed at me when they heard I eat it on its own, but don’t let the locals dissuade you of just having some pan con tomate to go with your beer. It’s a treat, besides being one of the cheapest items on a menu.
It is a mixture of garlic and tomato juice garnished with olive oil, salt, and pepper rubbed on usually toasted bread. Sometimes you have the option of being served the ingredients and making it yourself. Stack it with cheese or slices of jamon, and you’ll find yourself in foodie heaven in no time.
Where to eat it: unlike other incredible dishes, you can get this everywhere and anywhere! If you visit a restaurant and they don’t have it, then you are probably visiting an Asian food place.
Without argument, France is one of the most famous countries in the world when it comes to cheese, but with its unique quality and assortment of cheeses, it is right to say that Spain is a close competitor. Cheese is available virtually everywhere in Barcelona. It doesn’t matter whether you have tasted Spanish cheese before or not: you should definitely try Mató, the great Catalunya fresh cheese. Usually served with honey, it makes for a light and healthy dessert, somewhat resembling the yoghurt with honey you would find in Greece.
Come on, let’s go try it: anyplace that offers it is probably good, but for a flavour tour of Catalonia’s premium cheeses, slide into the Formatgeria la Seu and chat with Katherine, a Scottish damsel with enormous information on Catalunya’s many cheesy options. Apologies for the bad pun.
Your tour to Spain would be incomplete without a paella feast! The origin of this iconic rice and seafood dish can be traced to Valencia and was formerly made with lots of other ingredients like beans, rabbit meat, snails, etc. instead of fish a shellfish like the more modern adaptations. This technically makes it not a Catalunya specific dish, but really, a visit to Barcelona would be incomplete without a good paella de mariscos.
In every nook and cranny of Spain today, paella is a must-have food for celebrations and family occasions; without this delicious rice dish, a party doesn’t seem like one.
Where to eat it: obviously, the best paella is always homemade paella, even if the preparation of it is time-consuming. Only minutes walk from Gaudí’s iconic landmark Park Güell, endowed home-chefs Bego and friend Iván cook Barcelona’s best homemade paella in town, with a favourite recipe from Alacant, Valencian for Alicante.
Until next time, buen provecho and don’t stop wandering!