Your essential gastro guide to Barcelona’s must-eat bites – from classic Spanish tapas dishes to local Catalan delicacies.
Foodie travellers, prepare to dine in paradise! From Spain’s classic tapas dishes to local Catalan delicacies, these are the essential bites you can look forward to feasting on after seeing the sights of Barcelona.
1. Gourmet ‘Conservas’ and Vermouth
Kick start your gastronomic grand tour of Barcelona like a local and ‘fer el vermut’ (literally: ‘do the vermouth’). At around midday in Barcelona you’ll see friends and family gathering at local bars and bodegas to work up an appetite with vermouth (a sweet fortified wine) with gourmet olives and a selection of artisanally tinned ‘conservas’ such as sardines, cockles, mussels, anchovies. The Catalans do it best and you’ll be amazed at the quality and flavour that’s packed into these tiny tins. The ultimate aperitivo!
2. Explosive ‘Bombas’ (Bombs)
Like all parts of Spain, tapas are intrinsically woven into the fabric of local life and culture. It’s a beautifully simple idea: you hop from bar to bar, meeting up with friends (or making new ones) and sharing little dishes as you go. Most cities and tapas bars have their own specialities and Barcelona’s signature tapa is ‘la bomba’ (the bomb) – a hearty potato and meat croquette with a spicy kick. The origins date back to the Spanish Civil War when anarchists fought against Franco’s fascist regime with homemade hand grenades. The spicy tomato salsa that smothers each bomba represents the grenades’ explosive qualities!
You’ll find bombas at all good tapas bars in Barcelona but you can try the originals at the ancient Cova Fumada in the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, where it’s said they were invented. Oh, and of course the nearby La Bombeta, which is named after the dish, is another great option.
3. Patatas Bravas (Spicy Potatoes)
One of Spain’s most classic tapas, ‘bravas’ are roughly diced fried potatoes slathered in a spicy paprika salsa (similar to what you’ll find on your bombas). A true tapas stalwart and a must-eat at every opportunity in Barcelona.
All tapas bars pride themselves on their unique approach to this iconic dish – the magic is in the shape of the potato wedges and the balance of the salsa – but the best bravas in Barcelona are said to be in Bar Tomàs. It’s a little way out of the city centre, but definitely worth braving! Or join our Love at First Taste Tour and we’ll introduce you to our favourites!
4. Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelette)
Probably the most famous tapas dish in all of Spain, tortilla Española is proof that simple is always better (if you can get the technique right of course!). Tortilla is basically a hearty omelette made with thinly-sliced potatoes and white onion (and sometimes peppers) bound together with beaten eggs. The Spanish eat this at all hours of the day, whether it’s for breakfast with a rum-spiked coffee or as part of a tapas-laden lunch with vino.
5. Jamón (A-Grade Cured Ham)
An emblem of Spanish cuisine, jamón is guaranteed to stir your senses and make you fall in love with ‘comida española’. Cured for up to four years, this silky smooth ham is delicately sliced straight off the bone and melts in your mouth like butter. Drape it over a wedge of crusty bread and wash it down with a glass of red – you’ll be a step closer to heaven with each mouthful.
6. Fuet (Skinny Catalan Sausages)
Talking of heavenly meat, ‘fuets’ are skinny little cured sausages, Catalonia’s answer to the hotdog. Historically they come from the Roman city of Vic, not far from Barcelona, and the Catalans eat them all day every day: kids find them in their lunchboxes, adults slice them up and pair with cheese. They’re subtly flavoured with black peppercorns and garlic, making them more delicate than their spicy chorizo cousins. Simply delicious.
7. Botifarra (Chunky Catalan Sausages)
These hefty sausages date back to the Roman Empire and are packed with rich flavours. They’re traditionally served alongside white beans and potatoes, charred on a griddle to bring out the aromas of the spices within. You’ll also find them being served for breakfast (wedged into crusty baguettes) at traditional bars across Barcelona – don’t be surprised if you see locals devouring ‘bocadillos de butifarra’ with a few glasses of cava for breakfast!
8. Pa amb Tomàquet (Tomato Bread)
Like all the best dishes, many Spanish and Catalan recipes have their roots in poorer times. Pa amb tomàquet is basically bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled with olive oil and finished off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. The dish’s origins are hotly contested, but it’s thought that it was created by Catalan country folk – adding the tomato and oil was a way to make their stale bread edible. This beautifully simple but oh-so-satisfying treat is the perfect accompaniment for all other tapas, especially jamón. Come on our Sip’s, Sites & Bites Tour and we’ll show you how to make your own!
9. Escalivada (Grilled Vegetables)
One of the most Catalan of Catalan dishes, escalivada translates roughly as ‘to cook in ashes’. This hearty feast is a combination of grilled eggplant with red peppers that have been cooked over an open wood fire to give them a nice smoky finish. The eggplant and peppers are served on a hunk of toasted bread and garnished with olive oil, garlic and salty anchovies. Incredibly simple. Lip-smackingly delicious!
One of Catalonia’s more curious culinary traditions, calçots are a sort of green onion (something between a spring onion and a leek). They come into season towards the end of winter and the Catalans celebrate their harvest and the onset of spring with huge barbecues called calçotadas. Some take to the countryside to enjoy their calçots in the sunshine, while others take to the streets for rowdy neighbourhood calçotadas.
The calçots are served straight off the grill – their outer layers blackened and charred by the hot flames of the fire – and you dip them in a sweet/nutty romesco salsa made with hazelnuts, almonds and red peppers. Huge hunks of meat are also thrown on the barbecue while it’s still hot to draw out the feast for as long as possible. And, never ones to miss a party, you can always count on the Catalans to pop open a few bottles of cava to get the fiesta going!
11. Paella and Fideuà
Spain’s most iconic and colourful dish, paella is a must for all foodies in Barcelona. Historically, the dish comes from Valencia but you’ll find plenty of great places to eat paella in Barcelona. Be warned, however, that there are countless places (especially on Las Ramblas!) serving subpar, microwaved paella to tourists. It’s important to remember that paella is typically reserved for special occasions and the Spanish only eat it at lunch time (they believe it to be far too heavy a meal to eat before going to bed). So the best paella in Barcelona is served at lunch, not dinner. Also be sure to try fideuà, which is an interesting take on classic paella using noodles instead of rice.
12. Crema Catalana
The most Catalan of all desserts, you’ll find this flame-torched vanilla delight on every menu in Barcelona. It’s pretty much the same thing as France’s more famous crème brûlée, though the Catalans will argue that it was originally created here if you ask them. Use your spoon to crack the glassy caramelized top layer and see it all away with strong black coffee (or cava). You’ll be ready for your siesta in no time!
13. Churros con Chocolate
Churros are like long, skinny donuts and made similarly by dunking batter into bubbling-hot oil. They’re dusted with sugar, and sometimes cinnamon, and served with a cup of thick hot chocolate. The ultimate treat for those with a sweet tooth!
The Spanish often eat churros for breakfast (not the healthiest start to the day, but, hey, you’re on holiday!) or after a long night at the fiesta.
14. Mató i Miel
Catalonia produces some of the best cheese you’ll ever try and mató is a good place to start your tasting tour. This soft and unsalted (a lot like ricotta) goat’s cheese is served with walnuts and drizzled with honey. It may sound like an add combination, but trust us, it really works!
And that’s just the start! There’s way more to eat and drink in Barcelona! Join us on one of our delicious food tours in Barcelona and let us introduce you to the flavours of Spain at our favourite tapas bars and restaurants.
April 19, 2018 | Words and photos by Ben Holbrook for Eye On Food Tours