It’s easy to find top name restaurants by perusing any guidebook, but discovering authentic eateries that locals keep for themselves is no easy task. While most visitors to Barcelona follow guidebook narrative and flock to the touted tourist trail of Las Ramblas, our challenge is always to seek out light bites in off-the-grid neighborhoods.
Discovering Barcelona’s secret stash of favorites is a mission accomplished with the help of Culinary Backstreets. This organization of culinary connoisseurs and tour guides has been our ‘go to’ solution in several destinations and in Barcelona local food guru Paula Mourenza exposes a treasure trove of delectables in a 5 1/2 hour exploration of the distinctively Catalan neighborhood of Gracia.
Well known as a bastion of Catalan loyalty, it should come as no surprise to see graffiti and signs displaying a political sentiment favoring secession from Spain. It’s the perfect setting to discover regional recipes, traditions and local haunts that step away from Barcelona’s well traveled tourist footprint.
Eating Good In The Neighborhood
What could be better than starting the morning with a purely Catalan style breakfast in La Pubilla, a nondescript cafe easily missed were it not for its reputation among locals. Without the benefit of an English menu (or for that matter even one in Spanish), Paula orders up a dish of green vegetables in a Romesco sauce of red pepper and hazel nuts puréed with olive oil and garlic, complemented with fried eggs and cured sausage sprinkled with a light dose of honey.
With the morning brought to life with a jolt of a caffeinated cortado, it’s off to the Mercat de la Libertat, a hybrid mix of supermarket and fresh from the fields and sea produce vendors. Starting off with candied fruits, cheeses and the endemic Iberico ham, it’s a celebration of gourmet food sampling at the market’s specialty food merchants.
With a casual stroll through the streets of Gracia supplemented by Paula’ informative narrative, our treasure hunt path to food knowledge leads us to a well respected, generations old bakery. Noshing away on almond nougat, small chocolate bombs and pastries to die for, its hard to leave but the streets are coming alive and we have much more to devour.
It will likely come as a surprise (especially to a proud Greek or Italian) but Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, producing almost 50% of the world’s total supply. Our adventure takes us on a tasting journey of the golden juice, sampling four distinct varieties at a local vendor.
With lunchtime creeping up, we make preparations with an aperitif at the old style, family owned Bodega E. Marin. Spanish vermouth served in a small glass with a large cube of ice and an olive provides authenticity surrounded by ceiling high shelves stacked with local spirits and wine that flows from a series of pipes and taps. With a gesture of genuine hospitality the owner brings out a plate of wild boar pâté’ adding to the spirit of tradition.
As with any food tour, lunch time is the highlight of the day and in Barcelona it is no exception. Our stop is made at another cafe that is a family operation spanning generations. Cal Boter is an institution among locals who frequent the place for its authentic Catalan menu. Our plate dujour is a delicious salted Cod alioli baked and topped with an elegant mousseline sauce of butter, garlic and whipped egg yolks. Washed down with a decanter of red wine, the meal is literally brought down to earth with a tin basket of bbq’d snails.
Escorted through residential streets adorned with wrought iron balconies, narrow alleyways decorated with amazing graffiti and grand tree lined boulevards, Paula brings us to Churreria J. Balcells for an encore sampling of street sweets and traditional Spanish churros.
There is no greater way to implement local culture than initiating your visit with a Culinary Backstreets food experience. With operations in world capitals including Athens, Istanbul, Lisbon, Marseilles, Mexico City, Naples, Oaxaca, Shanghai and others, it’s easy to experience authentic gastronomic indulgence no matter where your travels take you.
Barcelona is not only a feast for the palate but full of eye candy as well. If you are inclined towards hoofing it, the streets feature architecture and shop till you drop boulevards of fashion. Las Ramblas may be the most well known pedestrian avenue but there are others that branch outward from Catalonia Square with designer stores sharing the grand boulevards with sidewalk tapas bars and international gourmet restaurants.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the iconic symbol of Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. The unique vision of Antoni Gaudi is still a work in progress after 100 years, earning him the nickname of ‘God’s Architect’. His masterpiece is the most visited religious monument in Spain displaying a plethora of intriguing styles.
While walking Barcelona can easily be accomplished on foot, to cover longer avenues of adventure contact Barcelona Limousine Service for private drivers that can be at your beck and call for highlights of the city in comfort, reaching outlying sights or even airport transfers. If time allows plan a day or two outside the city by visiting the mountaintop monastery of Montserrat or exploring the Costa Brava and the medieval town of Girona.
Feasting on the Gothic architecture, Catalonian culture and even the beaches of the Mediterranean, Barcelona fills a perfect plate for travel enjoyment.