The weather in Barcelona
If you’re from cooler climes,it can be easy to forget the way that food is revered throughout the Mediterranean region. In the buzzing cafés, elegant restaurants, packed markets, and intimate bars of Barcelona you can find first-rate cuisine from all over the world. The city’s love affair with food harks back to its historic role at the centre of a maritime empire, but also its modern-day status as a cosmopolitan world city.
Yet getting an exceptional culinary experience out of the city isn’t always easy. Many visitors to the city struggle to work out the difference between tourist traps offering overpriced paella and restaurants where the diners are discerning Catalan locals. So we thought we’d give you some tips on how to get grips with all that makes Catalonia a mecca for foodies.
What can you expect from Catalan cooking?
Barcelona has always been perfectly placed to cook up a storm, taking advantage of the bounty of the Mediterranean Sea on one side and fertile countryside on the other. In fact, the tagline of Catalan cuisine is ‘mar i muntanya’ – ‘sea and mountain’, referencing the locals’ tendency to mix seafood and meat. Somewhere between the elitist haute-cuisine of the French and the more down-to-earth approach of the Spanish, the resulting style has made it one of the most highly respected cuisines in the world.
The rest of Spain gets a look in, too, with Catalan chefs happy to borrow classic fare from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The city definitely loves its tapas. Especially popular are the Basque-style pintxos – small pieces of bread stacked with a variety of ingredients and skewered with a cocktail stick.
Typical fare includes pa amb tomàquet, bread smeared with tomato, olive oil and garlic – a basic yet surprisingly tasty morsel. Esqueixada, a salt cod salad, is a rare treat on a warm Barcelona day. Rice dishes feature heavily and are often accompanied with a pot of allioli, a heavy garlic mayonnaise. If you fancy something simple try local favourite mongetes amb botifarra (pork sausage with white haricot beans). For dessert you can’t do better than crema catalana, a Catalan version of crème brûlée. And, of course, the region’s vineyards offer a myriad of vintages ideal for washing down a long Spanish lunch.
Catalonia holds its cultural distinctiveness from the rest of Spain close to its heart, and food is no exception. In recent years the region has had much to be proud of as various chefs with gastronomic genius have thrust it to the centre of the world stage. The undisputed leading light is Barcelona-born Ferran Adrià, a chef with three Michelin stars who is arguably the world’s best chef.
Adrià’s often surreal creations (such as foamed Spanish omelette served in a sherry glass) have done a lot to dispel the image of Catalan cooking as a mainly traditional and rustic affair. His famous El Bulli restaurant on the Costa Brava closed its doors in 2011 (getting a table was impossible anyway). However, he continues to inspire the next generation of chefs through his workshops, ensuring his home town’s place at the top table of haute-cuisine.
Now, some of you might be worried that eating out in Barcelona is all about minimalist décor and tiny portions of overpriced and pretentious delicacies. You’ll be glad to hear that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even Catalonia’s Michelin-starred chefs extol the virtues of the hearty dishes and fresh ingredients that are at the root of the region’s claims to fame. Here are five of our favourites.
Our top five Catalan restaurants
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