BE FOREWARNED–this post is image heavy and laden with food!! More specifically, most of the food I had during my one week stay in Barcelona. This will be a very long post… I apologize in advance to those of you on a slow connection. I put most of the photos after the cut just for you! 😀

Before we proceed with all the food, I feel the need to preface this entry with two very old, scanned photos from the last time I was in Spain. I was 17 then–we were in Mallorca, about to embark on a 10 day cruise around the Mediterranean, and we had about 3 hours to spare before the ship set sail. We found ourselves in a supermarket, surrounded by unfamiliar foods… in particular, I remembered being in an isle full of Jamon Iberico. Back then I had NO IDEA what I was looking at… I mean, my dad obviously knew better than I did. So it wasn’t until years and years later that I’d taste this ham made from black acorn-fed pigs…

Jump forward about a decade or so, and we find ourselves eating this very ham at our first food destination…

CAFE VIENA is a little joint right on La Rambla… where the street is littered with human statues like this weird alien thing…

The cafe is most well known for their flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo, a sandwich that was raved about as “the best sandwich” Mark Bittman has ever had in the NY Times. According to the article, the jamon iberico used in this sandwich costs about $75 a pound! The sandwich, at about 7 euros, was not bad. I don’t think it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted, and the hard bread leaves a lot to be desired. But the ham… THE HAM! All I can say is that it’s strongly pork-flavored without being too salty. You’ll just have to try it for yourself one day.

——»»» o «««——

7 PORTES is a 175-year-old restaurant has been frequented by celebrities, artists, writers and politicians alike. Best known for the rice dishes in general, this was the place I selected for my first taste of authentic Spanish paella. Though it has to be said, paella originates from Valencia, not Catalonia. So technically we were in the wrong region of Spain… but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.

We had the “Lazy Man’s Paella”, in which all ingredients are shelled and de-boned. This also meant that I had no idea what I was eating, because everything was the same colour! In hind sight, I should have ordered the classic paella… it would have been nice to see what kind of seafood I was eating. The rice was quite a bit firmer than what I’m use to, which is probably what it’s suppose to be like, since the flat paella pan allows the stock to evaporate faster while cooking. While I enjoyed the texture of the rice I found this dish to be a little on the salty side.

——»»» o «««——

Located to the right of the main entrance of La Boqueria market, BAR PINOTXO is undoubtedly one of the must visit places in Barcelona. I kid you not when I say that this tapas bar has appeared in every single Barcelona travel book, video and website I looked at when I was doing my research. Usually, places like this are overrated and turn out to be not that great. But Bar Pinotxo was so much fun to dine at that we went back a second time and seriously considered a third visit. The owner, a little old man named Juan, is seriously one of the most friendly and charismatic bar owners I’ve ever met. He barely understands a speck of English, but tries his best using body gestures to communicate with you. Even when the bar is completely surrounded with people waiting to get a seat, he makes eye contact and gestures every 5 minutes or so to reassure you that he still remembers you’re there! That’s the sign of a well-seasoned resto-bar manager–I was impressed.

This is what it’s like, eating at Bar Pinotxo. There’s constantly people standing behind you, looking over your shoulder at what you’re eating, waiting for you to leave ASAP so they can have their turn! Some people feel rushed, eating in this kind of environment. I enjoy it because I know what I’m eating is good enough that people will stand there and wait that long for it.

Juan, in his element, pouring us both a beer… that MY MOTHER insisted on ordering. (?!!!?!)

Anchovies in vinegar with grapes–the perfect balance of acid, salt and sweetness. Before visiting Barcelona, anchovies were known to me as “the topping you do not want on pizzas”. After Barcelona, I stand corrected. They have the potential to be tasty–the Spaniards make these fishies proud! Anchovies are not as gross as I thought they would be… but I still wouldn’t order them in North America.

The chickpeas, which came highly recommended were delicious. I have no idea how they cooked them or what they put in it, but they were good… and I don’t even like chickpeas. Juan also insisted we try the creme caramel–not too sweet and incredibly rich. My kind of thing. I expressed my approval to Juan by giving him two thumbs up!

Worthy to note: If you’re thinking of making your way here to enjoy some seafood, make sure you DO NOT visit them on a Monday. Most of La Boqueria’s fish market section is closed on this day, so there is a very limited selection of seafood available to shoppers and bars within the market.

——»»» o «««——

EL XAMPANYET is a bar located in a little alley, directly across from the Museu Picasso. They’re known for their cheap house-made cava (spanish champagne), which comes in a re-corkable bottle. You can pour however much you want, and the waiter just eye-balls how much is left at the end of your meal and charges you accordingly. Naturally, there’s always a line of people out the door! This is the kind of place where it’s so packed, you eat off of any flat surface you can find… the bar, a 6 inch wide shelf, a random barrel outside… Our last night in Barcelona we came here for dinner, and it was absolute insanity. Little did we know, the Barcelona FC had a game that evening. The streets and metro were teaming people young and old, wearing their blue and red striped jerseys.

Clockwise from the bottom: cured or raw pieces of fish and sundried tomato with olive oil, pan amb tomaquet (toasted bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil), thin slices of some kinda sausage, young potatoes with garlic aioli, dried chilis and actual pieces of cooked garlic, toasts topped with wedges of spanish omlette and anchovies with a sliver of red bell pepper, and in the center jamon (iberico?) on top of toast.

The waiter also insisted we try the “sweet cookies”, even though we told him we were full. The cookies turned out to be a lot like cantucci con vin santo, a dessert I had back when I was in Florence. You take these cookies (mini biscotti, one encrusted with pine nuts (?), and a pastry filled with custard) and you dip it into this sweet wine before eating it.

——»»» o «««——

As their name might imply, LA PEPITA specializes in pepito (hot sandwiches), and they’re also known for their gin and tonics. This resto-bar is a newer establishment, compared to all the other places we visited. The decor and food seemed to be geared towards a younger crowd, serving classic tapas with a modern twist. We enjoyed our lunch so much we went back another night for dinner.

La Pepita–day and night.

Esqueixada–a salad that consists of dried salted cod that is desalted and torn, tomatoes, black olives and dressed with olive oil. My mom’s favourite dish of the week! At La Pepita, some of their tapas are served in a small can. Their use of the can for presentation is kinda quirky–at the end of the meal your bill comes attached to the detached lid of the can, underneath the tab that you would usually pull to open it.

Rice pudding with red bell pepper sauce, garnished with some crunchy (granola?) bits. Nothing special about the pudding, but the sauce adds an interesting zing. A good way to end a light meal.

On the left, pork escabeche with a puree of aubergine. I’m not sure what the other sauces are, but there’s sugar cane somewhere in this dish. On the right, La Pepita’s “special” anchovies with a drizzle of dulce de leche on top of small slivers of toast. Both were delicious and really well balanced dishes. The pork escabeche was super tender… and the anchovies with the unusual sauce was the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

The Golden Pepita–my idea of breakfast for dinner. A thin slice of beef topped off with a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg and a slab of the silkiest foie gras I’ve ever tasted. This dish was paired with roasted potatoes and drizzled with gravy that probably had drippings from the beef in it.

——»»» o «««——

XURRERIA is a little hole in the wall churro (xurro) shop that’s just to the east of La Rambla. Other than their spectacular churros, they also sell various other fried snacks. The first time we visited, we didn’t know if it would be any good… so we opted to buy one cone to try it out. They were so good and perfectly crunchy that we went back not 15 minutes later and bought another. My mom gave the little old man thumbs up, and he smiled and threw an extra churro into our second cone. 😀 Each cone costs 1 euro and will get you approximately 5 pieces.

Typically, churros are dipped into a cup of steaming hot chocolate (xocolata amb xurros) and eaten during breakfast. Since Xurreria doesn’t sell hot chocolate, we wandered to the Palau Música Catalana and had it there with our own churros!

——»»» o «««——

CAL PEP is the kind of restaurant where 45 minutes before the doors open, there’s a line of 20 people outside waiting to be fed. In the words of one of the people passing by, “I don’t understand why there’s a huge line of people waiting outside of a garage door for dinner!”

And that’s not the end of it… if you’re not one of the first 14 people in line, you’ll have to wait AGAIN inside the restaurant for people from the first round to finish eating and vacate their seats at the bar. Generally customers are pretty patient, because you can order drinks while standing in line. The people in line actually congratulated us when it was our turn to sit down, hahahaha

The bright side of waiting in line is that you can scope out what people are ordering, and whether or not it’s any good. We stood behind this elderly couple for about 40 minutes, and in the end I chatted them up and they were the ones that recommended this FANTASTIC baked monkfish topped with slices of garlic and dried chilis. The waiter de-bones it for you when it’s brought to the bar. If you ask me, it was the best dish we had all week. Such a pity that this type of fish is not commonly found in North America…

We also ordered this plate of clams that was cooked with bits of cured ham. It cost just a little bit less than the monkfish… while it’s still tasty, for what you get I wish I’d ordered two plates of the fish. Whether you want it or not, they’ll serve you some Catalan pan amb tomaquet, a staple you’ll find at any restaurant in Barcelona.

——»»» o «««——

LIZARRAN was one of our unplanned food destinations. On our last day in Barcelona, we visited Diagonal Mar (shopping center) and came upon this pintxo bar on the third floor. I didn’t know this until I came back, but apparently Lizarran has a few locations in California and New York. So if you’re stateside, you might want to visit them! I don’t know how they compare with the one in Barcelona though… so don’t hold me to it.

If you don’t know what pintxo are, they’re essentially slices of baguette topped with an assortment of different ingredients, then skewered with a toothpick. Typically they’d be laid out on platters at the bar, and you go up and pick whatever you like. At the end of your meal, they count the number of toothpicks on your plate to determine how much you have to pay. In Spain the honor system works… somehow.

So in the end, what have I learned from this gastronomic experience? [list_numbered]

  • Most Spanish food institutions will not bend to your eating schedule. You may want to have dinner at 6pm, and you may find restaurants that are open at that time. But that does NOT mean they will serve you dinner right away. You’ll probably end up waiting until 7:30 or 8pm before the kitchen even opens! Same thing goes for lunch… show up before 1pm, and you might have to sit around for a while.
  • If you’re a tourist and do not understand their Catalan/Spanish menus, sometimes it’s best to go without. In fact, several of the places I went to simply did not have menus! The waiters expect you to know what you want… and if you can’t tell them, you’ll just have to trust that they’ll bring you something good. Luckily for me, every time I let the waiter run wild the food has been a hit. It might make you nervous that you won’t know what’s going to end up on the tab… but that’s why you research your restaurants ahead of time. Get a feel for how much they cost so you won’t be surprised.
  • Eating in large groups will be difficult, especially if you don’t make reservations or like sitting at the bar. Normally I’m not really into sitting at bars… but something has to be said about bars and tourists. Even though you feel like you have to eat quick and get out, people are more inclined to chat when you’re all seated in a row. And that’s part of what I find most enjoyable about traveling–you get to meet and talk to people that you might never meet if you don’t travel abroad. It’s enlightening and educational to learn about different cultures and lifestyles this way.

    If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this entry, I congratulate you!! I hope I’ve inspired you to visit Barcelona one day, because it really is a fantastic city, especially for foodies! For your convenience, I’ve listed all of the places I mentioned below. Enjoy!

    Cafe Viena
    La Rambla, 115
    Metro: Catalunya

    7 Portes
    Passeig de Isabel II, 14
    Metro: Barceloneta

    Bar Pinotxo (inside La Boqueria)
    La Rambla, 89
    Metro: Liceu

    La Pepita
    Carrer Còrsega, 343
    Metro: Diagonal

    Cal Pep
    Placa de les Olles, 8
    Metro: Barceloneta/Jaume I

    El Xampanyet
    Carrer Montcada, 22
    Metro: Jaume I

    Carrer dels Banys Nous, 3
    Metro: Liceu

    Lizarran (inside Diagonal Mar, third floor)
    Avinguda Diagonal, 3
    Metro: El Maresme/Fòrum

    • Emily

      November 16, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      Pheebs! I loved this post- reminded my of time in Barcelona last year. Wasn’t that jamon iberico SO tasty?? My sister and I still speak of it fondly. And the tapas bar at the La Boqueria was so much fun; I ordered the chickpeas too and it was my sister’s favourite dish while in Spain. I also went to that churros place but it wasn’t as memorable for me.

      LOVE LOVE LOVE travel posts!


        November 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm

        I’d love to have some jamon iberico here, but I think I can deal with just serrano, hehe 🙂 As for the churros place… I think we got a little lucky. Every time I went there they were fresh out of them and the little old man had given me a fresh batch. You really do have to eat them while they’re still hot! We actually tried to bring some back for my dad, but they’d lost their crunch by then and were, in fact, quite gross when cold/reheated.

        I also didn’t mention in the post (it’s long enough as it is), but there was a crew filming something on Banys Nous just past the Xurreria while we were there. I’m sure it was some kind of Spanish show/movie, as I didn’t recognize the actress. That in part made our visit even more memorable.