With European city breaks very much back on the agenda, Barcelona is a perennial favourite for those who love combining food and travel. This Spanish city is overflowing with culinary treats, thanks to its Mediterranean location, long history and succession of inhabitants bringing their own dishes and flavours with them to be shared, refined and remade in a unique Catalan way.
A food tour of Barcelona is a great way to discover this city
‘Food for us is who we are,’ say the residents of Barcelona, and the proof is certainly all around. From fine-dining – Barcelona has 19 Michelin-starred restaurants – to the tiny, welcoming bars on every corner, Barcelona is a food-lovers delight, which means it can be a little overwhelming on a first visit. A great way to ease yourself into this sprawling, vibrant city is to take a food tour, meaning you can sample Barcelona’s history along with its food but if you would rather go it alone then here are some unmissable culinary hotspots.
Start your food discovery tour like the locals, with a glass of vermouth and some patatas bravas – sliced potatoes with a spicy, often tomato-based sauce – before lunch, maybe with some seafood and salsa espinaler (spicy pepper sauce) on the side. While the question of which city first created patatas bravas is hotly contested between Madrid and Barcelona, it’s a great way to instantly feel the Spanish vibe. Drink your vermouth with a slice of orange, an ice cube and an olive and you’re away. If you can resist the rest of the tapas on offer, which can include anchovies, smoked sardines, squid ink croquettes and Catalan sausage, then you’re just not trying hard enough. While tapas is not traditionally from Barcelona – it’s thought the tradition of serving small snacks with wine started in Andalucía in southern Spain or Castilla in the north – tapas is nowadays a huge part of the Barcelona culinary scene. The practice here though, unlike elsewhere in Spain, is to order a selection of dishes to share in one location during the course of an evening, rather than hopping from bar to bar, ordering as you go.
Montcada Street, 2
A Barcelona institution since 1932, family-owned wine distributers Vila Viniteca has an inviting corner store in the heart of Barcelona which sells everything from ham, cheese, chocolate, oil, vinegar, pasta, coffee and of course, lots of wine.
There are a few tables dotted around so you can indulge on the spot as well as buying to take away, and a downstairs cellar space is available for sampling regional delicacies such as Iberico ham and Manchego cheese, and getting stuck into Vila Viniteca’s extensive wine selection. Just across the street is Forn de Pa Vilamala, known locally as providing some of the best bread in Barcelona.
If you like drinking wine in tiny bars full of character, then head straight for La Vinya del Senyor. Located on Plaza Santa María del Mar, in Born district, Barcelona, where the locals tend to hang out, you can either perch on a high bar stool inside, climb up a ramshackle winding staircase to a tiny upstairs room, or, weather permitting, get stuck into some serious people-watching along with your wine from the outside tables.
Plaça de Santa Maria, 5
08003 Barcelona, Spain
Going strong since 1930, this tiny but packed family-owned charcuturie is in the Gothic quarter, just three minutes’ walk from Barcelona Cathedral. Popular with locals and tourists alike, La Pineda serves meat, cheese and traditional Catalonia produce as well as a selection of tasting menus featuring the likes of Bellota ham, Iberian pork and marinated tuna. There are a few seats inside and a couple of tables outside so you can people-watch along one of Barcelona’s famed narrow winding streets.
Carrer del Pì, 16
If you want to load up on food to take home with you, then Casa Gispert is a magical emporium piled high with treats from floor to ceiling. One of the oldest food stores in Barcelona, located just around the corner from Santa Maria del Mar church, Casa Gispert has hardly changed its interior since it opened in 1851 and sells everything from olive oil, nuts freshly roasted in store, dried fruits, truffles, coffees, spices and sauces. Pick up a bag of chocolate-covered kumquats and enjoy the mix of healthy eating and pure indulgence.
Olive oil fanatics should head straight for Oroliquido in the Gothic quarter. The shop is a bright, clinical-looking store which takes olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, extremely seriously. Visitors can taste a variety of oils, from the renowned Picual, Arbequina and Hojiblanca varieties, in addition to discovering the amazing aromas of lesser-known varieties such as Corbella, Salar de Arbúcies or Cua de Cirera as well as checking out its range of olive oil cosmetics, chocolates and soaps. You’ll learn that not all oils are created equal – and discover some which really pack a punch.
Carrer de la Palla, 8
For a true local experience, head to the market of Santa Caterina, one of Barcelona’s many food markets, bustling with market traders and shoppers including in Barcelona’s favourite pastimes of food and gossip. From traditional Catalonia fare such as calçots, the seasonal leek/onion-like green vegetable eaten dipped in salsa romesco, fresh fish – especially cod – and pork trotters, to newer concepts such as vegan food, a stroll around Santa Caterina is a great way to immerse yourself in both the new and traditional cuisine of Barcelona.
Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16,
If you have a sweet tooth then head for Fargas in the Gothic quarter, one of the oldest dessert shops in Barcelona, dating from 1827. Its window-display is mouth-watering and hard to resist, with its artisan chocolate makers producing around 50 varieties of chocolate, including truffles, Christmas nougats, hot chocolate and Easter chocolate sculptures, a big Barcelona tradition. Cocoa is still ground with the original old stone mill to make the ’Chocolate a la Piedra’ which attracts visitors lured by the smell of cocoa during production.
Carrer del Pi, 16
If the bustle of the city gets too much, then head out to the Can Marti estate in the Pendedes region, about an hour north of Barcelona, home of the Torelló winery. The same family has owned the estate since 1395 and cultivates white and red grapes in its 135 undulating hectares. Each field is clearly labelled with the types of grapes, ranging from local varieties macabeo, parellada and malvasia, all grown organically without chemicals or pesticides, and after a tour around the vineyard, the cellar and production facility, you can enjoy sampling the different wines along with cheese, ham, salmon and the pane con tomate (bread and tomato) which no Spanish meal can do without.
And don’t forget to do a bit of sight-seeing in between food stops!
Food tour and hotel info
My article originally appeared in The Mail on Sunday newspaper. I travelled to Barcelona with Almanac hotels which has an Almanac Barcelona Foodie Package from £1,752 for two people which includes a two night stay at the Almanac Barcelona, a Virens Wine Pairing Menu, a private tour of Bodega Torelló, a bespoke three-hour food tour of Barcelona and airport transfers to and from Almanac Barcelona (flights not included).
For more information and to book visit almanachotels.com/barcelona/special-offers or call +34 93 0187000
Love city food tours? Then check out my review of Eating Europe food tour of London; My epic food tour of Japan; Gourmet break and food tour of Lancashire at the Northcote