BARCELONA - I’m being a glutton. While taking a break from the relentless heat in a cool, air-conditioned butcher’s shop, I stare at a small snow cone-sized cup, overflowing with glistening slivers of finely cut Iberian ham and try to rationalize the €4.50 ($6.80 Cdn) purchase with my stomach.
But after a lunch of savoury dishes like chorizo braised in apple cider, thin loops of calamari and, probably, a sixth day of eating copious amounts of ham toppling over slices of crusty baguette (my favourite tapas dish yet) I’m not sure I can squeeze in another bite.
“Lady, I can wrap the ham up for you,” the shop owner says, hoping to end my plight.
“The ham is cured; it’ll withstand the outdoor heat,” he tells me while wrapping up a cone with a bag of bread sticks.
Armed with the ham, I to return to the overheated streets of the city’s Gothic Quarter. Barcelona is a treat, marrying quirky, eclectic architecture with an excellent food scene, with beaches and nightlife to boot.
My friends and I easily scarfed down Macedonian fruit salads while in line to enter the Sagrada Familia church (“It looks like melted butter,” someone once told me) and days later, on La Rambla, we fill up on crepes filled with a delicious concoction of ham, Emmenthal cheese and caramelized onions.
We had to take a siesta before heading to Park Guell because we were so bowled over from a four-course lunch mid-week.
In short, we have eaten our way through Barcelona.
Above: Freshness is what makes food in Barcelona taste so special.
It’s not fair. They smear fresh tomatoes on thick cut slices of bread doused in olive oil. They turn anything — fish, potatoes, more ham — into croquettes, little deep-fried bites packed with flavour.
It’d be impolite to pass up this classic Catalonian fare, I tell myself.
The offerings include an array of seafood — baked, broiled, grilled, even salted, caught fresh from the sea — paired with glasses of cava, a sweet sparkling wine, or sangria made with red or white wine served by the litre.
From the bustling world-renowned markets, rows of restaurants that line the Barceloneta beach, to the jovial tapas bars in trendy neighbourhoods, the city’s gastronomic paradise can be a little overwhelming.
Locals are spoiled with such fresh fare and an array of hearty traditions wherever they go. So take a look at some of the bites you must make room for while visiting Barcelona:
1 - Tapas offers a wide variety of items, and depending on the tapas bar, the dishes can be small sharing plates to simple bites, such as a deceivingly yummy chunk of brie, topped with spicy sopressa sausage on a slice of baguette. Dining on tapas is like running a marathon — in some places, you order a few items at a time, along with rounds of drinks. Croquettes, patates bravas (potatoes cubed then fried, and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce), calamari rings (grilled or deep fried), and pancetta sautéed with spinach are just some of the Spanish tapas staples. There’s no consensus on the best tapas bars, but the noisy stops with multitasking waiters hustling plates and pouring sangria likely won’t disappoint. My personal favourite is Txapela, which has two locations in the L’Eixample neighbourhood.
2 - A trifecta of libations to accompany breakfast, lunch and dinner — Valencia orange juice, sangria, and cava. Mornings should begin with orange juice, and the Valencia orange is allegedly one of the sweetest around and used primarily for juicing. Juicers pepper cafes, sandwich shops and markets alike, but your best bet is in the Mercat de la Boqueria, Spain’s largest food market just steps off the crowded La Rambla. Vendors peddle produce, snacks and seafood so fresh it’s still moving, but it’s the row upon row of fruit juices that entice thirst-quenched shoppers. Cava, a sparkling wine, can come in all price points, while sangria is the perfect pairing to a patio on a sunny day.
3 - Fresh seafood: Waterfront dining can be hit-or-miss as dependable restaurants are wedged between tourist traps — in some cases, it’s unclear where one restaurant’s patio ends and another begins. But a stop at the right restaurant can be an experience, dining on fishermen’s catches of the day. Book a table at Can Majo to try its sopa de pescado y marisco — fish and shellfish in a delicious tomato-based soup, or try your luck at other stops, making sure to try seafood caught from the waters a short walk away from you.
Above: The Spanish make their offerings a little bit more appetizing.
4 - Molecular gastronomy — Canadian Catalonian style: Among the throngs of tapas bars is a handful of “haute cuisine” stops, cooking up intricate plates that play with taste and texture. Cinc Sentits, or Five Senses, a restaurant with Canadian roots pays homage to our nation thoughtfully through the small details. The kitchen’s amuse-bouche offering, for example, is a shot glass with maple syrup — imported straight from Canada — chilled cava sabayon and topped with rock salt. Chef Jordi Artal and his family hail from Toronto, his sister, who is waiting on our table, tells us.
5 - Iberian ham: Jamón ibérico is famous cured ham made from acorn-fed black-footed Spanish pigs. It’s cured for two to three years, if you’re looking at the finest quality — and it’s definitely worth the wait. While buying it by the pound is out of reach for most of us — at some stops, prices were about €40 per pound (about $53 Cdn). — thrifty diners can sample generous slices on baguette in tapas bars for a meager €3.
6 - Paella: This dish is so iconic, it’s on magnets and even postcards littering souvenir shops. The rice dish is cooked and, most often, served in a paellera, a large, shallow frying pan. Seafood paella can contain clams, white fish, shrimps and scallops, for example, while mixed paella swaps some of the shellfish for poultry. Some paella is made with squid ink, which supposedly adds the taste of salty seawater to the dish, while others replace rice with thin noodles.