This self-guided tour will show you all the main sights of the Mediterranean’s most vivacious city in the best possible way - through food!
- Self Guided Food Tour
- Guided Free Walking Tour
- Things To Do in Barcelona
- Other Self Guided Tours of Barcelona
Barcelona is Spain’s most Cosmopolitan city, a metropolis where today you can find great food from all around the globe brought here by the immigration that has been constantly revitalizing the city for centuries.
This manifests itself in the numerous Catalan fusion restaurants scattered around the city, but before globalization Barcelona experienced a huge scoop of Spanish culinary culture with immigration from the different regions of Spain. That’s what we’re going to explore today.
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Mercat Sant Josep la Boquería, Las Ramblas. Metro: Liceu (Line 3)
The first recorded mention of this market was in 1217. Back then the market was held outside of a gateway to the city known as the Boquería. The Carrer Boquería, or Boquería Street, still exists just a little further down Las Ramblas.
The peasants and farmers would bring their produce up to the gateway to sell it to the townsfolk, but they would always conduct business outside of the walls to avoid paying taxes (if only the world still worked like this… or perhaps it still does!).
The market moved to its current site, just off of Las Ramblas, after the Convent of Sant Josep was burned down in anti-clerical rioting in 1835. From Las Ramblas enter the main gateway under the beautiful stained glass sign with the Barcelona flag. The main artery of the market is always packed so we recommend turning immediately to the right and stopping by one of the ham stalls.
Whether or not you eat pork, you cannot have failed to notice the giant legs of cured jamón hanging in every Spanish bar and café. The best jamón is Bellota. Made from the salted and cured meat of Iberian black hoofed pigs left to roam in pastures and oak groves where their diet is heavily reliant on acorns, or bellotas in Spanish. You will find lots of stalls selling small cones of jamón iberico or jamón bellota for tasting.
Most stalls will also sell the cut ham vacuumed sealed to take back on your flight home, and if you really like it you can also buy a whole leg. They can arrange shipping for you, but if you plan on taking it on your flight yourself, make sure you check with the airline!
Most jamón stalls also sell cheeses. The most common Spanish cheese is Manchego. Manchego is made from Manchegan sheep’s milk. Cheese from cow’s milk is less common in Spain than in many other countries. Manchegan sheep come from La Mancha, the region south east of Madrid.
You may have heard of Spain’s most famous literary character; Don Quixote de la Mancha. A man who after reading too many stories of chivalrous knights, takes his simple friend, an old horse, and makeshift suit of armor and goes off mis-adventuring around Spain. Just like the jamón, you can buy little cones of Manchego cheese to nibble while we continue our tour.
You’ll pass many fruit and vegetable stalls with their technicolor displays. If you have a kitchen in your accommodation, a bag of veggies is inexpensive. Many of these stalls also sell inexpensive fruit smoothies.
For those with a sweet tooth check out Vicens, a family run business that has been specializing in producing a traditional Catalan nougat called Torró. Their different products include nougat made from hazelnuts, almonds, honey and cocoa.
This is another great souvenir to take back home for family or work colleagues. The Vicens family have been making their delicious torronés since 1775.
Entering deeper into the market you will pass butcher stalls with all parts of the animal on sale. Squeamish people would do well not to look too long and hard at the butchers. You’ll find callos (tripe) and pig’s ears, which are both very common tapas here. You’ll also find; chicken hearts, sheep’s brains and even Bull’s testicles and penis on sale!
As you get towards the back of the market you’ll find the most impressive section; the ring of seafood stalls. The market ladies are selling fresh tuna steaks (atun), swordfish (emperador), monkfish (rape), hake (merluza), and lots and lots of cod (bacalao).
You’ll also see crabs (cangrejos), langoustines and lobsters (bogavantes) moving around still alive but with their claws tied up so they don’t pinch the shoppers! Mussels (mejillones), clams (almejas) and oysters (ostras) are also popular local favorites.
The most famous dish from Spain is the Paella. Internationally it has become famous as a mixture of all of these seafood options with chicken, but it was originally a mountain dish from near to Valencia and the most traditional recipe is with rabbit (conejo) and snails (caracoles).
The paella takes its name from the large round metal dish used for cooking it. You can buy paelleras in the market but they may also be difficult to get shipped home and, ideally you need to buy the gas cooking rings to match the pan in order to ensure it all heats up at the same speed.
The main ingredient in paella is saffron (azafarán). In some parts of the world saffron costs more per gram/pound than gold! Spain is one of the world’s top saffron producers, and a small and easy to carry pack of saffron makes a great gift for the chef in your life.
If you really want to get local, Catalunya is famous for a dish cooked in the same paellera dish but with fideos (pasta) instead of rice.
The fideua can be found all across the city. Sometimes you will see it advertised in English as “pasta paella”. The fideua is always accompanied with healthy dashings of aïoli (garlic mayonnaise).
Before leaving the market check out one of the olive oil stalls. Spain is the world’s leading exporter of olive oil and it really is a passion, very little is eaten without oil. Spain’s long life expectancy is often ascribed to the huge quantities of olive oil consumed here.
Having browsed the market stalls, you may want to eat at one of the bustling restaurant kiosks in the market itself.
For those on more of a budget, and especially for vegetarians, the Organic is Orgasmic takeaway stall is great.
Out the back of the market they have just opened a little park with some seats, or just 3 mins more walk away, behind the market, is the Hospital Sant Pau i Santa Creu. The courtyard of the old hospital is a great place to sit and enjoy your take out in medieval surroundings.
Antigua Casa Figueras (Pastries)
If you leave the market by the side entrance onto Passatge dels Coloms, you’ll rejoin Las Ramblas by Pastelería Escribá in the incredible, tiled, Casa Figueres building.
The cracked up ceramic mosaic style was made famous by Gaudí and the Moderista architecture movement. Gaudí himself liked a simple diet but he once said that; “the Catalan has a sweet tooth”. Enter any bakery and you will see this is true.
A local favorite is the ensaïmada a pastry traditionally made using reduced pork lard. A typical, extra sweet, Catalan version is the Cabell d’Angel (literally Angel’s hair) made from the stringy strands found inside pumpkins cooked in sugar.
Some of the best tapas bars are away from the center.
Las Ramblas really is a very touristic and generally over-priced neighborhood. At the end of this tour, you’ll find a list of restaurants you might want to consider checking out later. For now we’ll leave the Rambla taking Passatge d’Amadeu Bagués.
After descending the steps turn left on C/del Cardenal Casañas. You’ll almost immediately see Irati Taberna Basca.
Irati Taberna Basca (Pintxos)
Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya; a region of Spain with it’s own language and historical claims to greater territory which run across the border into southern France. Across on Spain’s Atlantic border with France is another region with its own language and historical claims to territory in southern France; Pais Bascos or the Basque Region.
The Basque region has more Michelin starred restaurants per head than anywhere else in Spain and has its own unique culinary heritage. Its normally fairly easy to spot a Basque bar or restaurant from firstly the name.
The Basque language bears no relation to any other Indo-European language and is often full of collections of unpronounceable consonants. Secondly the Basque’s make their tapas on slices of baguette bread covered in delicious toppings held on to the bread with a toothpick, the pintxo.
In all pintxos bars the counters are filled with plates of pintxos and you simply take an empty plate from the end of the bar and start helping yourself. When you’re done eating, the waiter will count the toothpicks and charge you accordingly. Pintxos in Barcelona are normally around 1€ to 3€ each.
The Atlantic coast of Spain is very rainy and full of orchards.
A traditional drink in Pais Bascos, and especially in the smaller northern province of Asturias, is Sidra, a cider made with no added gas. The sidra can be a little bitter but makes a great accompaniment to your pintxos. For a little fun later on, check out the recommended Asturian bar.
The traditional way to pour sidra is with the bottle held above your head and the glass in the other hand stretched out below you. This gets air into the drink and reduces the bitterness, but is also done for the spectacle!
Leaving Irati head to the left to Plaça del Pi. The magical gothic church in the square dates from the first golden age of Barcelona in the 14th century during the time of the Crown of Aragón.
We recommend Excursions Barcelona’s Free Walking Tour for a great introduction to this and the rest of the city’s history.
If you stand with your back to Santa María del Pi church the thin street that leaves the square on the left, C/Petritxol, is one of the most quaint in the city. Full of interesting art shops and some of the best cafés for trying churros con xocolate.
Churros are fried strips of dough covered in sugar and then dipped in thick, rich chocolate sauce.
Believe it or not, this is a common breakfast in Spain!
Chocolate became so popular when it first became available in the Eighteenth Century Barcelona that they had to ban people from eating it in church on Sundays! Chocolate was just one of the many imports from Spain’s American empire which has influenced the countries cuisine.
Head around Santa Maria del Pi church into Plaça Sant Josep Oriol. Take the tiny C/de l’Ave Maria and then right on C/Banys Nous.
This is the street of the new baths. At least they were new in Roman times!
We’re going to head straight down this street, crossing C/Ferran and continuing straight as it becomes C/Avinyó.
This is a bit of a walk down to the old harbor, but it’s worth it for the great tapas bars we’ll visit and you can imagine what this street must have been like at the turn of the twentieth century when Picasso grew up around here and was inspired by the working girls of the street to paint his most influential painting; les damoiselles d’Avingnon.
Bar Celta Pulperia
Getting to the end of C/Avinyó on the left you’ll find Bar Celta Pulperia (closed Mondays).
The very North West of Spain is called Galicia and it has a big Celtic culture with music, their own form of bagpipes and another unique language. Galicia is the birthplace of many of Spain’s most famous tapas dishes. For the authentic Spanish experience sit at the bar and get chatting to your waiter.
Seafood lovers will be in paradise, Galicia has a huge Atlantic coastline and no culinary experience would be complete without trying the Pulpo that the bar is named after. Pulpo is octopus, and the pulpo a la Galego or Galician octopus is prepared by boiling the octopus tentacles while it’s still alive.
They call this process; scaring the octopus. The boiled tentacles are then covered in paprika and olive oil, chopped up and served. A half ration is enough for at least two people.
The little green peppers you’ll see everyone eating are pimientos de padrón. Galicia is a very rainy area and very few of these peppers get any spice, but they say usually one in fifty come out spicy. Don’t fear though, nothing in Spain is ever spicy but international standards.
Another great veggie option is the tortilla española or tortilla de patatas, a potato omelet that every Spaniard has their own special way of cooking.
For meat eaters, try the bombas. Bombas are minced meat surrounded by mashed potato and then fried in breadcrumbs. The bomba was actually invented in the Barceloneta district of Barcelona by the beaches.
To accompany all of this try the Ribeiro white wine served in little ceramic bowls for the traditional experience.
Tasca el Corral
Tasca is an old Spanish word for a restaurant.
This is an Asturian bar where they do great sidra and you can have a go at escanciando, pouring the cider from above your head into the glass as we described earlier. Asturias is famous for its cheeses.
For those who like strong tastes, the Cabrales blue cheese is a must. Made from cow’s milk curds Cabrales is wrapped it leaves and buried in caves to mature.
For more spectacle with your food try the Chorizo al Diablo, or devil’s sausage.
Chorizo can be cured pork salami, or a freshly cooked pork sausage. It’s the paprika that gives it its famous flavor and color. The chorizo al Diablo is covered in alcohol and then set on fire to cook.
You have to keep stoking it yourself to keep the flames going until the sausages are all cooked.
Tasca el Corral does a number of tostadas, which are basically toasted bread with different toppings.
Catalans cannot eat anything without pan tomaquèt or tomato bread. In some places you will get to make this yourself with a basket left in the middle of the table containing half of a tomato, peeled cloves of garlic, salt and olive oil. Here in Tasca the pan tomaquèt is fantastic.
It is quite common in Spain to be offered small glass of alcohol after eating.
Tasca have two great options to try; Patxaran is a sweet sloe berry alcohol from the Basque region and Leche de la Pantera Rosa, or Pink Panther’s Milk is an authentically Barcelona drink created in the la Mercè neighborhood, where you are now.
The Panther’s milk was originally a way for soldiers and sailors to disguise their alcohol in milk so their commanding officers couldn’t tell they were drinking!
If you’re still not full, head across the street to Bar La Plata. This tiny bar only does 3 tapas options but it does them really well. One of the most famous local dishes is Botifarra, a white Catalan sausage, which La Plata really excels at. To wash this down, why not try a glass of local Vermut.
Once you’ve finished in La Plata head left out on to the main street, Passeig de Colom, which runs along the old harbor.
From here you can go left and you’ll find the Barceloneta metro on Line 4 or right to the end of Las Ramblas where you’ll find Drassanes metro on Line 3.
Other restaurant recommendations:
At the bottom of the hill of Montjüic is the working class Poble Sec neighbourhood. C/Blai is famous throughout Barcelona for pintxos, you could spend an evening here and still not try all the bars!
Can Margarit, C/de la Concordia: You enter the owner’s wine bodega first and are obliged to try some of his homemade wines for free before being allowed to sit down. Their Rabbit Stew is delicious.
Traditionally the least fashionable neighborhood, Raval has always been a cultural melting pot. Looking for halal food, you will not struggle here. Filipino, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese you name it it’s available in Raval.
Dos Palillos, C/d’Elisabets: The head chef, Albert Raurich, was head chef at el Bulli which year after year won world’s best restaurant before the owners got bored of being the best and retired. Dos Palillos serves up Catalan-Asian fusion, but make sure you book in advance the waiting list is usually 2-3 months long!
Hidden between Raval, Poble Sec and the Eixample Sant Antoni is a great little local area with its own food market.
Bar Ramón, C/Compte de Borell: Lovely local tapas bar. Reserve to be sure of a table.
The sprawling area planned in square blocks known as the extension, or Eixmple, is a treasure trove of great food if you know where to look.
La Flauta, C/Aribau: A fantastic no nonsense tapas place.
Cervesería Catalana, C/Mallora: Don’t be put off by the name this is much more than just a beer bar.
Mosquito, C/Carders: Great Asian fusion food and craft beers.
Bar Mundial, Plaça Sant Agusti Vell: Fantasic tapas place full of pictures from the owners past life as a boxer.
The old working class industrial and fisherman’s district by the beach has been massively gentrified in recent years but it is still possible to find hidden gems.
Ca La Montse, C/Balboa: One of the best Fideuas and Paellas in the city.
La Bombeta, C/Maquinista: Awesome tapas place. The sign behind the bar reads; ‘we don’t speak English but our Bombas are damn good’!
Originally a separate village swallowed up by Barcelona’s nineteenth century expansion Gràcia still retains it’s own feel. The bars in Plaça del Sol are always lively and great for tapas and people watching.
Botafumeiro, C/Gran de Gràcia: This is one of the best restaurants in the whole city, but you will notice it when you get the bill.
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