Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Spain/Portugal >
Dec 21, 2009 10:55 AM

What is Barcelona good at?

Hello Spain! (and portugal)

I will be in Barcelona for 10 days starting the next week, coming from Toronto, Canada with my girlfriend, I will be doing more research soon, but I thought i would get a post out there to fish for recommendations.

Truthfully, i am quite ignorant on most things spain, all i know is that Anthony Bourdain considers it the most exciting place to eat in the western world currently...

so, my question is, what food is barcelona known for? and where to find it?

i only know the more famous stuff, maybe some chowhounders can add some for me or i will ask more as i do more research.

so far, where do you go for:

- Jamón ibérico
- angula (sp) (those baby eels... )
- paella (heard it is supposed to be best in valencia, but would assume barcelona has some good ones)
- seafood in general
- chirizo
- canned food
- various tapas
- and other items, maybe those things you would miss most if you ever left spain? barcelona will be my base camp for 10 days, but i am hoping to do day trips, so any food within a days travel distance would be ok too

... again sorry for my ignorance, that is all i know so far from the top of my head, thanks for the help!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't agree with Monsieur Bourdain all the time, but do agree with him on this one. This Parisian is a huge fan of Spanish cuisine and even Spanish fashion.

    - Jamón ibérico
    - chOrizo
    La Botifarreria de Santa María; Santa María 4. Outside the Santa Maria del Mar church.

    - anguILla (sp) (those baby eels... )
    - seafood in general
    For seafood, besides the Boqueria market (it's a must, it's the hadj), the Mercat Santa Caterina is calmer but its seafood is just as high quality.

    - canned food
    I go to La Ribera on Plaça Comercial 11

    - various tapas
    My faves are Euskal Etxea on Montcarda, Bilbao Berria on plaza de la. Catedral, Paco Meralgo. Euskal Etxea usually closes from Dec24 onward for nearly 10 days. If you get to Barcelona by 23rd, run there.

    One can tell by my recs that I rarely leave El Born. PBSF's post in this thread has a lot more info:

    1. In your reference to "food", are you planning to buy food and cook in or you are mainly looking for recommendations for eating out? Barcelona is known for the recent explosion of restaurants doing modern (or molecular) Catalan cuisine. This would be my first priority for dining out. Excellent traditional Catalan cooking is more and more difficult to come by. Depending on your budget, La Dama is excellent; Fonda Gaig is very good. Some cheaper/no frill places such as Can Lluis, Foxo, Goliard, La Cova Fumada are pretty good. Tapas and pinxtos are recent additions to Barcelona's dining scene. These two are distinctly different. Tapas are small plate food ranging from simple to most complicated as a chef can concoct; some standup only while others offer multi-course sit down affair. Pinxtos are the Basque simple nibbles/single bites traditionally served on picks or on pieces of bread and mostly standup. Fifteen years ago, there are few and far in between but now, one can't avoid them, especially those serving pinxtos. They are easy to recognize by their Basque spelling such as Euskal Etxea and Taktika Berri, two of the best. Avoid any pinxto places that have tables. Search this board and you will find tons of posts on all types of places.
      On your list of food, none are particularly “Barcelona”.
      Jamon Iberico can be found all over Spain. You will find it at most charcuteries, tapas/pinxtos places as well as restaurants. If you are serious, go to Jamonisimo for a tasting.
      Angulas are frightfully expensive and most are now frozen (still decent quality) though winter is the season. It is a Basque specialty and I’ve have rarely encounter it in any Barcelona restaurant, except once at Rais de Galicia. A small portion can set one back more than 100E and that is no guarantee that it is fresh.
      Paella: you are correct that it Valencia is the city for it. I have not had a really great version in Barcelona. Places such as 7Porte, Can Majo are acceptable. One will do better with Catalan rice dishes such as Arros Negre or Arros a Banda. Or try fideus, similar to Paella with pasta substituting for rice.
      Seafood: you will find seafood in most good restaurants; depending on the weather and season. Just visit the Boqueria or any mercat and check out what is available.
      Canned seafood: Spain in general make some of the best and generally price equates quality. The link provided by Parigi has some good places to buy them. Quimet y Quimet is an excellent tapas bar that specializes in canned seafood product.
      Chorizo is not much use but sobrassada, a similar paprika flavored sauce is; also look for botifarra, a white sausage that is use in many dishes: plainly grilled, cooked with beans, stuffing. There is also a black verson, botifarra negra.
      For Catalan cooking, I would look for these: bacala in all forms, anchovy, seafood or sausage cooked with dried beans, pa amb tomaquet, coca (sweet and savory), esclivada, grilled food served with the two classic sauces, romesco or allioli; seafood cooked a la plancha, poultry cooked with pear or pomergrante or figs; wild mushrooms should be in season; eggs cooked in infinite ways. Sweets such as bunyols, neules, panellets. Too many others to discuss for food sites.
      With 10 days in Barcelona and if budget allows, I would definitely eat at some of the great restaurants outside of the city. Can Fabes, El Celler de Can Roca and Hispania are three of the best restaurants in Spain and just about anywhere else. All are easy to reach by car or train. My advice is to some research on Catalan cooking. Time Out has a decent introduction in their guides. Also do a search on this board. A couple of links to help get started

      1 Reply
      1. re: PBSF

        Thanks for the responses Parigi and PBSF.

        I am mainly looking for places to eat out, as I will be staying in a hotel without a kitchen(Pullman Skipper).

        I havent been too interested in Molecular gastronomy, more interested in simpler foods... i looked into El Bulli, but I think it is closed for half the year, and even if it was open, would be difficult getting a reservation. What are the price ranges for molecular gastronimic meal? Maybe i will try one, any suggestions?

        oie, not sure if i will have enough time to find enough resturants, would just looking for places that have only catalan or spanish writing, mostly locals and no food pictures posted outside be a good indicator of good, non tourist trap food?

      2. Ok, i did a little digging and so far i have these resturants:

        Restaurante Cherif
        El Vaso de Oro
        Restaurant San Joan
        Boqueria market
        Mercat Santa Caterina
        Quimet i Quimet
        Pinotxo Bar
        La Paradeta
        El Tropezon
        Gelateria Pagliotta
        Colmado Quilez
        Espinaler (warehouse)
        Espinaler (Tavern)
        Euskal Etxea

        Are there specific food items at these places that especially stand out? i will be armed with this food translator hopefully it will cover enough to let me order the good stuff.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Pigurd

          I don't know if you are confused or whatever but my advice is to separate your list into categories as some of those are not restaurant but shops and markets and not particularly useful if you are not cooking in. Of course, they are good to browse or buying food product to take home. With ten days to get a feel of Barcelona's dining scene, I would mix it up with tapas, pintxos, some inexpensive simple places, one or two splurges.
          Boqueria is a mercat that one can purchase seafood, vegetables, eggs, etc to cook at home; also has many cheese and cured meat stalls. It also has 6 or 7 excellent food stalls with counter seating but no tables, Bar Pinotxo is one of them; closed by 4 to 5pm unlike the rest of the Boqueria which opens until 6 to 7pm. Santa Caterina is also a market but does not have any places to eat.
          Colmado Quilez is a large store that one can buy canned products, cheeses, cured meat, etc; for a description, check the link below (the same link as in Parigi's post).

          Cherif does a decent paella and some Catalan rice dishes.
          Sant Joan is a bare bone restaurant that serve good simple dishes, nothing overly involved or complicated; lunch only
          La Paradeta is one of the few good inexpensive-moderate price seafood place in Barcelona; informal, lively and fun; careful as some of the shellfish can be expensive.
          Quimet y Quimet is a tapas bar that specialized in using canned food stuff; excellent but very crowded and no seats, not even stools. Never been to Tavern Espinaler but from what I understand also uses many canned product.
          Euskal Etxea is one of my two or three favorite pintxos places; it is a lively and fun, especially later in the evening; for food, I like Taktika Berri better, especially the various pintxos with bacala; also good is Ondoa Berri; Ba-Ba-Reeba is centrally located and one of the few decent places on the bottom of the Pg de Gracia; in these Basque places, once does not do any ordering but just ask for a large plate, choose whatever looks good from the plates of food set out on the counter; also wait for some hot items that occasionally come out of the kitchen (ie, deep fried bacala, skewers of hot spicy chorizo sausages, croquettes; deep fried stuff mussels, little grilled pork bocadillo); make sure to leave the toothpicks and shells on the plate as they will be used to add up your tab; with pintxos, drink Txakoli, the lightly sparkling Basque white wine.
          Inopia, opened by Albert Adria of the El Bulli fame, is one of the best tapas places in Barcelona; it is wildly popular expect a line and a little bit out of the way. Other good ones are PacoMeralgo, Ciutat Condal, Cerverseria Catalana, Tapac24, Man-I-Teca. El Vaso de Oro is good for cured meat and cheeses but it is on the expensive side, great on atmosphere.
          El Tropezon is an old style Celta seafood tapas bar down below c/Avinya in the old city. Eat octopus, marinaded anchovies, bacala. Same for Bar Celta and others on c/Ample and c/Merce. These are not everyones liking but is worth exploring on one of your evenings. Also in the same area are old Asturian bars: drink cider and munch on some strong blue cheese.
          If you've already had some experience with Spanish molecular cooking and find it not to your liking, there is no point spending for it. If you have not, I would keep an open mind and try one in Barcelona. Some are more avant garde while others are less so. Besides the cooking technique, most use top-notch ingredients such as cigales, lobster, scallops, foie gras, suckling pig, baby lamb, etc. The cost of a tasting menu for places such as Alkimia, Cinc Sentit, Sauc, Comerc24 are around 60E (tax and tip included but not drinks). A little less expensive are Hisop, Coure, L'Olive. Trying to compare any of these places to El Bulli is unfair though I find many of these more satisfying than El Bulli.
          To explore Catalan cooking in some depth, I would do a little research to find a good traditional Catalan restaurant; only in these restaurant dishes such as; wild mushroom soup, stuffed squid in chocolate sauce, salt cod and grilled vegetable with romesco, duck with pear or figs, quail stuffed in a roasted red pepper, suquet, roast baby lamb. This only scratch the surface of traditional Catalana cooking. Inexpensive places such as Sant Joan, though rewarding, rarely serves this type of food.
          As to what to order, for inexpensive places, I would order what other locals are eating, especially the menu di dia. For more upscale restaurants, order what is most appealing to you since most of the food will be well cooked. For tapas and pintxos, just choose what looks good and go for a variety since most things come in small tastings and inexpensively priced.
          I don't know what other sources you've used to compose your list, etc; if you've used this board, I love Barcelona, visit couple times a year and have posted often on this board, therefore, what I've written here is not much new.

          1. re: PBSF

            i know two of the places are markets, i just listed all places that had food in it... i mostly complied the list from chowhound, but i find there isnt much traffic here, and most posters dont live in barcelona.. but i dont read spanish so any local forum is not much use for me, so chowhound will do i hope... but i think i have a decent amount of resturants and markets to be aware of, will go searching for some purely traditional catalan resturants, though you seem to say there arent much left?

            also, would the barcelona chinatown have any interesting eateries? just curious, as i am chinese and wonder how the chinese there are doing.

            1. re: Pigurd

              The Barri Xines in terms of food, not much.

              1. re: Pigurd

                I missed this post because I was … in Barcelona.
                I too am of Chinese origin, but I am afraid to say that the historical Chinatown may not be what the OP thinks.
                Instead of some virtuoso proletarian dish like Chow Fun, the barrio chino serves up a somewhat scary petty crime atmosphere.
                To be fair, the infamous quartier has been shrinking, which is not a bad thing. It is now a two-block long area. A few years ago we did take a walk on that wild side, for nostalgia's sake, knowing that this historical dive was living on borrowed time. It is not a place I would recommend to visitors, unlike to Jean Genet fans.
                O I have never seen a single Chinese in Barrio chino.
                Too late for the OP, but there is supposed to be a very good MSG-free dimsum tapas place called Mosquito near Princesa (on Carders) in El Born. Long story, I managed to miss it, right in my neighborhood. Am still banging head on wall.

                1. re: Parigi

                  Mosquito is now a full fledge dim sum place? Ate there about a year ago out of courtesy of Barcelona friends and it was hodgepodge of small plate from all over Asia. It was ok but not particular distinctive.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    Good to know. Am stopping banging head.
                    From what I heard Mosquito is not a "full fledge" dimsum place but serves some dimsum tapas.

          2. I am from Toronto as well and was in Barcelona in September and if there is one restaurant I would recommend it is Cinq Sentis - it was the best meal I had, and the bonus is the chef/owner is Canadian. His sister is the maitre'd, and his mother is one of the servers. The two kids were born and raised in the GTA, and moved to Spain to open a restaurant. I asked them if they had any plans to come back to Toronto, but the answer was basically they could not get the quality of ingredients they could in the local markets.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mramage

              Hello, I'm also from Toronto and will be visiting Barcelona in May. Approx. how much did your dinner at Cinq Sentis cost? Their website looks great but no prices are posted. Also, my travel companion is a vegetarian - would you say it's veggie-friendly?

            2. It was a few (7?) years ago, but Cal Pep had a great tapas bar with grilled baby octopus to die for. It's very busy and everyone there was very friendly

              1 Reply
              1. re: dcbbq

                Cal Pep, one of my fave spots in the world, and Pep is so one of a kind.
                Yes the counter setup is especially warm and friendly. We always end up sharing and tasting with our neighbors whom we had never met, like some kind of tapas commune.