- Thanks to the inventive cooking style of celebrity chef, Ferran Adria (known for the world-famous El Bulli restaurant), Catalan cuisine has never been more popular. Barcelona cuisine is characterized by an innate creativity that other Spanish regions lack. For example, raisins and nuts are often mixed into vegetable dishes; rabbit is combined with snails; poultry or meat is cooked with fruit. There are several specialized regional dishes, such as pan con tomate (bread with tomato and olive oil), trinxat (steamed cabbage, potatoes and bacon) and crema catalana (Catalan creme brulee) that make even Spaniards from other regions want to flock to Barcelona for a hearty meal.To begin with, stick to classic, down-to-earth, Barcelona food that would be impossible to achieve without a handful of essential ingredients. Olive oil, garlic and tomato are the top three, so keep plenty handy in your kitchen (Try as many varieties of olive oil as you can – they are amazingly different. The markets are the best places to buy these). It is also a given that you must include the variety of amazing olives and wines to accompany any and all meals! We recommend purchasing fresh olives at your local mercat (or market) and a good vino is never hard to come by, in Barcelona.
Due to its proximity to the Mediterranean, the local cuisine includes great seafood dishes. You will also note neighboring influences from France and Valencia; the latter because Catalan cuisine includes a variety of rice dices, variations on the typical Spanish paella. Interestingly enough, Barcelona is also full of successful Japanese restaurants because of the accessibility to fresh fish, hence great sushi.
Although paella is incredibly easy to cook and very inexpensive (you can feed four people for less than €10 if you buy the ingredients and cook at home) there is a tendency in restaurants to charge around €10 – €15 per head, with a two-person minimum. This insanity is a capitalization on the traditional association between Spain and paella but please don´t be fooled – most paellas served in restaurants are not top-quality and you will be better off ordering something that you don´t recognize (always a fun gamble) or that is very difficult to cook at home. For the real deal, you need to go to a restaurant like Los Caracoles (C/ D´escudellers, 14. Tel: 933 023 185) or Set Portes (Passeig de Isabel II, 14. Tel: 933 193 033) for an authentic paella. Or, better yet, have a local invite you over for a traditional Sunday lunch with the family!
Meals are more like an attitude in Spain, and a time for relaxation and family, than a way to satisfy hunger. If you are lucky, you will work in a job that observes the siesta, so lunch will be a two to three hour affair some time between 1pm and 5pm. (Please note, however, this is no longer the norm; most jobs allow for around a 60-90 minute lunch). The Spaniards eat late (and you will see the sense of this in summer when it is still light at 10pm and far too hot to use the stove), so get used to a more sedate meal schedule. In fact, it´s considered very normal for dinner reservations to be made for the peak dining hour of 10pm (at least in summer). This may seem strange a first but when you become accustomed to the rhythm of lunching at 2, napping at 3 then returning to work at 5pm, it will make sense.
Breakfast is generally considered unimportant, so the breakfast meals available in supermarkets and cafes are uninspired. Be grateful if you can find a cooked breakfast and otherwise just make do with a (strong) coffee and perhaps a croissant and some fruit.
Tapas is a great tradition in Spain. The word translates as ´lid´ and was begun as a bar´s way of feeding their customers in order to keep them drinking rather than wandering off to find a restaurant. Small portions of finger food would be served on a saucer balanced on top of the drinker’s glass. Now tapas are a meal option in themselves and the variety can be stunning. There are three portion sizes: the smallest are more like traditional tapas and not much more than finger food, with the largest portion size usually being enough to satisfy the peckishness of two people. Tapas is a basically a collective name for ´bits of delicious stuff´ and each bar/restaurant will have their own varieties. A common option is tortilla (a thick savoury cake made with eggs – much like a very fat omelet – that comes with fillings of zucchini, potato, meats and cheeses). More exotic choices will take you into a world of half-quail baked in Pedro Jiminez sherry, or tempura artichoke flowers stuffed with blue cheese. Almost all tapas are served with the tomato-rubbed, olive-oil drizzled bread slices that the region is known for. Be aware that tapas are sold per serving – ask the prices before you order as a selection of tapas can quickly become much more expensive that a full restaurant meal. They can be worth it for the flavour and variety, though.
When you miss home (and its surprising how a craving for Vegemite or Hershey bars can leave you almost weeping), you might want to head to one of the specialty stores around the city. There won´t be everything you need from home, but baked beans (for the Brits) and Oscar Meyer wieners will show themselves if you look hard enough.