Barcelona is a pretty excellent foodie destination and meals, generally, are quite affordable. At least in comparison to the prices I saw in Italy and France. The trend here, however, is the daily menu which generally includes two courses, dessert, bread and a beverage for a set price. There are ethnic restaurants, traditional restaurants, tapa and pinxtos bars and even the wonderful stalls of La Boqueria to browse. If all you want to do is eat, Barcelona will gladly assist.
I know that the further I head into Spain the cheaper things will get. I hope that this promised trend materializes – and I’m pretty sure it will – at least until I head to San Sebastian and Paris.
La Boqueria is a famous market, located just off La Ramblas. It’s tucked behind several buildings so the size of the market is really quite deceiving until you enter its confines. Once you do? Foodie heaven! If you want to eat it, there is a vendor for it somewhere in La Boqueria. Fruits and vegetables, meats, ham (which really deserves its own category), spices, candies, fish… some people on the Spanish Cooking Experience mentioned that they weren’t really comfortable seeing the heads of animals, or a full fish that wasn’t portioned into tiny pieces, which makes me think that they’ve only ever acquired their groceries from giant supermarkets.
I went to La Boqueria twice, snacking on fresh fruit and drinking freshly squeezed juices. It was hard to get a seat at many of the stalls so I opted to just walk and snack, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustle around me. The market was inundated with tourists, but also with locals who were conducting their daily grocery shopping routine. Elderly women carefully squeezed and poked the fruit, determined to choose the best pieces and forcefully ordered meat to their specifications.
Some of the restaurant stalls in the market were quite pricy. One of the most popular – and most expensive – ones had shellfish sitting out on top of the counter, but as I stood and watched I never once saw them use that seafood. They even had uncooked lobsters sitting up there, out of the water under the hot lights. Poor lobsters.
I was really interested in examining the meat on sale, to be honest. There were a few stalls selling poultry – turkey and chicken – and instead of our North American sized, scientifically enhanced and bred poultry, these birds seemed to be much smaller and leaner. The famous Iberico ham was an attraction in its own right and I was fascinated to see the prices and learn about the differences between them. The ham is labelled according to the diet of the pigs and the most desirable ham, with the price to match, is one where the pigs are free to roam in forests full of oak trees – and acorns. A pig fattened on an acorn diet apparently creates the best ham. The least desirable grade of Iberico ham is the one where pigs are fed grain and commercial feed.
One of my new friends from Rome recommended a restaurant in Barceloneta, but after talking to the receptionist I was told that it was quite expensive (sorry, Rob!) and she recommended that we go to a place much closer to our hostel instead. There was a street, less than ten minutes walk away, that was full of tapas and pinxtos bars. There was a cheap, busy one that the receptionist recommended – she just didn’t know the name of it.
I went with Andrea, from Busabout, and we followed the specific directions to get to the street and the vague directions to the restaurant. We were distracted by a tapas bar, however, that served €1 tapas on Thursday. Since we were there on a Thursday, things lined up perfectly!
We each had three tapas and a glass of the house red, before deciding to continue our tapas tour. This place didn’t match the description of the girl from the hostel and the street was packed, so we didn’t want to fill up on the first stop. I don’t know what they normally charge for tapas, but after seeing some of the prices of other restaurants in Barcelona – especially those closer to the tourist sites – I couldn’t help but feel €1 each was a steal. The wine, by the way, was also affordably priced and a normal pour of house wine was around €1.50.
Wandering a bit further up the street, we found what we believe was the correct restaurant. Instead of tapas, this place served pinxtos – which operate in the same theory as tapas, but are actually a bit different. Pinxtos are served on a base of bread – the toppings can be anything the chef dreams up – and skewered with a toothpick to keep it all together. The toothpick is also the official method used to keep track of what you ate so that you have an accurate count when you settle up with the bar.
I opted for the cava as opposed to the house wine – I really love sparkling wine and it paired with the food much better than the house red would have – and dug into the spread in front of me. I took a picture only of my first selections, mainly because I think pictures with dirty plates is kind of gross. The wine here was even cheaper, priced at €1.20 for a glass of house red or white and €1.50 for cava. To give credit where credit is due, the price for the glass of cava was the cheapest I had seen to date and the cava was poured fresh from the bottle – there were still lots of bubbles in my glass!
The pinxtos at this bar were also only €1 each. Unlike the first place, however, this is the price that is charged all day, every day. Are you going to be in Barcelona soon? The name of the bar is “La Tasqueta de Blai Bar”… and you should go. It was busy, it was crowded and atmosphere was bustling. A few tourists, lots of locals and a flurry of Spanish, Catalan and English ensured that patrons were never bored or lulled into any sort of peacefulness.
I had a spicy chorizo pinxto that, for once, lived up to its reputation. I snacked on pinxtos with guacamole, salmon, shrimp, sausage, steak… one even came out like a tiny BBQ, the bread piled high with beef, asparagus and red peppers. I had seven pieces and two glasses of cava for the affordable price of €10. Andrea, meanwhile, had ten pinxtos… she really liked the ones with guacamole.
The Touristy Option: Lunch with Tour Me Out
I enjoyed this lunch, primarily because of the company, but I did think that it was a bit overhyped. The tour guide had told us that it was an amazing, delicious, local restaurant but I committed before actually seeing the place… and when I did, authentic and local weren’t necessarily the first words that I would have used. It also had one of my least favourite amenities – a bathroom attendant, complete with terrible cologne and a tipping dish.
For €13.50 we had two courses, bread, dessert and a pitcher of sangria. Most of the people from the tour came along for the lunch, including a group of chain smoking Australian girls who sat at the far end of the table, another Canadian and an Australian guy. The guide, Angela, also joined us for lunch and offered a few more travel tips, also advising us on what to order. She also ensured that we promptly received our big pitcher of delicious sangria.
I had the paella starter, which Angela recommended. I don’t think it would have passed the muster of Chef Fernando from the cooking class because it didn’t taste made to order. This, in the Chef’s books, is tantamount to a treasonous act on the part of the restaurant. For my second course I opted for the steak, which was served in what appears to be the traditional Spanish style and paired with a fried egg and some fried potatoes. The Spanish certainly love their egg accompaniments – I had one randomly appear on a burger I ordered for a quick lunch.
A few people in the group went for cod, but that’s a fish I don’t eat unless I know its provenance.
For dessert we had the choice of ice cream, a fruit salad, coffee… I opted for the ice cream. It’s Barcelona. It was hot. Shoot me.