When in Barcelona, eat as the Catalans do. Esme Fox suggests some of the best places to try the local cuisine.
Barcelona has always been well known for its food, especially because of its celebrated chefs, such as Albert and Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame) and Joan Roca, as well as its renowned restaurants and tapas bars.
Despite all this, many travellers still come to Barcelona looking for typical Spanish dishes, instead of the Catalan classics that originate in the city. Just like its language, its people and its traditions, Catalonia’s cuisine is quite different compared to other parts of Spain. Here, it’s not so much about tapas, paella, gazpacho and sangria, it’s about hearty stews, thick sausages and sweet creamy desserts. Typical ingredients come from the mountains as well as the sea and feature products such as rabbit, wild mushrooms and snails.
Some of the most typical Catalan dishes to look out for while you’re in Barcelona include escudella – a stew made from meat, potatoes and beans; escalivada – chargrilled vegetables such as peppers, onions and aubergine; fideuà – like paella, but made from short noodles instead of rice; and crema Catalana – a crème brûlée-like dessert with a subtle lemon and cinnamon flavour.
Of course, in a city such as Barcelona you can find almost any type of food you want, but if you’re looking for that authentic Catalan taste, you’ll need to know where to go. Look out for restaurants with big C logo next to a red spoon, as this means the establishment offers at least 40% local products and traditional dishes. Here are some of the best restaurants in Barcelona for Catalan cuisine:
The oldest restaurant in Barcelona, this family-run establishment has been serving up traditional favourites since 1786 and hasn’t changed much since. Here you can enjoy classics such as escudella, botifarra amb seques (thick, spiced sausage with white beans) and civet de jabali (wild boar cooked in red wine) while sitting in the cosy wood-panelled restaurant, under giant, old oil paintings.
Carrer d’en Quintana, 5
Another of the old Barcelona classics, this place has been offering time-honoured Catalan plates since it opened back in 1836. As well as the more traditional dishes such as suquet de peix (seafood casserole), they also offer local products such as baked cod and monkfish with a modern twist. If you’re after a paella-like dish, this is a good place to try a traditional Catalan fideuà.
Passeig Isabel II, 14
Run by Michelin-starred chef Nandu Jubany, Petit Comité sits in stark contrast to the old conventional Catalan eateries, with its lime green walls and funky lampshades. Here, the presentation is just as important as the taste, and the restaurant features jazzed-up traditional plates. Think creamy rice with cod tripe and botifarra sausage or pig trotters stuffed with duck confit, dried apricots and pine nuts. It’s also a good place to try calçots (a cross between a spring onion and a leek) when they’re in season in late winter and early spring. These are usually grilled and dipped in romesco sauce, made from crushed almonds, red peppers, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.
Passatge de la Concepció, 13
Set up by the half Canadian, half Catalan chef Jordi Artal, Cinc Sentis (or Five Senses in English) quickly became one of the most talked about restaurants in the city after it opened in 2004, and was awarded a Michelin star soon afterwards. It’s a quiet and intimate place that takes local Catalan cuisine to a new level with contemporary, clean dishes included in a six- or four-course tasting menu. Items on the menu include pan-fried sea bream served with fideuà and romesco sauce, then topped with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) foam.
Carrer d’Aribau, 58