One of my biggest passions in life is cooking and baking. Just like my momma, I could spend all day in the kitchen. During my travels this summer, I was very interested to see and taste the cuisines of the places I got to visit. I love learning about the cuisines of other cultures, so I made sure to go out of my comfort zone and try all the major dishes and foods in every country I was in. Out of the three countries I visited, Spain, France, and Italy, I liked the food in Spain the least. In my opinion, food from other Spanish speaking cultures are much more rich and flavorful. The food in Spain is more simplistic. The Spanish cooked mostly with olive oil, salt, and oregano. In my opinion they seem to prefer the flavor of the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and fish, rather than use a whole lot of seasoning and spices. When I would cook for the kids I was au pair for, I used some spices I bought from the store to try and expose them to some of the classic rubs and marinates we use and the USA. Although they would eat the food I prepared for them, they always said they were not used their meats and vegetables being flavored.
I did a lot of research beforehand to see what foods and dishes were important for me to try. There are TONS of restaurants throughout the city, so you do not need to stress about finding a place to eat. There were a ton of buffet style places and tapa bars, where you can grab a quick bite while you’re out site seeing. Most restaurants offer “menus,” which are basically combo plates where you get an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Combo plates are very common in Europe. I found that in all three countries I visited, their meals were more structured. Dessert is always apart of the meal, whether it is a small espresso or a plate of fruit.
Here are some of the plates/foods Spain is known for, and that you should try while you’re in Barcelona:
- Paella: You can basically get this famous dish anywhere, however, if you are traveling alone you might find it difficult to order. The majority of restaurants require at least 2 people to share it because it is a big plate. This was a huge bummer for me because when I would go to the city I was alone, so it was way too much food and way too expensive for just one person.
- Tapas or “little dishes” are essentially appetizers. Most people rave about the tapas. However, in my opinion the tapas you find at restaurants, especially around touristy sites, are overrated and overpriced. Every tapa I ever got taste old, as if it were prepared earlier in the day or the day before. I much preferred ordering an entrée, because they were often more filling, fresh, and affordable.
- Seafood is available everywhere in the city, especially tuna and squid. Barcelona is a coastal city, so there is a huge supply of fresh seafood that is AMAZING. I loved getting tuna steaks and grilled squid, it was a lot cheaper than you would find in the US and you can’t beat that freshness man! My only critique of the seafood is that, like most dishes, it was fried. I try to stay away from fried food, because of my sensitive stomach, so this might not be a problem for you. Olive oil is a cash crop and a staple in Spanish life and cuisine, so naturally they use it to fry a lot of food. Fried squid and octopus is very very common.
- Cured ham is all that it is cracked up to be. Europe in general has access to some amazing cured meats. Spain is known for jamón serrano, which is cured ham made from black Iberian pigs. It is really something you need to try and available everywhere. I recommend getting melón con jamón, which is cured ham wrapped around green melon. The combination of the salty ham with the sweet melon is out of this world and a perfect summer treat! This plate is very common all over Europe as well, made with different melons depending upon where you are. You can also find great cuts of cured ham and regular ham at the many supermarkets all over the city. You can easily pick up a package of deli style meats, some bread, and fruit, and have a lovely picnic at Montjuic, Park Guell, the park in front of Sagrada Familia or in the many plazas around the city!
- Fruits & Juices are the real deal in Spain. I found the fruits and produce available in Europe in general to be much sweeter and fresher than in the USA, however, I think out of France, Italy, and Spain, Spain has the sweetest and most exotic (not to mention inexpensive) fruits. The best place to get fresh fruit is Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, known as Boqueria. The market itself is a site to see. The mountains of fruits vegetables, juices, meats, seafood, nuts, and other products available are unreal. You’ll need to hold on to your bags as you are walking through because it is very crowded and pick pockets are a real threat, however, the market is a definite must see! You can pick up groceries to go, or they have little bar style restaurants that you can sit down and have a quick bite to eat at. I recommend trying the many juices for sale, they are so sweet and fresh! A great refreshment on a hot day for sure. I recommend trying papaya, coconut, figs, mangoes, watermelon, and the green melon. Protip: if Boqueria is a little too crowded for you (it’s located on Rambla, the most popular street for tourists!), then check out Mercat de Santa Caterina. It is right down the street from the Cathedral of Barcelona. You’ll see it’s wavy multicolored roof from a distance! It’s a smaller, less crowded version of Boqueria. They also have some great sit down restaurants there that have great seafood. Just be careful because some restaurants will close or only sell tapas in the late afternoon, around 4-6. So don’t get caught up sight seeing and forget about lunch!
- Sangria is an alcoholic beverage that is made of wine and chopped fruits, so it is essentially alcoholic punch. Spain is known for red sangria. I just recently turned 21, so I do not know much about alcohol. However, in my opinion Sangria was way overrated. The locals I talked to even said that the Sangria in the city was not that good. They recommended trying Sangria in the islands of Spain like Ibiza, Majorca, or Menorca. Nonetheless, when in Spain it’s always a good idea to try it. I enjoyed white sangria more than the red, however, I highly recommend trying the mojitos in Spain. They are minty and fresh, and very refreshing during the summer.
- Tortillas in Spain are not like Tortillas you would find in the US or other Spanish speaking countries. Tortillas Españolas are essentially really thick omelets. They are usually made with patatas (potatoes) and onions, and sometimes red and green bell peppers. I have omelets all the time at home, so I was not enamored with them.
- Olives and olive oil is very important to all Spanish cuisine, Spanish life, and the economy. Spain produces the most olive oil in the world, and let me tell you it is the real deal! I recommend buying Spanish olive oil in the USA as opposed to Italian, because it is better quality. While you are in Barcelona, you’ll find many olive oil shops, especially in the gothic quarter. They have oil for cooking that is inexpensive, especially for the amount you get. They also many beauty products that are made from the olive oil that are just fantastic. The olive oil beauty products can be pricey at specialty shops, but at grocery stores like Carefour you can find inexpensive cremas and moisturizers. There are also tons and tons of olive bars available at markets like Boqueria and Santa Caterina, however, I do not care for olives very much so I cannot vouch for their flavor!
- Tomatoes. I’m pretty sure I ate more tomatoes this summer than I have in my whole life. Between Italy and Spain I had tomatoes almost every day. They use tomatoes in many dishes in Spain. The tomatoes were so sweet and plump. I ate them for every meal some days! Tomato and mozarella salad is on almost all menus, and make a tasty and refreshing, yet filling lunch. A very popular tapa called pan con tomate (bread with tomato), is also sold at almost every tapa bar and restaurant. I use to make it for my kids a lot as well when I worked as an au pair. It’s very simple, just bread, the inside seedy part of a tomato spread on one side of the bread, seasoned with oregano and salt, and then drizzled with olive oil. It’s so simple, but so so tasty!
- Crema Catalana is basically a more runny version of crème brûlée. It’s a great dessert to try while you’re in Barcelona, and very typical dish of Cataluna.
- Coffee. The coffee is AMAZING in Europe. I have digestive problems, and typically cannot drink coffee in the USA, especially from Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or any coffee grounds you can buy at the grocery store. I’ve been told the USA has low quality and over caffeinated beans. I’ve also heard that coffee beans are some of the most highly sprayed with pesticides. So I’m not sure if the combination of pesticides and over caffeination cause me to have stomach problems or what, but I can only drink coffee from certain places in America. Most of the time only from expensive craft coffee shops, unfortunately. So I was thrilled to be able to enjoy coffee all summer while I was in Europe. Coffee in Spain, Italy, and France is cheap and very good quality. I honestly never paid over 3 euros for coffee, and I was actually insulted when I walked into a cafe and it was over 2 euros lol. While I was in Spain I enjoyed cappuccinos, cafe con leche, and cafe con hielo.
So there you have it. Next time you find yourself in Barcelona, I definitely recommend trying all the dishes and foods Spain is known for. This was my opinion on all the foods and drinks I tasted, but everyone has different tastes and preferences. So taste these things for yourself and develop your own opinion. My opinions and preferences are not law, and you don’t have to agree with them. Comment below if you have tried some of the things I mentioned above or have any questions. Below is a list of restaurants I really enjoyed while I was in Spain. If you take me up on my advice and go visit any of these places let me know!
- Mercat de Santa Caterina. A great place to try fresh seafood!
- El Racó is located on Rambla close to the Passeig de Gracia. I loved their Orange salad. It was made of arugula, citrus, tomatoes, and goat cheese, all tossed in this honey dressing that was SO SO good. I found this kind of salad at a lot of different restaurants I went to, so I’m not sure if this is a common salad combo there, but the best one was at Racó! I recommend asking for the dressing on the side though because it was a little too much for my liking. They also have savory crepes and pizza. I got a crepe with caramelized onions and an egg and it was so flavorful and delish! You could definitely share a salad and a crepe with another person! I also got red sangria from here that was very refreshing.
- Pizza Emporio was a little restaurant right next to La Sagrada Familia. The pizza was thin crust and had a delicious tomato sauce. I split a pizza with the little girl I was an au pair for, but I wish I would have ordered one just for myself. The thin crust was not super filling, so I recommend getting a whole pizza or appetizers.
- If you are vegan or love healthy eating check out Teresa’s Juicery, Flax & Kale, and Teresa Carles Cocina Vegetariana. Their vegan desserts and nut mylks are AMAZING, and their avocado toast is on this thick grain free bread that is SO good! I believe all three of these stores are owned by the same person, and are located in the Gothic Quarter of the city. There is also a small location above the big H&M close to the Passeig de Gracia.
- I highly recommend picnicking for lunch while you are in Barcelona. Like I said earlier, you can easily pick up meat from small local markets or Carefours located all around the city. It’s really nice to see where the locals shop, but also a very cost effective way to eat. Grab a loaf of bread, some cured ham and sausage, some fresh fruit, and then get going! You’ll save time this way too, and if you get a little hungry along the way there are plenty of gelato and crepe places to grab a sweet and quick bite to go!
- Step into a pastelleria or coffee shop! You can find them all over the city. They have great chocolates and candies, but also some really good croissants. Although France has the BEST croissants and pastries in the world, I thought that the croissants in Spain were definitely very good as well. They are flakey and a great compliment to coffee. They are bigger and heavier than your typical french croissant or pan au chocolat, but a great way to start your morning!