This last trip to Barcelona was not my first time at the Spanish rodeo of delicious food, historic streets and funky, fabulous art. My mother and I traveled there back in 2004 en route to Italy where I was preparing to accept a job as a journalist. Our trip was quick, and whirlwind-esque, chock-a-block full of all the “should sees” in the city, many of which have proven to be my favorite stops in Europe; among them Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and walks along Las Ramblas and through El Born. Excellent, exciting and awe-inspiring for sure. Arrive-See-Eat-Sleep-See-See-See-Depart was a pace that I was able to keep as I explored much of Southern France, the entirety of Italy, and parts of Switzerland, Germany and Spain that summer. By the time I returned to the U.S. after 9 months away, I had a shoebox of postcards, several pairs of Italian shoes, rolls and rolls of film, change jangling in all the pockets of my backpack, and a journal -with each page filled- of memories. My distant love affair with Europe was built on that trip, but this time, I wanted something different from my travel romance.
It is difficult to explain how I spent my free travel time in Spain to friends and family now that I have returned; I cannot reduce the experience to a list of places or things enjoyed because the parts I loved most were the getting from place to place; taking a shortcut through the day market on the way to the Picasso museum to enjoy the best croissant integrale EVER. Resting tired feet in this or that charming plaza, watching the handsome waiters shoo the pigeons. That perfect lunch at the nameless cafe, or that bottle of cava that we completely fell in love with tucked away on that courtyard in El Born. Taking whole days to hunt down chocolaterie about the city, with worthy pit stops to take photographs. OH! And those chocolate covered figs I acquired while asking directions at that one place…..
More than SEEING Barcelona and Catalunya, this trip had every intention of tasting and FEELING it….which is my personal cup of tea.
One of the most memorable days spent was with a few compatriots, whom willingfully waltzed into my plan to bounce around the city on a mission to eat like Catalans. We started early, finished late, and had the opportunity to walk off our hourly snacks, see the city, and toast to friendship and adventure all day. To follow in our footsteps, you need only a map of Barcelona, a bit of adventure and the gumption to walk through open doors and start asking for questions and tastes. Our trail of deliciousness went something like this…..
Desayuno (or Breakfast) at La Boqueria at La Rambla 91: If you love food even a little bit, you could walk for hours in this market and never tire of taking pictures, having tastes, and filling your backpack with everything from cured meats to Middle Eastern dates so delicious you might skip the next course and hop a plane to Morocco.
Ok, I exaggerate. The market opens at 7am or 8am-ish….landing in between this time is the most pleasing to the eye, and for crowd control.
From here, we casually walked to Museo Picasso de Barcelona – c/ Montcada 15-23 in the Barri Gotic (or Gothic Quarter). There was plenty of Barcelona to take in on the way, and several little cafes tucked into the side streets for impromptu cortado (short, strong coffee without milk) stops.
Almuerzo (or Morning Snack) in El Born. Around 10, 10:30am there are a myriad of charming cafes and restaurants that throw open their doors to those that have already earned a glass (or a bottle, in our case) of cava (regional sparkling white wine). You can do no wrong here so long as you have the cava, enjoy the jamon iberico (regional cured ham) in some form, and sit until you are completely relaxed before continuing on.
Enjoy the historic district between this and your next stop. Watch for men setting up their giant paella skillets in the streets around you. If you need a project, hunt down…
Bubo (Caputxes 10, El Born) for chocolate cake that is actually a religious experience.
Origin (Carrer de la Vidriera) for local, amazing foodstuffs to take home. Specifically olive oil.
Next, on to….
Comida (or simply Lunch) along the Barceloneta. Being that Barcelona is one of the largest ports on the Mediterranean, there is a lot of amazing seafood to enjoy here. This being said, there are a whole slew of seafood restaurants along the boardwalk near the water – look for the one with the most locals and go around 1pm. Steer clear of any signs that say “Paellador” and are not written in chalk on a A-frame board. We chose a modern little spot with lots of glass, closer to the Metro stop where sangria, bread, fresh salads, and steaming hot skillets of paella (traditional rice dish with seafood and saffron) of all types were enjoyed with gusto in the sun.
Merienda or Afternoon Snack was perhaps my favorite, er, meal of the day. Savory or sweet is your choice….we chose (or maybe, I chose for everyone) the sweeter side. We headed to Cacao Sampaka at c/ Consell de Cent, 292 for chocolate espeso caliente or thick, rich, drinking chocolate. Owned and operated by the older brother of Ferran Adria (of el Bulli fame,) Albert Adria, I picked up a few chocolate tablets as well as drinking chocolate to take home to attempt to share the experience with others but, I think this is one best sought after as a life goal.
Waddling back towards Las Ramblas, we were able to take in the evening buskers, busier streets, and the lights at Gaudi’s Casa Battlo (at Passeig de Gràcia, 43) coming on. Just enough time for a quick siesta before walking back through the City as a digestif for….
La Cena (or Dinner) at Mundial Bar in El Born at Placa de Sant Agusti Vell, 1. Don’t go until 9pm….this place doesn’t open until then. This little, cozy place has an extensive bit of seating in the back. Perfect for a noisy, loving crowd that wants to hug and enjoy all the local dishes they can in one sitting in a tapas style meal set to last for hours. The patatas bravas (potatoes in alioli and a mild chili sauce), boquerones (pickled anchovies), salpicon de mariscos (seafood salad) and plates of fried artichokes, cured meats, and bottles and bottles of wine flowed like our enthusiasm for the rides to come, the energy for exploring Spain with so many friends, and the anticipation of many more meals well earned by walking the streets and riding the hills of this beautiful country.
I cannot WAIT to eat my way back!