- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
- Spanish Phrases
Mobile AppDownload Fodor's City Guide App for FREE!
What to Eat in Barcelona
Long before the molecular gastronomy craze made Catalonia a culinary funhouse, Barcelona and its surrounding hinterlands had their own lush tastes and textures, including sausages and charcuterie, wild mushrooms, spring onions with romescu sauce, and acorn-fed hams from southwestern Spain, all happily irrigated with sparkling wines from the Penedès. These items below represent the "must eats" that every visitor should try—the quintessential flavors of this city.
One of Catalonia's most beloved and authentic feasts is the winter calçotada, with the calçot (a sweet, long-stemmed, twice-planted spring onion) as the star of the show. Originally credited to a 19th-century farmer named Xat Benaiges who discovered a technique for extending the scallion's edible portion by packing soil around the base, giving them stockings or shoes (calçat), so to speak, Valls and the surrounding region now produce upwards of five million calçots annually. Calçotades (calçot feasts) take place in restaurants and homes between January and March, though the season is getting longer on both ends. On the last weekend of January, the calçot capital of Valls holds a public calçotada, hosting as many as 30,000 people who come to gorge on calçots, sausage, lamb chops, and young red wine. During the festival, you can learn how to grow calçots, how to make the accompanying salbitxada sauce (romescu) and, most important, how to eat them. The culminating event is the calçot-eating competition, when burly competitors from all over Catalunya swallow as many as 300 calçots in a 40-minute contest as the crowd cheers them on. Once the winner is decided, large grills set up all over town roast calçots over sarmientos (grape vine clippings), as red wine and cava are splashed from long-spouted porrons.
L'Antic Forn (Pintor Fortuny 28, 08001 93/412-0286 www.lanticforn.com) serves calçotadas in the middle of Barcelona a few steps from Plaça Catalunya.
Patricio (Passeig Marítim s/n, Castelldefels. 08860 93/665-1347) on the Castelldefels beach 15 minutes south of Barcelona serves calçots between December and April.
Restaurant Masia Can Borrell (Ctra.d'Horta a Cerdanyola Km. 3, Sant Cugat del Vallès, 08171 93 692 97 23 www.can-borrell.com) in the Collserola natural park can be reached by taking the train from Barcelona to San Cugat and hiking through the park to reach the restaurant.
Casa Félix (Ctra. N240 Km. 1.5 km south of Valls, 43800 Tel. 977/601350 www.felixhotel.net) is the classic Valls calçotada restaurant, with entire dining rooms enclosed by enormous wine barrels.
Restaurant Masia Bou (Ctra. de Lleida, km. 5 977/600427 www.masiabou.com) serves typical calçotades in a sprawling Valls masia an hour and a half outside of Barcelona by car.
Wild mushrooms are a fundamental taste experience in Catalan cuisine: the better the restaurant, the more chanterelles, morels, black trumpets, or 'shrooms of a dozen standard varieties are likely to appear on the menu. Wild mushrooms (in Spanish setas, in Catalan bolets) are valued for their aromatic contribution to gastronomy, a defining element in the olfactory taste process. While the black (or white) truffle is a delicious and extreme example, the musty, slightly gamey taste of the forest floor, the dark flavor of decay, is the aroma (hence, taste) that the wild mushroom imparts to the raw materials such as meat or eggs with which they are typically cooked. Most barcelonins are proficient wild mushroom stalkers and know how to find, identify, and prepare up to half a dozen kinds of bolets, from rovellones (Lactarius deliciosus) sautéed with parsely, olive oil, and a little garlic, to camagrocs (Cantharellus lutescens) scrambled with eggs. Wild mushrooms flourish in the fall, but different varieties appear in the spring and summer, and dried and reconstituted mushrooms are available year round. Pan-like Llorenç Petràs and his Fruits del Bosc (Forest Fruits) stall at the back of the Boqueria market is the place to go for a not-so-short course in mycology. Petràs supplies the most prestigious chefs in Barcelona and around Spain with wild mushrooms. If morels are scarce in the hinterlands of Catalonia but abundant in, say, Wisconsin, Petràs will have them. His book Cocinar con Setas (Cooking with Wild Mushrooms) is a runaway best seller presently in its 10th edition.
Petràs - Fruits del Bosc. (Mercat de la Boqueria, stands 867-870. 08001 93/302-5273 www.boletspetras.com) in the back of the Boqueria shows and sells the finest wild mushroom collection in Barcelona.
Catalonia's variations on this ancient staple cover a wide range of delicacies. Typically ground pork is mixed with black pepper and other spices, stuffed into sterilized intestines, and dried to create a protein-rich, easily conservable meat product. If Castile is the land of roasts and Valencia is the Iberian rice bowl and vegetable garden, Catalonia may produce the greatest variety of sausages. Below are some of the most common:
Botifarra: pork sausage seasoned with salt and pepper. Grilled and served with stewed white beans and allioli (garlic mayonnaise). Variations include botifarra with truffles, apples, wild mushrooms, and even chocolate.
Botifarra Blanca: typical of El Vallès Oriental just north of Barcelona, made of tripe and pork jowls, seasoned and boiled. Served as a cold cut.
Botifarra de Huevo: Egg sausage with ingredients similar to botifarra but with egg yolks added.
Botifarra de perol: made with head meat boiled before stuffing.
Botifarra Catalana Trufada: a tender, pink-hued sausage, seasoned and studded with truffles.
Botifarra dolça: cured with sugar instead of salt and seasoned with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, served as a semi-dessert, this sausage is typical of the Empordà region.
Botifarra negra: Catalan blood sausage made with white bread soaked in pig blood with fat, salt, and black pepper.
Fuet: means "whip" for its slender shape, made of 60/40 lean meat to fat, also known as secallona, espetec, and somalla.
Llonganissa: classic pork sausage, made with 85/15 lean meat to fat, and ample salt and pepper.
Page of de Fetge: liver bread, made of pig liver and lean meat, coarse ground, mixed with egg, milk, pepper, and nutmeg.
Ready to have a sausage extravaganza? Stock up at these places:
La Botifarreria de Santa Maria (Carrer de Santa Maria 4. 08003 93/319-9123) next to the Santa Maria del Mar basilica displays an anthology of Catalonia's sausages and charcuterie, along with top hams from all over Spain.
La Masia de la Boqueria (Mercat de la Boqueria. 08001 93/317-9420) is one of the finest charcuterie and ham specialists in the Boqueria market.
Xarcuteria Margarit (Cornet i Mas 63, Sarrià. 08017 93/203-3323) up in the village of Sarrià has an excellent charcuteria (xarcuteria or cansaladeria in Catalan) on Cornet i Mas just below Plaça Sant Vicens and another in the Sarrià market on Reina Elisenda.
The ham of the Ibérico pig, a descendant of the Sus mediterraneus that once roamed the Iberian Peninsula, has become Spain's modern-day caviar. Jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Ibérico ham) is dark, red, myoglobin-rich muscle tissue striated with fat, and tastes entirely of the acorns, grasses, roots, herbs, spices, tubers, and wild mushrooms of southwestern Spain. The defining characteristic of this free-range pig is its ability to store monounsaturated fats from acorns in streaks or marbled layers that run through its muscle tissue. This is one of the few animal fats scientifically proven to fight the cholesterol that clogs arteries. Also the taste and aromas, after two years of aging, are complex, and so nutty, buttery, earthy, and floral that Japanese enthusiasts have declared Ibérico ham umami, a word used to describe a fifth dimension in taste, in a realm somewhere beyond delicious. In addition, jamon ibérico de bellota liquefies at room temperature, so it literally melts in your mouth.
Caveats: Jamón serrano refers to mountain (sierra)-cured ham and should never be confused with jamón ibérico de bellota. What is commercialized in the U.S. as Serrano ham comes from white pigs raised on cereals and slaughtered outside of Spain. Pata negra means "black hoof." Not all ibérico pigs have black hooves, and some pigs with black hooves are not purebred ibéricos. Jabugo refers only to ham from the town of Jabugo in Huelva in the Sierra de Aracena. The term has been widely and erroneously applied to jamón ibérico de bellota in general.
For heavenly ham, try one of these spots:
Jamonísimo (Provença 85, 08029 93/439-0847) provides top quality hams and a tasting course "texturas de ibérico" that compares cuts from different parts of the ham.
Mesón Cinco Jotas (Còrsega 206, 08036 93/321-1181 or Rambla de Catalunya 91-93, 08008 93/487-8942) serves a complete selection of ham and charcuteria from the famous Sánchez Carvajal artisans in the town of Jabugo, Huelva.
Café Viena (Rambla 115, 08002 93/317-1492) is famous for its flauta de jamón ibérico (flute or slender roll filled with tomato drizzlings and Ibérico ham) described by the New York Times as "the best sandwich in the world." The price and the use of the ham (in a mere sandwich) would indicate less than the top level of ham, but it still might be the best sandwich in the world.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $2149 -- 7-Night All-Inclusive European Cruise in Suite MSC Cruises
- $399 & up -- Fall 7-Night Mediterranean Cruises — $399 MSC Cruises
- $849 & up -- Mediterranean 7-Night Summer Cruise — $849 Royal Caribbean
- $649 & up -- 7-Night Roundtrip Spain Cruise in Spring — $649 Royal Caribbean
- $649 & up -- Weeklong Italy & France Cruise in Summer — $649 Royal Caribbean