From classic Catalan dishes in the trendy Sant Antoni neighbourhood to timeless Spanish tapas in the foodie haven of Poblesec, the Barcelona Eat Local food tour is the perfect way to see, eat and drink your way off the beaten track…
Scouring markets, sipping cava, nibbling tapas and chatting with new friends as we strolled through the leafy streets, it was the kind of day that makes me fall in love with Barcelona all over again.
If you’ve ever read about my gastro adventures here in Barcelona, you’ll probably already know that I spend most of my time eating and drinking my way around Sant Antoni and Poblesec. Two traditionally working-class neighbourhoods, they have combined forces over the last few years to become a mecca for foodies in Barcelona. Needless to say, when I was asked if I’d like to go on a food tour in the area, I jumped at the chance!
Words and photos by your well-fed reporter, Ben Holbrook
Market Feasts and New Friends
We met outside one of the oldest and most important food markets in Barcelona, introducing ourselves quickly and excitedly in the early morning rays. Our motley crew consisted of a Russian couple (who now live in Canada), another couple from New Zealand, a group of friends from Finland and myself and Rob from the UK.
The original market is being renovated – it will be the hottest foodie spot in Barcelona once it’s finished – so we toured the temporary market and started the culinary discovery with the best bacalao to have ever passed my lips (salted cod).
It was fresh and crisp and simple. The epitome of Mediterranean cuisine.
“It’s ancient, about 500 years old.” explained Marina. “The fishermen realised that they could dry and salt the fish on the decks of their boats, in the sun, and it would last longer, so they could fish for longer.”
Catalan Cava and a Stroll Through Sant Antoni
There’s something different about Sant Antoni. Even though it’s now considered one of the city’s trendiest barrios, it feels calmer somehow, and less cramped and crowded than Barcelona’s old town.
We darted over the busier (and more well-known) streets as Marina explained a bit about the area’s background, revealing little nooks where locals relaxed in the sun. And then a few magic words…
Shall we go for some local cava?
We practically skipped with joy on our way to the wine shop, which Marina revealed was owned by a family that inherited a small vineyard in the nearby Penedès wine region (better known as Cava Country).
“They opened this tasting space because they wanted to have contact with the people who were buying and enjoying their wines. Here they can actually talk to their customers and build relationships with them.”
And with a few glasses of bubbly in us, it didn’t take long for us food tourers to build on our relationships. We talked about the different wines we had tried around the world, about the “new world wines” of New Zealand and exclusive “ice wine” that’s becoming increasingly popular in Canada. “It’s made with frozen grapes. They are like little pebbles,” Dimitri informed us.
It’s always nice to meet people that you can click with, especially when you’re in a new destination.
Local Life and Eats in Poblesec
Content and comfortable, we chatted jovially as Marina led us over to the “unofficial” extension of Poblesec. We stopped to talk about the barrio’s historic role as a sort of theatre/entertainment hotspot, before sneaking down one of the more obscure side streets where we discovered an vibrant example of Catalan Modernist architecture.
“These two houses were built to display the family’s wealth. One brother had the smaller house and the other brother, who obviously made a bit more money, had the bigger one. And it’s interesting because this one is actually still owned by the same family, which is very rare.”
I’ve spent more hours than I can count exploring this area of Barcelona, but I had no idea about this little story.
This was followed by what I can only describe as the best patatas bravas I’ve had in Barcelona – the secret ingredient was hazelnuts in the salsa! – and a quick lesson in preparing another essential Spanish tapas dish, pan con tomate.
“Peel the garlic and rub it over the bread, then slice the tomatoes in two and rub the juice over it. They’re special tomatoes that are reserved just for this dish – they’re a little bit overripe so they squeeze better,” Marina explained as we sliced and rubbed and chomped and slurped in a haze of contentment.
Local Heros and Timeless Desserts
Though we were all feeling more than satisfied, Marina had one last treat prepared for us. A quick knock on the door of a discreet restaurant produced a bow-tied waiter, who waltzed us through the busy restaurant to a private dining space.
It was time for the essential “Crema Catalana” dessert experience and I couldn’t have been happier. It’s similar/identical to France’s Crème brûlée and there’s a great deal of controversy surrounding its origins. But it was actually the brief moment we spent with the owner of the restaurant that captured my imagination.
Standing at all but 5-feet-tall, her looming presence betrayed her size. And she spent a moment to welcome each of us to her restaurant, asking where we were all from with a twinkle in her eye as the pride set in.
“They could be enjoying life at Costa Brava,” Andre (the other tour guide) later told me. “But the magic experience of sourcing the best ingredients at the market and talking to old customers each day is irreplaceable.”
With Marina and Andre, it’s all about connecting with the city and its people and food. Yes it’s a food tour, but it’s also a cultural experience, a deep dive into the city’s culinary heritage. It’s an experience you’d be very unlikely to have without them guiding you through it. And, of course, the food is heartwarmingly delicious!
Make it Happen
Price Per Person: €70
Phone: Spain +34 662 435 273 / International +883 510 008 273 389
Number of Foodie Stops: 5 + lots of great city sights between
Tour Length: Around 4 hours