From market nibbles and bodega bites to avant-garde tapas and ‘surf & turf’ delights, the Food Tours Barcelona tour is a delectable way to taste and understand Catalonia’s world-class cuisine.
Set in the über cool gastro barrio of Sant Antoni (my personal favourite – more about it here), it didn’t take much to convince me to sign up for Barcelona Food Experiences’ Catalan Gastronomy Food Tour.
The idea is to give food-focussed travellers a hands-on (more ‘tongues-on’ really) gastro experience while strolling from local market stalls and wine bodegas to tapas bars and restaurants. Here are a few highlights from my personal experience and a little taste of what you can expect if you decide to take this toothsome tour yourself.
So many visitors in Barcelona head straight to La Boqueria food market on Las Ramblas to scratch their proverbial ‘market itch’, but there really are so many better options to explore.
It was a great delight to kick-start this gastro tour at a lesser-known, and considerably more real, food market.
Zara, our guide and chief feeder, set the scene. Orientating us in space and time, she transported our minds to the beginnings of Catalan cuisine, enlightening us with fascinating little nuggets of info and explaining Barcelona’s role as a producer and innovator.
We scuttled from stall to stall, our cameras snapping away at the surly stall holders and their fresher-than-fresh produce. Zara unleashed her perfect Spanish and picked up bags and trays of food along the way.
We started with beautiful cuts of Spanish cheese, spiking it on to wooden toothpicks with traditional ‘membrillo’ (quince), mmm-ing and argh-ing as we wedged it between our teeth and let it melt on our tongues.
From another bag Zara produced little paper packets of A-grade Spanish jamón serrano and Iberico, explaining exactly how it’s made and why it’s revered as the world’s very best ham. Wouldn’t life be so much better if every day could start this way?
From the market it was just a quick and very picturesque stroll through the neighbourhood to a local wine bodega. Here, perching on rickety old stools at upturned wine barrels, we took part in Spain’s beloved ‘vermut’ (vermouth) ritual, a traditional pre-lunch aperitivo to get our appetites going.
Check out a few of my favourite vermouth bars here.
Of course, no Spanish aperitivo would be complete without a selection of gourmet olives and Cantabrian anchovies. And we even learned how to make Barcelona’s famous ‘pa amb tomàquet ‘ (tomato bread), by rubbing cloves of garlic and juicy tomatoes over crusty bread, before finishing it off with generous glugs of local olive oil and a few pinches of salt.
The highlight here, however, was learning how to drink wine straight from a traditional Spanish ‘porrón’, a sort of watering-can-cum-wine-pourer from which you stream jets of wine directly into your mouth… and, inevitably, all over your clothes.
Contemporary Catalan Cuisine – à la Ferran Adrià
If you’re interested in eating in Barcelona then chances are you’ve already heard of the local gastro gods Ferran and Albert Adrià. The chefs became global icons for their ‘molecular gastronomy’ at the multi-Michelin-starred restaurant El Bulli, which you may recall was voted the ‘World’s Best Restaurant’ no less than five times.
El Bulli is closed now – apparently, despite the fact that its waiting list ran into the millions, it never turned a profit – but Barcelona is now packed with tapas bars and restaurants serving ultra creative and progressive dishes inspired by the two brothers, and Zara knows all the best ones…
We scoffed gourmet croquettes and wonderful little puffs of spinach and halloumi. We sipped premium quality Catalan Cava while Zara demonstrated her expansive wine knowledge – she’s a passionate and skilled sommelier, which certainly comes in handy on a tour like this.
Traditional Catalan ‘Mar i Muntanya’ Cooking and Damn Good Vino
Now fully-lubricated, we chatted freely en route to our next stop, most definitely in the mood for more. We weren’t disappointed as platters of ‘pulpo’ (octopus) and ‘secreto Ibérico de bellota’ (succulent cuts of acorn-fed pork) arrived on our table.
With its expansive Mediterranean coastline and abundance of mountains, Catalonia is known for its ‘mar i muntanya’ (sea and mountain) flavour combinations and this surf ‘n’ turf feast was a prime example of just how delicious it can be when done well.
We paired it with a ridiculously good Rioja, which, of course, spurred on a long and spirited tête-à-tête about vino – Spanish vino in particular. It’s always fun (and educational) to meet other foodies while travelling.
Spanish Sweet Sensations
Somehow we still found space (and time) to finish off our gastro tour with a refreshing glass of Spanish horchata, a sort of milkshake made with tiger nuts, into which we dunked a few sugar-dusted ‘fartons’ (traditional pastries). If you’ve got a sweet tooth then you’ll also enjoy my guide to Barcelona’s best desserts.
With our bellies bursting and the sun still high in the sky, we said our goodbyes and dissolved into the city in search of coffee, or better yet, somewhere to siesta.
Make it Happen
Head over to the Food Tours Barcelona website to book your Catalan food tour.
The Catalan Gastronomy Food Tour costs €89 per person, which is really good value when you consider the volume and quality of the food and drink.
The tour takes around 3.5 to 4 hours.