Last updated on May 8, 2019
The Barcelona Food Sherpa market tour and home dining experience is a dream for anyone who wants to learn about Barcelona’s cuisine and eat really, really well. Passionate home-cooks, professional chefs, and the food-obsessed – listen up.
Chef Sarah Stothart is the Barcelona Food Sherpa, your ultimate guide to the Catalan capital’s legendary gastronomy.
Sarah’s lived in Barcelona for some 30 years and has garnered an outrageous amount of knowledge about its food and culture.
She’s managed restaurants and worked as a private chef for the rich and famous. She even founded Barcelona’s very first private supper club at her revered restaurant, Tapioles 53. One thing’s crystal clear: she knows her shit.
Her eye-opening and seriously delicious gastro experience starts with breakfast and a tour of the iconic Santa Caterina market. Here she shares her passion for quality local produce and picks up supplies for lunch, which she prepares back at her sunny apartment in the Modernist Eixample neighbourhood.
Visit Sarah’s website now to book your spot or read on for a few more reasons why you need the Barcelona Food Sherpa in your life!
Because Nothing’s Better than Bombas for Breakfast
The day starts with breakfast at a traditional, family-run bar in the bustling Santa Caterina market.
“I love this place. They do these amazing, Olympic-sized sandwiches and the best bombas in Barcelona,” Sarah gushed as we dug in. “They’re made with botifarra (Catalan sausage), garlic and pine nuts.”
Bombas, for the uninitiated, are one of Barcelona’s signature tapas dishes. They were created during the Spanish Civil War to represent the little hand grenades used by the anarchists – a spicy salsa topping represents their explosive quality.
“I’ve never had bombas for breakfast!” I announced.
“Actually, they’re supposed to be eaten for breakfast,” explained Sarah. Just one of the countless little nuggets of information I learnt during the day.
Because Mercado Santa Caterina is the Real Deal
You’ve probably heard of Barcelona’s famous Boqueria market, located just off Las Ramblas. Well I’m afraid the truth is that it’s turned into a bit of a theme park in recent years. Just looking at the hordes of tourists shuffling through it are enough to give me an anxiety attack.
The Santa Caterina market, with its undulating technicolour roof, however, is still a proper market where locals shop.
Sarah has shopped here for years and knows the stall holders personally. And this comes through in the way she talks about the produce and the people behind the stalls. It’s a love affair based on respect for quality Spanish produce.
“It’s a real market… not catering to tourist but locals,” Sarah told me. “I have a special connection because they supplied me for Tapioles 53. I feel very loyal to them and they are my friends. Basically it’s a personal connection. I trust them. 20 years of trust.”
We flitted from stall to stall, picking up supplies while Sarah talked with gusto about the produce and the traders. The black-footed hens, the cheese, the quality olive oils and salts, the butcher who had recently confessed to her that he’d never be able to kill and animal himself.
“When I opened my restaurant, I knew that he was the best butcher and I wanted to get my meat from him. But he wouldn’t sell his produce to me. I had to take him out for lunch and convince him!” said Sarah.
“Why wouldn’t he sell it to you? What were his reservations?” I asked, the absurdity of her statement suddenly sinking in. I mean, what kind of butcher doesn’t want regular business from a local restaurant?
“Because he was worried I wouldn’t treat his meat properly.”
These are the types of people you encounter on Sarah’s tour: people who care more about respecting food than they do about money.
Because Sarah Really Knows Her Stuff
Make no mistake, Sarah is a chef’s chef. Yes she’s a gracious guide, but it’s very clear that her heart remains firmly in the kitchen. She’s unable to contain her love of quality Spanish ingredients and traditional cooking.
I have always been passionate about food. I come from a very food driven family. My parents traveled to eat. I didn’t just one day decide food was my thing – it always was.
What kind of people enjoy your tour, I asked. “Anyone interested in getting a brief education about the food and culture of Spain. I’m offering something that is honest and real.”
Because it’s a Unique Perspective of Barcelona
It’s not just the gastronomy of Barcelona that Sarah is passionate about. She knows almost just as much about the city’s history and culture.
And as we walked from the market to her apartment, winding our way through the old town to the ornate Eixample neighbourhood, Sarah pointed out interesting buildings and shared little stories about them. The kind of stories only a local would know, if you know what I mean. You won’t read about politicians embezzling money in your guidebook, for example.
Because Sarah’s Home is Worthy of its Own Tour
The fact that it’s a ‘home dining experience’ makes a bigger difference than you might imagine. Dining at restaurants is always fun of course, but stepping into a real home, and such a beautiful home at that, offers a rare insight into local life. More specifically, an insight into the home of a local chef.
Sarah lives in the type of apartment all Barcelona residents aspire to. It’s typical of the spacious homes that fill the Modernist area of Eixample, where every building is a visual feast of undulating balconies and ornate stonework.
Inside, lofty ceilings, colourful paintings and Barcelona’s signature hydraulic floor tiles bask in natural light, which floods in though the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking her huge terrace.
“I’m getting electricity put into the little shed so I can do the meals there. I love gardening too, so I’m going to grow my own herbs and vegetables, too.”
I noticed the huge lights hanging from the ceilings. “Yes, well they look cool, but when you turn them on it’s a bit like being on a film set,” Sarah said to my amusement.
“Her father is a famous painter,” someone whispered while Sarah was prepping in the kitchen. “Most of the paintings are his.”
Because Happiness is a Table Packed with Tapas… and Cava
Eating tapas is of course an essential element of eating in Spain, and Sarah had us covered. We nibbled away at local cheeses, quality lomo de bellota (quality dry cured pork loin), various types of olives and cured anchovies draped over fresh pan de vidre. All of it fresh from the market.
And as Sarah explained, good tapas is not necessarily about being a talented cook, but more about knowing what to look for and where to shop.
“There are a lot of chefs today, typically males chefs – sorry Ben – who are taking credit for food like this. But it’s wrong. I mean, unless you produced it yourself, the cheese, the meat, the vegetables or whatever, then you can’t really take credit for it. That’s what Spanish food is to me: simple, quality ingredients produced by people who understand and respect it. It speaks for itself.”
Because Simplicity is Everything
We moved into the dining room and Sarah popped open a bottle of red wine from the local wine region of Priorat. I looked around the room in envy. The shelves were packed with old cookbooks, hundreds if not thousands of them.
And though we were all pretty much satisfied with the tapas spread, Sarah’s final dish saw our appetites rapidly return.
She had cooked the secreto ibérico (a succulent cut of pork) that we had picked up at the market to absolute imperfection, letting the quality of the meat shine. “When you’ve got meat this good, you want to do as little as possible to it. Just a tiny sprinkle of salt and that’s it,” Sarah explained as we circled the dish with our cameras and forks unleashed.
With the meat we enjoyed crispy green beans and chunky wedges of pan-fried pears. It really exemplifies Sarah’s ability to understand each ingredient and show restraint – it’s about flavour, not about her ego.
It was one of those meals I know will stay with me for the rest of my days.
Because La Sobremesa is Truly Fascinating
La Sobremesa could be described as, “The art of conversation around the table after a meal”. And with Chef Stothart around you can be sure of some seriously interesting stories.
There was the one about her meeting Ferran Adriá, the most famous chef in Spain and arguably one of the world’s biggest gastronomical gods.
There were hilarious tales of famous actors coming into her restaurant. “I recognised this guy but I couldn’t remember why, so I hugged him and sat him down at a table. And then I realised who he was and I was horrified! He’s in Lord of the Rings!”
I found myself sitting in silence, hoping that she would tell us just one more anecdote. And it worked – the stories trickled out as we drained the rest of the wine and forked fluffy morsels of Sarah’s homemade tarta de Santiago almond cake into our mouths.
It was simple and homely. “I always think, you know, after you’ve had a big meal with lots of big flavours, you don’t really want a heavy dessert. So I always try to do something light and simple.”
Sarah is bold and opinionated about food and makes for a truly magnanimous guide. She’s earned her stripes in the kitchen and genuinely understands and feels what she’s talking about. It’s this depth of knowledge and passion for what she does that makes her dining experience so unique and special.
If you’re into food in any way, whether you simply want to learn a bit about Spanish cuisine or want to learn how to cook it yourself, I’m certain you’ll enjoy Sarah’s dining experience as much as I did.
As Sarah explains herself: “I’m doing it because I love passing on the knowledge I have to others and preserving the culture.”
Make it Happen
Head over to the Barcelona Food Sherpa website to book your experience. Tours start at €130 per person (worth every darn penny).