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Quick Bites: Barcelona

A friend of mine recently journeyed to Barcelona. Having loved the place so much when I went, I was somehow certain she would encounter wonders on every corner.

Sadly, she returned with an appreciation for the architecture and the climate, but little love for the food.

Though aghast, I blame myself. I didn't offer up any advice at all on the favorite spots I'd visited... and it's so easy to go astray when a traveler doesn't know the territory.

In an effort to help friends and random readers avoid similar fates, I'm starting up a new series: Quick Bites. Each edition will feature a few city highlights, a few beautiful photographs, and a recipe inspired by the locale. By no means an exhaustive list (these are nibbles, after all) my hope is that web travelers and world travelers can both encounter something enjoyable.

In this first edition: Barcelona, Spain

Contemplative Bull
Shall I go to the beach, or visit Sagrada Familia?

The Big View

The art! The beach! The sunshine! The wine! The cheese! Oh, lovely Barcelona! We were lucky enough to be in an apartment, so I was able to take full advantage of the enormous Boqueria market (see below).

I'd made up my mind beforehand to try every paella I could get my hands on. I now believe that was a mistake. The paellas were fine, but even the best seemed to pale in comparison to the very simplest dishes we ate... the tapas (locally referred to as pintxos, in the Basque tongue), the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the rich hit of a cortado (an espresso with a splash of hot milk), the toasty delight of double-baked brioche and the creamy wonder of cheese gelatos.

The Bites

Cabra in the Cave
Cabra in the cheese cave

As you stroll through the Gothic Quarter, walk into this tidy cheese shop, gawk at the tasty cheese cave and speak with the friendly cheese mongress, a charming Scot, who vends wonderful local cheeses, delightful small plates and flights of her delicious, inventive cheese gelatos (formatgelats).

Formatgeria La Seu
Carrer Dagueria 16
Tel: 93 412 65 48)

Fried Chilies
Simple, tasty fried chili tapas.

Supremely simple tapas in a no-nonsense old-school wine tavern. They're all about the basics here. Glasses of wine with ungarnished platters of cheese, sausage, serrano, pa amb tomaquet (tomato-rubbed bread) and tasty classics like the fried chilies pictured above. I found the place to be a refreshing oasis of homeyness in an overdeveloped 'hood.

La Bodegueta
Rambla de Catalunya 100

Twice-Baked Brioche
Twice-baked brioche

I've already covered this bakery more exhaustively in a previous post, but for the moment I'll just say... yum. And there's more than one location, so you can go twice in a day without looking like a swine.

Forn de Pa Mistral
Ronda Sant Antoni 96
(or Torres i Amat 7)
Tel/Fax: 93.302.41.39

The Boqueria Mercado
Roasted vegetable salad at the Boqueria

On visiting Barcelona, I'm sure every food writer is required by law to mention the Mercat de la Boqueria. There's good reason for the hype. The place has been around since time immemorial, forever featuring great food and lots of it. I think I went there every day... Sometimes twice a day. Fresh tapas at this counter, gorgeous local fruit over there, fascinating mushrooms or nuts or cured meats or fresh fish or... or... or... I'm still thinking about this delicious roasted vegetable and hummus salad I got at a little shop right next to the back entrance. Go exploring there and uncover your own new favorite thing.

Mercat de la Boqueria
Pla├ža de la Boqueria,
Tel: 93.318.25.84

Thick Chocolate at Origen 99.9
Pudding-like chocolate at Origen 99.9%

The ultimate in of-the-moment travel, Origen 99.9% sources its ingredients and recipes locally, basing its cuisine in Catalan classics. Going heavy on lunch (and lighter on dinner) in Barcelona makes this town a better bargain, and Origen 99.9% provides a delicious (and satisfying) three-course prix fixe to get you through siesta and into tapas-time. Don't miss their in-house food magazine and the line of ready-made delights they sell.

Origen 99.9%
Several Locations
Tel: 932 411 600
Fax: 932 411 786

Cortado and Fresh Orange Juice
Barcelona addictions: the cortado and fresh-squeezed local orange juice

This isn't a place recommendation, per se, but a couple of directives.

The cortado (espresso and a splash of hot milk) is a wonderful drink, so if you're into coffee, order one. They're ubiquitous and addictively drinkable.

Also: If you ever come across (and you will... they're everywhere) a Zummo or Frucasol machine — crazy contraptions that squeeze oranges into wonder juice, order juice immediately. Fresh-squeezed Spanish oranges are so lively and delicious you'll never be happy with a carton of Tropicana again.

The Takeaway

I ate Pan Tomaquet (Pa amb Tomaquet in Catalan) daily while I visited Barcelona. The tomatoes were luscious, good olive oil was plentiful, the bread was nearly always decent and the resulting dish was a simple delight. I wouldn't attempt it without garden-fresh tomatoes, good bread and good olive oil. The most simple dishes invariably require the best ingredients.

Pa Amb Tomaquet
Pa Amb Tomaquet Tomato-Rubbed Bread (Serves 2-3)

1 baguette, cut into 5"-6" portions and halved (toasted, if you wish)
1-2 large, ripe, in-season tomatoes, halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Rub cut-side of tomato across top of baguette.
2. Drizzle with olive oil.
3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve with glasses of rioja and some nice Spanish olives or anchovies.


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