When to Eat in Barcelona
You may not arrive in Barcelona with jet-lag, but your tummy will soon think it has abandoned all known time zones.
Breakfast (esmorzar/desayuno) is generally a no-nonsense affair, taken at a bar on the way to work. Lunchtime (dinar/comida) is basically from 2pm to 4pm and is the main meal of the day. No local would contemplate chomping into dinner (sopar/cena) before 9pm. That said, although restaurants tend to stay open until 1am or so, most kitchens close by 11.30pm.
Don’t panic! If your gastric juices simply can’t hold out until then, you can easily track down bar snacks or fast food (local and international style) outside these times. And, anxious to ring up every tourist dollar possible, plenty of restaurants here cater for northern European intestinal habits – although you often pay for this with mediocre food and the almost exclusive company of other tourists.
Where to Eat in Barcelona
Many bars and some cafes offer some form of solid sustenance. This can range from entrepans/bocadillos (filled rolls) and tapes/tapas (bar snacks) through to more substantive raciones (basically a bigger version of a tapa), and full meals in menjadors/comedores (sit-down restaurants) out the back. Cerveseries/cervezerias (beer bars), tavernes/tabernas (taverns), tasques/tascas (snack bars) and cellers/bodegas (cellars) are just some of the kinds of establishment in this category.
For a full meal, you are most likely to end up in a restaurant/restaurante, but other names will pop out at you. A marisqueria specialises in seafood, while a meson (a ‘big table’) might indicate (but not always!) a more modest eatery.
What to Eat in Barcelona
A coffee with some sort of pastry (pasta) is the typical breakfast. You may get a croissant or some cream-filled number (such as a canya). Some people prefer a savory start – you could go for a bikini – a toasted ham and cheese. A Spanish tostada is simply buttered toast (you might order something to go with it). The Catalan version, a torrada, is usually more of an open toasted sandwich with something on it besides butter (depending on what you ask for).
Although not terribly common in Barcelona, some people go for an all-Spanish favourite, xurros amb xocolata/churros con chocolate, a lightly deep-fried stick of plain pastry immersed in thick, gooey hot chocolate. You’ll find a few such places around town and they are great hangover material.
Lunch & Dinner
Many straightforward Spanish dishes are available here as elsewhere in the country. The travellers’ friend is the menu del dia, a set-price meal usually comprising three courses, with a drink thrown in. This is often only available for lunch and can range from around €6 at budget places to €25 at posh establishments. A plat combinat/plato combinado is a simpler version still – a one-course meal consisting of basic nutrients – the ‘meat-and-three-veg’ style of cooking. You’ll see pictures of this stuff everywhere. It’s filling and cheap but has little to recommend it in culinary terms.
You’ll pay more for your meals if you order a la carte, but the food will be better. The menu (la carta) begins with starters such as amanides/ensaladas (salads), sopes/sopas (soups) and entremesos/entremeses (hors d’oeuvres). The latter can range from a mound of potato salad with olives, asparagus, anchovies and a selection of cold meats – almost a meal in itself – to simpler cold meats, slices of cheese and olives.
The hungry Catalan, after a starter, will order a first then second course. The latter may come under headings such as: pollastre/pollo (chicken); carn/carne (meat); mariscos (seafood); peix/pescado (fish); arros/arroz (rice); ous/huevos (eggs); and verdures/verduras (vegetables). Red meat may be subdivided into porc/cerdo (pork), vedella/ternera (beef) and anyell/cordero (lamb). Be aware that second courses frequently do not come with vegetables: You order a side dish of vegetables or salad. Often the first course is designed to take care of this side of your diet, though.
Postres (desserts) have a lower profile; gelats/helados (ice cream), fruit and flans are often the only choices in cheaper places. Sugar addicts should look out for local specialities, such as crema Catalana, where possible.
Basques may well disagree, but Catalunya has a reputation for producing some of Spain’s finest cuisine. Catalunya is geographically diverse and enjoys a variety of fresh, high-quality seafood (although, due to high demand, much seafood is now crated in from other parts of Spain and Europe), meat, poultry, game, fruit and vegetables. These can come in unusual and delicious combinations: meat and seafood (a genre known as mar i muntanya – ‘sea and mountain’), poultry and fruit, fish and nuts. Quality Catalan food tends to require a greater fiscal effort.
The essence of Catalan food lies in its sauces for meat and fish. There are five main types: sofregit (fried onion, tomato and garlic); samfaina or chanfaina (sofregit plus red pepper and aubergine or courgette); picada (based on ground almonds, usually with garlic, parsley, pine or hazel nuts, and sometimes breadcrumbs); allioli (pounded garlic with olive oil, often with egg yolk added to make more of a mayonnaise); and romesco (an almond, tomato, olive oil, garlic and vinegar sauce, also used as a salad dressing).
Catalans find it hard to understand why other people put butter on bread when pa amb tomaquet – bread sliced, then rubbed with tomato, olive oil, garlic and salt – is so easy.
Other good things to look out for include oca (goose) and canalons (Catalan cannelloni). Wild mushrooms are a Catalan passion – people disappear into the forests in autumn to pick them. There are many, many types of bolets; with the large succulent rovellons being a favourite.
Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Barcelona
In Barcelona, the tap water (aigua de l’aixeta/agua del grifo) is not at all tempting and most people drink aigua/agua mineral (bottled water). It comes in innumerable brands, either amb/con gas (fizzy) or sense/sin gas (still). A 1.5L bottle of still mineral water costs around €0.60 in a supermarket, but out and about you may be charged as much as €1.40.
In Spain, coffee is strong and slightly bitter. A cafe amb llet/cafe con leche (generally drunk at breakfast only) is about 50% coffee, 50% hot milk. Ask for grande or doble if you want a large cup, en got/en vaso if you want a smaller shot in a glass, or sombra if you want lots of milk. A cafe solo is an espresso (short black); cafe tallat/cafe cortado is an espresso with a little milk. For iced coffee, ask for cafe amb gel/cafe con hielo; you’ll get a glass of ice and a hot cup of coffee, to be poured over the ice. If you can’t deal with caffeine ask for a descafeinat/descafeinado. You usually have the choice of de maquina or de sobre. On taste the former beats the latter, which are little pouches of instant decaf that you pour into a cup of hot milk – blah!
As in the rest of Spain, Barcelonians prefer coffee, but increasingly it is possible to get hold of many different styles of tea and infusion de hierbas (herbal concoctions). Locals tend to drink tea black. If you want milk, ask for it to come separately (a parte) to avoid ending up with a cup of tea-flavoured watery milk.
Sue de taronja/zumo de naranja (orange juice) is the main freshly squeezed juice available. To make sure you are getting the real thing, ask for the juice to be natural, otherwise you risk getting a puny bottle of runny concentrate.
Refrescos (soft drinks) include the usual international brands, local brands such as Kas, and granissat/granizado (iced fruit crush).
A batut/batido is a flavoured-milk drink or milk shake. Orxata/horchata is a Valencian drink of Islamic origin. Made from the juice of chufa (tiger nuts), sugar and water, it is sweet and tastes like soya milk with a hint of cinnamon. A naughtier version is called a cubanito and involves sticking in a blob of chocolate ice-cream.
Alcoholic Drinks in Barcelona
Vi/vino (wine) accompanies almost every meal. Spanish wine is robust because of the sunny climate. It comes blanc/blanco (white), negre/tinto (red) or rosat/rosado (rose) in all price ranges. A €5 bottle of wine, bought from a supermarket or wine merchant, will be quite drinkable. The same money in a restaurant will get you virtually nothing. Cheap vi de taula/vino de mesa (table wine) can sell for less than €2 a litre, but wines at that price can be pretty rank.
Catalunya’s whites are better than its reds and the area is best known for cava, the fine local bubbly. You can order wine by the glass (copa) in bars and restaurants. At lunch or dinner it is common to order a vi/vino de la casa (house wine) – usually by the litre or half litre.
The most common way to order cervesa/cerveza (beer) is to ask for a canya, which is a small draught beer (cervesa/cerveza de barril). A larger beer (about 300mL) is sometimes called a tubo (which comes in a straight glass). A pint is a gerra/jarra. If you just ask for a cerveza you may get bottled beer, which is more expensive. A small bottle of beer is called a flasco/botellin. The local brew is Estrella Damm (of which there are several variants, including the potent and flavoursome Voll Dam), while San Miguel, made in western Catalunya’s Lleida area, is also widely drunk. The Damm company produces about 15% of all Spain’s beer, as does San Miguel. A clara is a shandy – a beer with a hefty dash of lemonade (7-Up).
Sangria is a wine and fruit punch, sometimes laced with brandy. It’s refreshing going down but can leave you with a sore head. You’ll see jugs of it on tables in some restaurants. A local speciality is sangria de cava, a champagne-based mix that does less damage to your neurones and also goes by the name of tisana.
There is no shortage of imported and Spanish-produced top-shelf stuff – conac (brandy) is popular.