Our Bite Sized Barcelona and Catalunya Culinary Guide
Beautiful Barcelona broke our hearts and tantalized our taste buds on our first trip back in four years. These are some of the most delectable experiences from our ten days in Catalunya. Consider it our bite sized Barcelona and Catalunya culinary guide.
Our recent Barcelona sojourn was so enjoyable, despite the long hours and relentless pace, that it has had us pondering a possible return to Europe in the distant future or at the very least annual assignments in Spain.
Our Cava tour with Wine Pleasures through the Penedes wine region, which was the original motivation for our epic journey from Siem Reap via Guangzhou and Paris to Barcelona, was special for the elegant, effervescent straw-coloured Cavas we tasted, the hospitable wine-making families who welcomed us, and the delicious Catalan food they prepared for us.
But it was the larger region of Catalunya with its blue mountains, deep valleys and stone farm-houses, and its passionate producers, dedicated suppliers, and imaginative chefs creating inspired cuisine that really delighted us.
We have lots to share from our Catalan culinary adventures, so think of this mini gastronomic guide covering the highlights of our trip as a taster.
Aperitif: Cava Tour
The Catalans like to say that you can drink Cava at any time of day and with any sort of food, from breakfast through lunch to dinner and dessert. So during our five-day Wine Pleasures Penedes tour, from morning to night, we sampled 50 Great Cavas (and other outstanding wines) at some 15 wineries, restaurants, an interpretative centre, museums (dedicated to Cava, Catalan wine, Cava and, ahem, trains), and the very serious Consejo Regulador del Cava (Cava regulatory body). We tried grapes straight from the vines at Llopart winery, feasted in aristocratic style in a sumptuous dining room at Bohigas, sipped bubbles in a stone-age beehive shelter by the vineyards at Cusco Berga, and experienced the quintessentially Catalan ritual of ‘la calçotada’, eating early season calçots, a cross between a spring onion and leek. You can read more here about our experience sipping Cava and sampling Catalan cuisine.
Amuse: Market Walk
Our first morning in Barcelona began with a traditional chocolate milkshake at a granja (what we used to call a ‘milk bar’ in Australia) followed by a mouth-watering meander around La Boqueria Market doing tastings on Context Travel’s Farm to Fork food tour. We visited some of the market’s best purveyors, from a stall that specialises in the ‘fruits of the forest’ (everything from seasonal mushrooms to wild herbs) to another offering some of the finest jamon Iberico in the city.
Snacks: Tapas Bar Hop
An evening spent tapas bar hopping with a guide from Aborigens with a Masters in Gastronomy saw us sauntering through the Sant Antoni and Ravel quarters, stopping off at atmospheric old bodegas and local neighbourhood bars. We began at hip Moritz, a micro-brewery-cum-tapas bar with a bakery and gourmet grocery store, and finished at dimly lit cocktail bar Negroni where the namesake drink is as expensive as they are in Sydney without the Noilly Prat but with the buzzy vibe.
Appetiser: Local Producers
The knowledgeable guys from Aborigens took us on a drive through the Catalan countryside on their ‘Outer Food Tour’ experience to meet producers and suppliers. We woke at 4.30am for a pre-dawn pick-up and drove in the darkness to the Pyrenees foothills so we could watch the early morning sausage-making action before a family breakfast of spicy sobrassada, botifarres, and bulls (Catalan blood sausage). Other highlights included visiting an artisanal baker whose family have been making bread since 1884 and meeting the region’s foremost mushroom expert.
Main Course: Michelin-Starred Meals
In Barcelona, our most memorable meals included a long lunch in the lovely light-filled dining room at Paco Perez’s Enoteca, a tasting menu perched at the bar at Roca Moo, where chefs plate and present dishes to diners, and Roca Bar, where some of the most delicious tapas we’ve ever had was served up. Lunch with the guys from Aborigens at elegant Ca l’Enric with its innovative Catalan cuisine and warm hospitality would have been the highlight of our country excursion if we hadn’t gone on to have a superlative 20+ course feast at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona a few hours later (and interview Joan Roca the next day). The sublime food, fantastic service, and outstanding wines will go down as one of the greatest gastronomic experiences of our lives, even if we were so full we barely touched the final courses. Lunch at La Calendula on our last day, where Chef Iolanda specialises in fragrant dishes made with aromatic flowers was the light break we needed before returning to Barcelona…
Dessert: The Adria Restaurants
For me, dessert is usually the dish that I can never squeeze in, that I shift around my plate so it appears I’ve at least made an effort. But on our final night, I wasn’t about to leave a crumb on a plate. The four Albert Adria restaurants we sampled were the icing on the delicious cake that was Catalunya’s culinary scene. The hospitable Albert organized a restaurant crawl for us and devised a special menu for us that began with vermouth and nibbles at Bodega 1900, before moving onto authentic Mexican street food (pictured above) at boisterous Nino Viejo and modern Mexican at the more refined Hoja Santa in the same space. We stuck our head into sleek Peruvian resto Pakta before rounding off what was one of our most satisfying nights of eating with sweets at the dessert café tucked into the cocktail bar at Tickets. I tried to finish to finish them, I really did.
Getting to Barcelona
We flew China Southern Airlines from Siem Reap to Barcelona via Guangzhou and Paris in one direction and Amsterdam in the other. The airline appears to go everywhere, with excellent connections between Australia, Asia and Europe. Having said that, Economy class was cramped, the food was dreadful, the service indifferent, and my touch screen didn’t work properly on both the epic 27-hour trip over and back. To fly from the UK, Thomson has some of the cheapest flights to Spain, with some good packages in Catalunya.