When you think of Barcelona, after Gaudi, Picasso, the Ramblas, and cava, you probably think of chocolate – or xocolata as it is called in Catalan. Chocolate is so beloved Barcelona’s locals, they even have a museum dedicated to it, the Museo de La Xocolata.
Most people have a vague idea that it was the Spanish returning from their ‘expeditions’ to the New World who brought cocoa to Europe. In fact, it was Hernando Cortez who brought the brown gold back with him from Mexico in 1519 and started the first plantation, presenting the first chocolate to the King of Spain in 1528 apparently.
It was also in Barcelona where the first chocolate was made by machine, but, somewhat ironically, Barcelona now produces some of the finest handmade artisanal chocolate in the world, renowned for daring use of flavours, from wasabi to red peppercorn. Xocoa is my favourite producer of wild chocolate bars; see my Barcelona Take-Homes post for details.
Traditionally, the locals have also drunk the stuff, often for breakfast, and generally with churros. Although we’ve noticed far fewer locals dipping their churros into the thick hot dark drinking chocolate this trip than we have in the past. These days, most seem to prefer to sip a café con leche or cortado, even in the chilly winter – habits are changing I guess.
For most travellers to Barcelona, having a chocolate con churros is one of those must-do experiences – something to tick off the list – and while we’ve tried it before, we thought we’d better partake again for Grantourismo. Any excuse!
Every café has a ‘chocolate con churros’ sign on their window, but you shouldn’t try it at any café. At some you’ll get little more than a Swiss-style hot chocolate and that’s not what it is. Many people recommend Gelateria Xocolateria (also an ice-creamery), Granja Dulcinea (a café-bar in the Barri Gotic dating to 1930, once frequented by Dali), Fargas (a chocolate shop-cum-café which opened in 1937) and Cacao Sampaka (also a creative chocolate maker).
We decided to try Granja Viader in the Raval, which opened in 1870 and claims to be Barcelona’s oldest café, because it is here where the family claim Joan Viader invented the famous chocolate drink Cacaolat, in 1931, and the first mass-produced bottled milk beverage.
Tucked down a narrow alley, it is atmospheric and has loads of charm, however, the framed clippings on the walls from newspapers and magazines attesting to its history and authenticity, and the tables crammed with tourists thumbing through guidebooks and fingering maps almost put us off.
Against our better judgement we went in, and while the hot chocolate was delicious – thick, sweet and very dark – and every tourist was having one, the few tables of locals there were drinking Vienna coffee, café con leche, and café cortado…
Xucla 4, Raval