There are a few places out of the many I have traveled to that are truly memorable. Barcelona, Spain is one of them. My husband and I recently traveled to Barcelona and Southern France and had a fantastic time but we were a little surprised about our food experiences in each country.
Barcelona is unlike other areas of Spain in many ways. The language is Catalan which is very different then the Castilian spoken in the majority of Spain. In fact the Catalonians really don’t consider themselves to be the same as Spanish. Catalan is a fusion language of Spanish, French & Basque. Likewise the food is a fusion of the three cultures as well. All over Barcelona, Tapas Bars rule the culinary scene along with restaurants serving Spanish Paella, Sangria and Spanish ham and cheese sandwiches. We found the Tapas bars to have the most creative menus. One such bar that we ate at twice during our 5 days in Barcelona was Tapas 24.
It is a very small basement restaurant that by 9:00 pm has a line of people waiting out the door for a seat. The first night we ate at the bar where we could observe our food being prepared in the kitchen. Among the Tapas menu of the day and a standard menu of regular offerings, we ordered 4 dishes to share. One was a stewed Oxtail and white bean dish, the standard Pan de Tomate (toasted bread smeared with fresh tomatoes), Marinated Lamb Skewer and Potate Frites which is fried potatoes topped with a spicy sauce.
All the dishes were enough for two people and we were quite satisfied. Our neighbor to the right of us ordered a dessert which she took one bite of and offered the rest of it to us. At first we politely declined but my husband’s spoon was soon drifting over to the plate for a taste and I finally succumbed and took a bite and was blown away at how good it tasted. It was a very rich chocolate mousse, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with Sea Salt. We ended up eating the woman’s entire dessert.
Every day in Barcelona, we ate our breakfast and the majority of our other meals at the largest fresh market in Europe called La Boqueria.
Inside there were fresh juices from every vegetable and fruit and fresh cut up fruit. There were a couple really good Tapas Bars inside if you happened to go at a time when it wasn’t so crowded and you could get a stool. There were vendors selling Spanish ham and cheeses, stands of olives, bins of nuts and dried fruit.
In France, we found the food to be standard fare, with the exception of a couple of outstanding meals. Each morning we decided to forgo our hotel breakfast buffet and head out to a local boulangerie/patisserie for a cup of coffee and a delicious pastry in each city we visited.
For lunch and dinner I would research the internet to find where the locals ate and pick a local favorite which turned out to be a better strategy than relying on our guidebook recommendations.
My husband & I concluded that while we did have a couple of good meals in France, by and large Spain had the most creative and flavorful food. If you are going to travel in either of those places, I would skip the recommendations from your guidebooks and do some research on Expat blogs and local websites for each city you are visiting, for suggestions on where to stay and eat and the best things to buy and where to get them.