A Culinary Journey Through Barcelona: Exploring Markets, Vermouth Bars, and More

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This article was created in collaboration with National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Barcelona, a city rich in history and culture, has an extraordinary dining scene that seamlessly blends tradition with innovation. For the people of Barcelona, dining is not just about sustenance—it’s a celebration of heritage and an expression of their deep regional identity. While tapas have found their place in the city, the true essence of Catalan cuisine lies in its larger dishes, such as mongetes amb botifarra (pork sausage with beans), calçots (chargrilled green onions with romesco sauce), and esqueixada (salt cod salad), influenced by the region’s proximity to both mountains and sea.

Barcelona’s dining landscape encompasses both historic and contemporary establishments, embracing regional and international flavors. The city has experienced an influx of Latino chefs, adding a vibrant South American influence to its culinary tapestry. Paco Méndez’s Mexican restaurant, Come, Argentinian Francisco Seubert’s bakery Coush Armó, and Juan Martini’s grill joints, Fat Barbies and Fat Veggies, are just a few examples of this culinary fusion. Alongside these new ventures, storied institutions that have been serving traditional Catalan classics since the time of Gaudí coexist with natural wine bars. While the pandemic forced the closure of some beloved local restaurants, predominantly those catering to tourists in the historic center, this transition created space for exciting and independent culinary enterprises to flourish.

At the forefront of this culinary renaissance are a new generation of chefs and restaurateurs who put a contemporary twist on regional cuisine. One shining example is Besta, a seafood restaurant that opened in 2021, renowned for its refined blend of Catalan and Galician influences. In the San Antoni neighborhood, Maleducat offers a modern take on the traditional casa de menjars, a Catalan canteen serving homely and authentic fare.

However, Barcelona’s gastronomic evolution extends beyond restaurants alone. The city is brimming with ambitious young producers, from bakers to winemakers, who are launching their own ventures. Francesco Cerutti’s Pinullet in Gràcia produces nine different varieties of cheese using organic milk sourced from local dairies. Bean-to-bar chocolatier Lot in Eixample captivates chocolate enthusiasts, while artisan coffee roasteries are scattered throughout the city. The All Those Food Market, held several times a year at the National Theatre of Catalonia, showcases over 150 makers and food trucks from the city’s finest restaurants. It has become the go-to event for experiencing the latest culinary trends. Barcelona’s food pioneers have transformed the city into one of Europe’s most thrilling culinary capitals, surpassing its reputation as a mere hub for art and architecture.

Exploring Dreta De L’Eixample: A Day of Delights

During the industrial era, Barcelona’s population surged, leading to the development of a new district connecting the city with surrounding settlements. The result is Eixample, an urban grid comprising L’Esquerra de l’Eixample (the left side) and Dreta de l’Eixample (the right side), with Passeig de Gràcia acting as the central artery.

Begin your day at Granja Vendrell, a bistro that dates back to 1921 and has recently been restored to its art deco splendor. Indulge in a delightful array of sweet and savory breakfast options, including bikinis (grilled ham and cheese sandwiches) and cream-filled brioche buns.

Afterward, make your way to Manzana de la Discordia on Passeig de Gràcia. This block boasts buildings designed by four renowned Barcelona architects: Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Enric Sagnier. Gaudí’s Casa Battló is a surreal masterpiece, its curving facade adorned with vibrant ceramic tiles, resembling dragon scales. Book a tour in advance to explore the enchanting interior. Just a five-minute stroll away lies Boro Bar, a sleek tapas joint known for its superb patatas bravas.

Take your time to immerse yourself in the artistic wonders of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, home to over 200 works by the renowned Catalan artist known for his abstract paintings and mixed-media creations. From there, visit Llibreria Finestres, a splendid bookshop spanning two elegant 20th-century buildings. Don’t miss the wine bar and the extensive selection of English books.

As evening descends, return to Passeig de Gràcia and experience the old-world glamour of Café Del Centre. The interiors have been meticulously restored to their original grandeur, evoking memories of the establishment’s initial opening as a casino in 1873. Chef Victor Ferrer pays homage to local traditions with dishes like pork cheek terrine and confit cod.

A Day in Gràcia: Discovering the Charms

Gràcia, once a small district on the outskirts of Barcelona, became officially incorporated into the city in 1897. The neighborhood still retains its village-like atmosphere, with low-rise streets interlaced with leafy plazas where locals gather for leisurely conversations.

Commence your day with a café con leche at Bar La Camila, a cozy café that combines the burgeoning artisan coffee scene with the charm of a traditional neighborhood haunt. For an authentic Catalan breakfast, savor pa amb tomàquet—crusty toast topped with tomato and olive oil.

A 15-minute walk will lead you to Casa Vicens, Gaudí’s very first architectural creation. Vibrant tiled turrets and intricate wrought iron balconies adorn this captivating structure, offering a glimpse into the renowned architect’s unique style. Casa Vicens welcomes visitors throughout the week, providing ticketed entry to its eccentric interior. For an extra dose of Gaudí, venture to Park Güell in Gràcia, where mosaic-clad sculptures, terraces, and whimsical gatehouses await exploration.

When hunger strikes, indulge in a delectable lunch at Lluritu, renowned for its unfussy yet incredibly fresh local seafood. Grilled octopus and cuttlefish tartare are among the restaurant’s celebrated specialties.

Stroll to Plaça de la Virreina, a picturesque square overlooked by the towering 19th-century brick facade of Sant Joan de Gràcia Church. Treat yourself to a scoop of creamy pistachio ice cream from Amma Gelato and find a seat on one of the benches to observe the lively ambiance.

For a bout of retail therapy, wander down Carrer de Verdi, a bustling street lined with independent shops like Bateau Lune, a charming toy store, Revolution Vintage Clothing, and SKFK, an elegant boutique specializing in ethical and sustainable clothing.

Come dinnertime, settle in at Fonda Pepa, a hip reinterpretation of a traditional Catalan restaurant. The gleaming marble tables set the stage for a memorable culinary experience. Don’t miss the flame-grilled tuna and accompany your meal with a glass of locally produced natural wine.

Three Noteworthy New Restaurants

Batea

This contemporary marisquería (seafood restaurant) is the latest venture from the team behind the beloved Besta. Chef Manu Núñez’s menu is both experimental and delightful, with a rotating selection of cocktails, including refreshing combinations like rum with fresh camomile.

Bar Lombo

Last year, former El Bulli chef Eugeni De Diego joined forces with Sardinian chef Andrea Ortu to establish this chic Italian eatery in San Gervasi. The pasta here is highly acclaimed, particularly the pappardelle with osso buco ragú. Booking in advance is recommended.

Bandini’s

Drawing inspiration from the head chef’s Scandinavian roots, Bandini’s is a cozy spot in Sant Antoni. The menu showcases dishes like grilled chicken liver with stilton and chard, lamb chops with new potatoes, and steak tartare with shoestring fries. Alongside an exceptional natural wine selection, Bandini’s also offers homemade vermouth.

Three Bars for Unforgettable Evenings

Libertine

Nestled within the stylish Casa Bonay hotel on Gran Via boulevard, Libertine is a lively late-night venue with sleek interiors and an extensive cocktail list. Try the tangy Paper Plane, a blend of bourbon, armagnac, and lemon, or the smoky Penicillin, which combines smooth malt whisky with mezcal and honey. Locally sourced natural wines and craft beers are also available.

Bar Marsella

Established in 1820, Bar Marsella is an absinthe bar with a storied past, attracting luminaries like Picasso and Hemingway. The bar exudes faded grandeur, offering charmingly gruff service. Arrive early to secure a taste of old Barcelona, as the bar quickly fills up on weekends.

Bar Cugat

Located in Eixample de Dreta, Bar Cugat occupies a former stationery shop and boasts a large marble-and-carved-wood counter that now serves as the bar. This chic yet unpretentious establishment presents an inventive take on Catalan cuisine, featuring dishes like grilled scallops with leek confit and red tuna tartare.

Discover Three Captivating Markets

Mercat de la Boqueria

Situated just off the bustling La Rambla, Barcelona’s most renowned food market has been welcoming visitors since 1836. Step inside the grand modernist hall and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of vendors offering a diverse range of products, from snails to pigs’ trotters. Grab a stool at El Quim, one of the market’s tapas bars, and savor crispy calamari.

Mercat de Sant Antoni

For an authentic local experience, explore the recently renovated Mercat de Sant Antoni, which has been feeding the city since 1882. Many of the market’s 157 stalls have been in the same families for generations, offering an array of seafood, jamón, and olives within a majestic steel-framed building in Sant Antoni.

Santa Caterina Market

Dating back to 1845, Santa Caterina Market in La Ribera boasts a remarkable feature added in 2005—an undulating roof adorned with a mosaic of multicolored ceramic tiles. Beneath this architectural marvel, you’ll find numerous stalls and cafes, including Bar Joan, a no-frills tapas spot renowned for its exceptional capipota (pork-based stew).

Indulge in Barcelona’s Vermouth Culture

From noon until night, Barcelona’s terraces are filled with people enjoying ice-cold vermut (vermouth). While vermouth isn’t native to Barcelona, the city has embraced it as its own. Introduced to Catalonia by Italians in the 19th century, vermouth became the drink of choice for Barcelona’s bourgeoisie. Unlike in other parts of Europe where vermouth is primarily used in cocktails, in Spain, it is savored as an aperitif, poured over ice cubes and served with a slice of orange and a couple of olives.

Bar Electricitat

Dating back to 1908, Bar Electricitat is one of Barcelona’s oldest vermuterías (vermouth bars). Little has changed since its inception—the waiters will bring a bottle of vermouth to your table and measure the amount consumed to calculate your bill.

Bodega E Marin

Another traditional establishment, Bodega E Marin in Gràcia, impresses with its extensive collection of bottles and barrels lining the narrow bar. Renowned for its superb croquetas, this bar exudes old-world charm.

Morro Fi

A relatively new addition to Barcelona’s vermutería scene, Morro Fi opened its first bar specializing in homemade vermouth in Eixample in 2011. The brand has expanded to three vibrant locations across the city, attracting a young and cosmopolitan crowd.

Experience the culinary wonders of Barcelona by exploring its markets, savoring traditional dishes with a contemporary twist, and immersing yourself in the city’s vibrant vermouth culture. This captivating city has emerged as a leading culinary capital in Europe, where dining is an expression of joy and a celebration of both heritage and innovation.

This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK). To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here. (Available in select countries only).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about culinary scene

What is the culinary scene like in Barcelona?

Barcelona’s culinary scene is a vibrant mix of traditional and innovative dining experiences. From historic markets offering a wide array of fresh produce to contemporary restaurants that put a modern twist on Catalan cuisine, the city offers something for every palate.

What are some traditional dishes in Barcelona?

Barcelona boasts a rich culinary heritage with traditional dishes like mongetes amb botifarra (pork sausage with beans), calçots (chargrilled green onions with romesco sauce), and esqueixada (salt cod salad). These dishes reflect the region’s fusion of flavors influenced by its proximity to both mountains and the sea.

Are there options for international cuisine in Barcelona?

Yes, Barcelona’s dining scene is not limited to Catalan cuisine. The city embraces international flavors, with an influx of Latino chefs adding a South American influence to the culinary landscape. Additionally, there are numerous international restaurants offering a diverse range of cuisines to cater to different tastes.

What are some recommended markets to visit in Barcelona?

Barcelona is home to several notable markets. The Mercat de la Boqueria is a must-visit, known for its vibrant atmosphere and a wide range of fresh produce. The Mercat de Sant Antoni, recently refurbished, offers an authentic local experience, while the Santa Caterina Market impresses with its striking undulating roof and diverse food stalls.

What is vermouth culture like in Barcelona?

Vermouth holds a special place in Barcelona’s culinary culture. Introduced to the region by Italians, vermouth has become a popular aperitif. Barcelona has numerous vermuterías (vermouth bars) where locals and visitors can enjoy this bittersweet fortified wine poured over ice, often served with a slice of orange and olives.

Are there any recommended new restaurants in Barcelona?

Barcelona’s culinary scene is constantly evolving, and there are always new and exciting restaurants to explore. Some recommended new establishments include Batea, a modern marisquería (seafood restaurant); Bar Lombo, an Italian restaurant known for its pasta dishes; and Bandini’s, a cozy spot offering Scandinavian-inspired cuisine.

Can you recommend any bars for a lively evening in Barcelona?

Barcelona offers a variety of bars for a memorable evening. Libertine, located in hip hotel Casa Bonay, is known for its stylish interiors and extensive cocktail list. Bar Marsella, an absinthe bar with a historic ambiance, attracts those seeking a taste of old Barcelona. Bar Cugat offers a chic yet unpretentious atmosphere along with inventive Catalan cuisine.

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3 comments

Wanderlust24 July 12, 2023 - 5:26 pm

i didn’t know barcelona had such a diverse culinary scene! the mix of traditional and international cuisines sounds amazin. can’t wait to check out the markets and try the fresh produce. and vermouth? sign me up!

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FoodieExplorer July 12, 2023 - 10:17 pm

wow barcelona is defo a must-visit if you love food! so many places to eat, from histiric markets to trendy bars. can’t wait to try the vermouth bars and the traditional dishes. yum!

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GastronomyGeek July 13, 2023 - 12:07 am

barcelona’s food culture is so vibrant! from the historic markets like mercat de la boqueria to the trendy new restaurants, there’s something for everyone. i’m drooling already just thinking about the seafood and tapas. gotta plan a trip soon!

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