Not too long ago I found myself exploring the medieval streets of “El Born” in Barcelona. This is a magical corner of the world that is full of local charm and mystery, but it is also starkly juxtaposed with the permanent presence of mass tourism and its effects on locals. In an effort to stray off the beaten path as much as possible, we went in search of local restaurants serving up traditional & exceptional catalan food. The city of Barcelona is widespread and diverse, and although the touristy districts tend to be overrun by overpriced food establishments, the city has so much to offer for those who venture outside of these areas.
These are some of our favorite spots in the city where freshly caught seafood took center stage, traditional cuisine thrived alongside the exotic and new, and local ingredients always remained king!
Can Majo – Paella MarineraCarrer l’Almirall Aixada, 23
I could not imagine a visit to Barcelona without the chance to savor its fresh caught seafood. After an exhaustive research process that included talking to several strangers (allegedly locals) randomly selected from the streets, we opted for this little jewel in the heart of Barceloneta, a thriving seaside neighborhood facing the Mediterranean. This charming restaurant sits next to the boardwalk and offers a million dollar view for those who opt to dine outside. But we came here for the food, so the view was the least of our worries….
Like any other Spanish restaurant, we were greeted with a bottle of red table wine and plenty of olives to pick through while we perused the menu. This didn’t take long since we had our eye on the prize: Paella Marinera. There is one thing you must know about paella in Barcelona. Rumor has it that there are some restaurants unwilling to go through the effort of making this time consuming dish. As a result, they serve up pre-frozen paella with the push of a microwave oven button. We were warned about this and were told to always pay close attention to the time it takes for the paella to get to your table. If it takes 30 minutes or more, you are more than likely eating freshly cooked paella. Can Majo passed this test when our server warned us of the long wait time. No problem, we were under the spell of the crunchy pan con tomate!
Our paella arrived pipping hot and with a trail of dancing steam swirling above the casserole. Heaps of seasoned rice and symmetrically placed langoustines greeted us with welcoming warmth as our spoons scooped out what seemed like enough food for a hungry army onto our white plates. We were instantly in love at first bite as the sweet & subtly salty squid confirmed the seafood freshness. Beads of endless al dente rice flowed into our bellies until not a single one was left. We washed it down with an espresso for a perfect ending to the ideal Barcelona meal. It was like something out of a fairytale really – magical. We triumphantly walked back to our apartments, ready for a good night sleep. For that moment, life was perfect.
Bar La Plata – Tapas + wineCarrer de la Mercè, 28
Dining out every night in Barcelona can get pretty expensive, specially with the service percentage tacked on to any full service restaurant. For those nights when you realize you still have more European cities to explore and very very very limited funds, Bar La Plata is a delicious and cheap option. I used Yelp Barcelona to find this bar tucked away in a corner of the old town section of Barcelona ( Barri Gòtic). Reviews raved about the tapas offered here and the photos were inviting so we walked in on a cold rainy night.
The space was packed but the wine kept flowing and the service was quick. There were two barrels of wine, white and red… Easy enough. We walked up to the bar, asked for wine and a tapa. I’m not really sure that there was any menu to speak of, in fact, I don’t even know how much I paid for my food, but it is delicious and filling and that always make for a great investment. Bar La Plata has been around for 70 years, and judging by the proximity to Picasso’s old studio (found only steps away based on clues gathered during a visit to the nearby Picasso museum), we suspect this might have been a hang out place for the artist…..although that is pure speculation on our part.
Our first tapa consisted of fried Boquerones, finger fun sized fish very similar to sardines. They were crispy to perfection, crunchy and addicting. And yes, you do eat the whole fish, head included. The eyes are pretty tasty.
The fun did not stop there! We were ready for round two, meaning; more wine and time to try another tapa! We asked for the famed Catalunyan sausage “butifarra” because of course they had sausage! Restaurants here don’t have an option not to have sausage! We learned that very early on in the trip! The wine flowed into our bellies and the sausage arrived sizzling on top of a toasted slice of fresh baguette. Who knew? Alcohol, pork, and carbs are a wonderful combination!
Coming up next: We found the most exotic of tapas in “Mosquito“. A jewel of a restaurant offering a fusion of tapas and Asian cuisine in the heart of Barcelona!