If you want to get to know the real Barcelona, then you must come to Gràcia and eat. I’m staying two minutes from this lovely square (pictured above) in the area, where sunlight is dappled on a cold morning. Terracotta, russet and greens dominate the late autumn palette. People linger at cafes over coffee and hot chocolate. I’d love to do the same, but I’m on my way to Devour Barcelona – a foodie tour of this hipster district which also remains family oriented. The Spanish economic malaise has hit the proliferation of small businesses here really hard. I’m heartened that Devour Barcelona chooses small business as their destination focus.
Eat local, where locals eat. I like the sound of that.
Gràcia was founded in 1626. Steeped in tradition and proudly Catalan, it’s safer than other areas of the city at night. Especially for solo travellers like me.
For all its glories, Barcelona gets mixed reviews about food. “Nice place, bad food” and so on. Gràcia is well away from tourist traps, but the trick is discovering where exactly to go. I’m about to find out.
The foodie tour company advises customers to “arrive hungry”.
Devour Barcelona highlights
First stop, with tour leader Renée, is the modest Casa Pagès, Carrer Llibertat 19, where we begin with a glass of Rovellets cava and a grilled botifarra (Catalan sausage) and green pepper sandwich. The bread is similar to ciabatta, with a crunchy crust. Renée is American, married to a Spaniard, who’s been living here for five years and speaks fluent Spanish. Casa Pagès has been serving good, homestyle fare for 100 years. Cava is a traditional Spanish sparkling wine. Crisp and light, you can order it by the glass anywhere, any time. And it starts at 85 euro cents a glass. Owned by Pedro Barros (pictured below), Casa Pagès is open from seven days a week, from morning til very late. Totally delicious start to the day.
Next, we walk to Mercat de l’Abaceria Central at Travessera de Gràcia 186 which is the area’s fresh produce market open Monday-Friday. We eat pinchos or pinotxos, a small bar-style snack. Stabbed with a big toothpick, it’s a combo of green olives, cod, sundried tomato, pickled veges, anchovies, cheeses – whatever takes your fancy. In bars throughout the city pinchos are lined up on the counter by the hundred.
A few food stalls later, we try a selection of Spanish and Catalan cheeses at La Trobada del Gourmet. The sheep’s milk Manchego is voted one of best cheeses in the world. I could stay all day. There’s a vast range of local and imported cheeses. Sorry about the strange colours, but the lighting at the indoor market isn’t subtle.
At Oli Sal, Travessera de Gràcia 170 we taste organic Spanish extra virgin olive oils, and learn the difference between pretenders and the deal deal. Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. My favourites: L’Oli Ferrer, a creamy oil with a slightly grassy flavour that develops on your tongue, and Cortjdo de Suerte Alta which is robust with peppery notes. Even the bottles are beautiful. I buy some.
Over at the tapas bar L’Anxoveta on Carrer de Sant Domenec 16 we are shown how to whip up “glass bread”, or pa amb tomaquet. Day-old bread is sliced open, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with oil then rubbed with a perfectly ripe tomato. Very simple, but top quality ingredients are key. The specialty here is bomba – a potato and ground beef croquette with a spicy sauce.
Pastisseria Principe, Carrer de les Guilleries 10 is run by Syrians who have brought their Middle Eastern specialties to Barcelona. This is sugar central: Baklava filled with nuts and soaked in syrup, konafe birds nests, soaked in syrup. Common ingredients in Arabic sweets are semolina, a variety of nuts including almonds and pistachios, akawi cheese and qashta, a kind of clotted cream. So we sample some. As you do.
Then it’s time to walk through more picturesque squares to Bogeda Ca’l Pep, Carrer Verdi 141, to drink Perruchi red vermouth with a splash of soda, and a tapas of fuet and pickled anchovies on the side. The vermouth is fabulously fruity and is poured straight from the barrel.
La Botigueta del Bon Menjar is a llegums cuites – a tiny corner place also cooking homestyle dishes, many of which contain beans and legumes. These eateries have long been part of Catalan life. Workers would buy ready-made meals on the way home, and they still do. I particularly like the creamed spinach with pine nuts and raisins, and come back a day later to try other dishes. I receive two dismal portions for 17 euros. The ubiquitous plastic takeaway containers aren’t even half full. Considering how cheap chickpeas are, I’d expect enough to feed two people.
On to the cosy, atmospheric Pastisseria Ideal, Carrer de Santa Agata 18-20. You can have a coffee and cake at the counter or sit at a table further back. Like many food places in Gràcia, it’s family run and has been so since it opened in 1919. It’s historic, heartwarming, nostalgic places like these which are under threat. Harsh economic realities and intransigent government bureaucracy combine to form dark clouds over their futures. The patisserie makes pastries, cookies, doughnutty type sweet treats (except on weekends), and also special occasion cakes beautifully wrapped in special boxes tied with ribbons. The crema Catalana flavoured with cinnamon, orange and lemon peel, is made from a recipe handed down through the generations. I go daily to the excellent bakery directly across the street for a bocadillo (sandwich) and coffee, and soon Pastisseria Ideal also becomes part of my routine.
It’s an education and a degustation all in one glorious day. Muchas gracias, Devour Barcelona.
CHECK LIST FOR DEVOUR BARCELONA
- Twitter @DevourBarcelona
- Cost: 65 euros pp
- A foodie education over four hours in historic Gràcia
- The tour is very well researched and covers Spanish cuisine’s diverse flavours and influences
- Arrive hungry and leave satisfied!
- Food sensitivities and allergies are catered for.
*I was a guest of Devour Barcelona