What Food is Barcelona Known For?
Barcelona is one of those cities people visit just for their food and local cuisine. This is a city that is a culinary heaven for many. Typical Barcelona food is fresh and full of flavor.
Barcelona is a great place to sample most Spanish cuisines. They also have a rich food history of Catalan inspired dishes. You can tell by the prominence of the Mercat de la Boqueria how important fresh ingredients and a variety of foods were since at least the 13th century.
Due to what is available in the region, common ingredients you’ll see in these meals are olive oil, potatoes, tomatoes, and a variety of seafood.
Authentic Barcelona Food
There is really know way to sort the different types of food in Barcelona. There are so many great options that the best way is to just sort them by food type and alphabetically to let you decide on what you think is the best food in Barcelona.
Paella in Barcelona
Paella’s origin comes just south of the Barcelona/Catalan region in Valencia. The original Valencian recipe for paella is mostly made up of rice, seafood, and land animals that locals would catch in the area. Tweaking that original recipe and still calling it paella makes Valencians pretty upset. Most Barcelona restaurants and family recipes stick pretty close to the seafood or mixed versions of the recipe often leaving out the rabbit, snails, and beans from the Valencian recipe. You cook paella in a special large pan with all of the ingredients combined into one massive plate for sharing. One key ingredient is the extremely expensive spice saffron that gives it a distinct flavor.
Fun trivia – In my Barcelona paella cooking class, I learned that in the past farmers would pick up ingredients along with the road home, carrying them in the pan. Whatever land animals they could catch on the walk home could become part of the plate.
Fideua is a very similar dish to paella. They share the majority of the same ingredients except noodles take the place of the rice. This simple twist on the meal manages to completely change the taste and texture but is still a delicious option. Some versions of fideua include squid ink. It is actually really tasty, but if that is something that you don’t want, look out for “fideua negra.”
Meat Based Barcelona Food
There is no arguing where these delicious fried balls of deliciousness came from. Ready for an interesting food history lesson? Bombas aka bombs were a popular “tool” of the anarchists against the Franco dictatorship. Croquettes were also one of the most popular tapas at the time. Maria Pla, a bar owner in Barcelona, created a croquette type of food to mimic a bomb that had a minced meat center wrapped in a spicy sauce (the explosive). Smother that delicious spicy meat mixture with mashed potatoes and deep fry it. Cover the bombas in a brava and aioli sauce to give it the look of an explosion on the plate.
Escudella d’Olla is another traditional Barcelona food that has had a long history with the Catalan area. This is a very meat-heavy stew perfect for the winter months in Barcelona. The soup is made of broth, a mix of vegetables, but most importantly the large spiced meatball called pilotas. You’ll find some restaurants adding additional meats like botifarras, a Spanish type of sausage.
Typical Seafood in Barcelona
Bunyols de Bacalla (Cod Fritters)
The recipe for this simple, yet delicious dish goes back to the 13th century. Catalan cod fritters are similar in style to a croquette. The main ingredients you’ll find in a typical bunyol de bacalla fried dish are salted cod, flour, garlic, parsley, and the optional potato.
Some people will call this “Catalan cerviche” because of the use of raw fish in this recipe. Look for this on the menu if you’re visiting Barcelona and need a cold refreshing meal. This salad is made mostly of bacalao (salt cod), peppers, tomatoes, onions, and olives.
Suquet de Peix (Catalan Fish Stew)
With Barcelona’s location so close to amazing fishing opportunities, you’ll never be at a loss for seafood options. Suquet de peix is a hearty mixture of different seafood options often found in a market. Traditionally, you would make this with fish and fish parts that weren’t the easiest to sell. Just like many other Catalan recipes, potatoes make the base of this soup.
Vegetarian Food in Barcelona
Pa amb tomaquet (Catalan Tomato Bread)
This is by far one of the most simple plates, but packing so much flavor. Most restaurants in Barcelona will offer this on the menu, but not all of them will serve it correctly. Some will bring you a piece of toast with tomato pieces on it. The correct version is a plate with toast, a garlic clove, and half of a tomato. The diner assembles it themselves by rubbing the sliced garlic over the toast and then smearing the fresh tomato over that. This becomes a great food to dip in sauces or pile tapas onto.
While patatas bravas is a traditional food of Madrid and other parts of Spain, Barcelona locals have found ways to make it their own. In most of Spain, you’ll find patatas bravas as these twice-fried pieces of potato covered in a spicy tomato sauce. You’ll find Barcelona restaurants making their own signature sauces for these often out of an aioli mix.
This is a pretty versatile dish from Catalonia and Valencia. It’s another fairly simple dish with few ingredients that blend together perfectly. Eggplants and bell peppers are mixed with olive oil and optional spices then preferably roasted over open flames or in an oven. You can eat this as-is for tapas, as a relish for fish or grilled meats, or as a topping for coca.
This is the Barcelona treat for anyone with a sweet tooth after a great dinner. Catalan Cream is very similar to a creme brulee recipe using milk, sugar, and eggs with sugar caramelized with a torch on top. Unlike creme brulee, Crema Catalan doesn’t use heavy cream so it gets its consistency by mixing in corn starch. It slowly cooks on a stove-top and has the citrus flavors marinate into the cream which is just incredible flavoring.
If the Crema Catalana sounded like something special to you, imagine filling a pastry with it and deep frying that. You’ll probably agree that these are worth the extra calories after a table full of tapas.
Churros con Chocolate
This isn’t technically a dessert, but from an American point of view, I figured it was worth mentioning it here. Spaniards aren’t big on breakfast, but churros con chocolate with an espresso is a typical breakfast you’ll find a lot of people eating. Look out for shops with fresh churros as they have a delicious center with a perfect texture. Good luck not drinking down the mug of chocolate that has the consistency of hot chocolate pudding. Dip your churro in there once and you’re life will change forever.
Mel i Mato
Leave it to the people of Barcelona to figure out how to turn a piece of cheese into an incredible dessert. A fresh non-salted cheese makes up the bulk of this dessert. Mel i Mato has been around Catalonia since the middle ages. Goat milk had to be used during that time period since cows were such expensive livestock. The cheese is a smooth and creamy variety that is currently made from either cow or goat milk. It is topped with honey and walnuts which is another example of a fairly simple set of ingredients turning into something amazing.