In 2002, the influential French food guide Le Guide des Gourmands proclaimed Barcelona Europe's most gourmand city. For the first time in the history of this publication, a non-French city received this title. The capital of Catalonia scored top marks in all of the assessed fields, including the quality of regional wine, agricultural produce, restaurants as well as the locals' attitude towards food culture.
The range of ingredients used in traditional dishes from the region of Barcelona is determined by the city’s proximity to the sea and the mountains. The beautiful, unspoiled surroundings along with a fantastic climate provide the perfect environment for generating a constant supply of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and seafood. Sun-ripened tomatoes, aubergine and cod can be found in a majority of the local specialties.
Another important ingredient is pasta. It's believed that as far as pasta consumption is concerned, the Catalonians are second only to the Italians. Other typical elements include sauces based on botifarra, a kind of regional sausage made from spiced raw pork, and picada, which is a mixture of ground hazelnuts, pine nuts and almonds, sometimes seasoned with garlic, herbs and bits of biscuits.
A very characteristic feature of dishes from the area of Barcelona is the experimental blending of seemingly unblendable ingredients. This makes the cooking tradition of this picturesque region a collage of diverse flavours. Dishes may include both red meat and fish, or chicken stewed in fruit. Don't be surprised to discover that the bean dishes are hardly ever vegetarian. This rich variety of inspiration makes Catalonian cuisine one of the most elaborate in the entire Mediterranean area. It's certain to satisfy even the most demanding connoisseurs.
The standard Catalonian breakfast is very light, typically including coffee with milk and a croissant or doughnut. Fresh orange juice is also very popular, and available at most bars. Lunchtime in Catalonia is generally between 2pm and 4pm, and constitutes the main meal of the day. Many restaurants feature menú del día, a special lunch menu that normally includes two courses, dessert and wine, and costs between 6 and 12 Euro. Taking advantage of this option is a great way to sample some of the delights available at the more expensive establishments.
As lunch is usually a hearty meal, Catalonian dinners tend to be light. A standard evening meal might include a small set of tapas or a torrada. Bear in mind that in Catalonia, as everywhere else in southern Europe, restaurants usually don't start serving dinner until 9 pm. However, you can sit at an outdoor terrace and enjoy your meal with a glass of excellent local wine until well after midnight.
Tipping rules in Catalonia are the same as everywhere else in Spain. Remember that service is never included in the bill. The 7 percent IVA which appears at the bottom of your check is the sales tax. The general rule is for the tip to amount to more or less 5 percent at moderately-priced places and 10 prercent at more expensive establishments.
Recent years have seen the emergence of what culinary critics call Nouvelle Catalan cuisine, a modern take on the traditional specialties. Celebrity chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Carles Abellán have set up acclaimed establishments along the Catalonian coast. Adrià's restaraunt, located in Roses, is believed by connoisseurs to be among the best in the world. However, it's definitely out of reach for an ordinary visitor to Barcelona, both in terms of location and the chances of obtaining a reservation.
The excellent restaurant of Abellán, Comerc 24, is situated in the very heart of Barcelona. Those looking for unforgettable culinary sensations might want to stop by and sample the menu, with such unconventional rarities as Kinder Egg Surprise (a soft-boiled egg with yolk infused with truffle) and tuna sashimi pizza.
For the best paella in town, try Can Majo. Situated right beside the beach, it offers a beautiful open-air terrace and absolutely delicious seafood. Specialties include fresh crab, oysters, clams, prawns and barnacles. You can also spend a very nice evening at Agut, a family-run restaurant serving hearty dishes in a cosy atmosphere. The menu features a great mushroom-and-sausage pie and sweet-and-sour wild duck, as well as a list of deliciously creative desserts.
Vegetarians will also feel right at home in the Catalonian capital. L'Atzavara offers a wide range of creative salads, along with spinach, mushroom and raisin crepes and their specialty, scrambled eggs with green asparagus. Govinda has a unique menu featuring Indian food prepared without meat. Visit Tomate for a wide choice of vegetable and fruit-based salads, main courses and delicious light desserts.
Barcelona is a curious exception in the Spanish world of tapas. Locals don't usually indulge in the traditional tapas bar crawls, so popular around Castile and Andalusia. Instead, they choose to sit down at a properly-laid table and order a three-course meal accompanied by a bottle of good wine. However, tapas fans won't complain about a lack of options. Del Pi, La Plata and Cal Pep all offer a wide variety of classic Spanish snacks. Bilbao-Berria features a menu of pintxos, which is a Basque version of tapeo.
Tapas bars are the most popular late-night eateries, serving customers in the middle of exploring the nightlife of this vibrant metropolis. You simply must explore what Barcelona has to offer in terms of garstronomy, don't resort to your Barcelona hotel restaurant but be brave and go where the locals eat.