Menjar. /mən.ˈʒaɾ/ n. or v. Language: Catalan. Meaning: Food. The stuff you eat to live, or the stuff you live to eat. In Spain, it’s usually the latter.
Right alongside Basque food, Catalan cuisine is lauded as being the best in Spain, and a world standout. There are strong opinions among Spaniards about Catalonia, largely due to the independence movement, but I’d bet there’s not a naysayer in the Iberian Peninsula when it comes to Catalan food. It deserves its reputation.
Which is why I was thrilled to join Devour Barcelona for their Barcelona food tour through the neighborhood of Gracia, one of my favorite barrios in my new city. It’s known as Barcelona’s alternative, artsy, bohemian neighborhood—which of course gives way to some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.
Sometimes Spain’s pervasive presence of food locales is overwhelming, especially if you’re the new kid in town. So I loved handing over the reigns to the experts at Devour Barcelona food tour, to allow me to sample some of the best at ten handpicked places.
I try to reiterate again and again on this blog that language and culture (and in this case, food!) are inseparable. So at each place, as we listened to the background story and the products they were serving, I asked the owners to describe their locale to me in ONE Catalan word. Catalan, along with Spanish, is the official language in this region, and locals tend to feel very strongly that it needs to be protected, preserved, and kept in day-to-day use.
I was expecting most owners to give me a word somehow describing what they were serving—cheese, delicious, fresh—but every owner had an answer that went much deeper. It was easy to see that food is something integral to their culture and lifestyle, and only certain words could capture the emotions of their culinary tradition.
Devour Barcelona Food Tour
1. Can Tosca
A traditional bar/café
Dish tried: Traditional Catalán breakfast: Cava (the “Champagne” of Spain) and a butifarra, or sausage, sandwich.
Her Catalan word: Benvinguts, welcome. “We want everyone to feel welcome in our restaurant; also the traditional Catalan breakfast is a way of welcoming in the day.”
My words: I’d happily welcome each day with this sausage. And sparkling white wine. And bread. Wait, was this meal tailor made for me? The first stop on the tour may have been my favorite, and not just because the greasy sandwich and touch of alcohol was a perfect remedy for last night’s mojitos.
An all-natural, mostly-local store selling food in bulk (think teas, grains, nuts, legumes. . . .)
Dish tried: A sampling of nuts and sweets
His Catalan word: Consum responsable, responsible consumerism. The store only sources organic and, in most cases, local. Also, the owner says that the only plastic in the store is the cash register, because they even use bags made from corn. Major props.
My words: Omgomgomg a place in Spain sells polenta! And bulgar! And quinoa! IN BULK. Honestly I haven’t seen this type of store anywhere else in Spain. Barcelona is international and cosmopolitan, and it shows.
3. Selecció d’olives i conserves Gloria
A traditional olive stand in an indoor marketplace
Dish tried: olive, salt cod, and sun-dried tomato skewer.
His Catalan word: Diferent, different. “I try to make myself stand out from the other shops around. I do this by choosing the highest quality products, caring more about the quality than the pricetag. And I make different combinations of product that my customers will like.”
My words: This man was so passionate about his olives. Let us all hope to find such passion in whatever we end up doing. The skewer was delicious, though I’m not a huge salt-cod fan. (Don’t tell Spain that.)
4. La Trobada del Gourmet
A stall of cheeses and cured meats in an indoor marketplace
Dish tried: Manchego cheese; Idiazabal cheese; and two cured pork products
Her Catalan word: Especialitat, specialty. She’s been doing this since she was 12 years old. She now knows her cheese and meats inside and out, since she learned the business from her father and has worked there for over 40 years. Specialty, indeed.
My words: Spain is known for good cheese, good cured meats, good olive oil, and good wine. I’m going on my third year here, and I am a certified addict in all four. Manchego and Idiazabal are my two favorite cheeses (well, let’s not get into all the goat varieties), so I think Devour Barcelona may have stalked my life a bit before choosing this place. . . . ?
5. Oli Sal
Organic Spanish extra virgin olive oils, and the only specialty olive oil shop in the neighborhood of Gracia
Dish tried: Three extra virgin olive oils, with bread and by the spoonful
Her Catalan word: Il·lusió, hope/ excitement. “I changed careers seven years ago, when the economic crisis hit, and in turn, I changed my future. I followed my passion and it led me to creating this store; I hope to transfer that same passion through the products I sell.”
My words: In Spain, you can buy a liter of good-quality olive oil in the supermarket for 3-4 euros. It tastes better than the stuff at home. But based on the really good artisan stuff in California (which also has great olive oil), I was expecting my favorite bottle in Oli Sal to run upwards of 30 euros. IT WAS 9. Skip your next two sangrias and it’s yours for the taking. As you say in Spanish, Toma! which roughly translates to, “Can I get a hell yes?”
Dish tried: Pan tomaca (bread with tomato) and a bomba (potato and ground beef croquette)
Their Catalan word: Sentiment, feeling. “You have to put love into what you do. We believe in giving our customers everything we would like to receive. That’s the highest quality food, fair prices, and courteous treatment, which you don’t find in every bar here. That’s why we get people who keep coming back. If a place has this certain feeling, people will return.”
My words: FINALLY someone in Spain isn’t afraid to add a little heat! I absolutely loved the Bomba, with its spicy brava sauce, and will be back. But what’s more, talking to this couple was truly moving. The husband was an engineer laid off in the economic crisis, and the couple decided that the only way they would find a job in the current situation was to create one for themselves. So they opened this bar, and with the most passion you’ve ever seen. I completely understood what the couple was talking about—that bar had a feeling, and it was infectious. (And can a feeling taste that good?)
7. Pastisseria Principe
Syrian pastry shop
Dish tried: Pick your own sweet. I had a pistachio rose-water pastry, but the above photo is a chocolate-coconut-walnut bit. It was torture to choose.
His Spanish word (owner didn’t speak Catalan): Endulzar, to sweeten. “That’s what I hope this place does. I hope it sweetens up people’s days just a bit.”
My words: This man came to Barcelona 30 years ago on vacation, and after two months was married and had started his own pastry shop. Now that’s love at first sight. Kind of like my reaction upon seeing so many Syrian sweets.
8. Bodega C’al Pep
Traditional Catalan vermouth bar
Dish tried: Vermouth, the typical Catatan aperitif taken before lunchtime.
His Catalan word: Molt acollidor, very cozy. “We have people who come day in and day out for their aperetif. It’s their little ritual, and it’s because our bodega is a no-frills, cozy, family-run place. They feel at home here, and that’s how we try to keep it.”
My words: This place was as authentic as it gets. It’s a converted living room—the previous owner used to sleep in the loft above. There are barrels where the vermouth flows freely, and wooden tables that are decidedly unpretentious. If you’re looking to sip vermouth like a local, this is the place to do it.
9. La Botigueta del Bon Menjar
A take-away shop with traditionally-prepared Catalan dishes
Dishes tried: Escalivada and romesco “pintxo,” and homemade meatballs in a bean and pea gravy
His Catalan word: Acollidor. (This man also chose “cozy!”) “This kind of place rarely exists anymore; it preserves the essence of an earlier time, something that is vanishing in Spain. It’s a small, cozy place, and we serve food like you would make at home.”
My words: Cozy is right. This had to be the cutest place we stopped: a little hole in the wall, serving take-out of typical Catalan dishes. The plating of the dishes was even cozy—each served in its own mini cazuela, or casserole dish. And that romesco sauce was to die for.
10: Patisseria Ideal
Catalan pastry shop
Dish tried: Mini cremat, a creme pastry similar (but not equal to!) a creme brulee.
His Catalan word: Genial, great. “This place has been around for so many years; it has it’s undeniable charm, people have gotten used to its presence in Gracia, and it’s been in the family for generations. So yes, I say it’s great.”
My words: While I’ll take chocolate desserts over creme ones any day, I had no problem wolfing this down, even after 9 previous stops. I’m a glutton, and also Catalan specialties are just that damn good. Or dare I say, genial!
With a newfound food baby and appreciation for Catalonia’s food scene, the Barcelona food tour concluded. But what’s incredible about taking a food tour in my new city is that now I know the best places to return and stuff my face a second time around.
I can’t recommend the Devour Barcelona food tour enough—it makes this connection between language, culture, and cuisine accessible, and uncovers a side and history of these locales that you would not merely get by hopping in for a bite on your own.
While I enjoyed every morsel I feasted on during the tour (that bomba!), the real highlight for me was discovering the affection and pride each restaurant owner took in their food or drink. Not a single owner offered up a literal word for their product. No one said “spicy,” “fresh,” or “meatball.” Every single one described their locale emotionally.
These people don’t just sell food; they sell passion. By talking to the owners, it became clear that it’s not just about a product; it’s about a way of life, a devotion to quality—all intimately tied with a culture that cherishes its flavors, family heritage, and culinary roots. You cannot separate food from the person preparing it; cooking it; curing it; slicing it.
Food in Spain is a celebration; here’s to stuffing our faces and partaking in this Barcelona feast.
Have you ever taken a food tour? Which stop on the Barcelona food tour had you drooling the most?
Thank you to Devour Barcelona for including me in this culinary celebration. I received a comped Barcelona food tour; however, all opinions and cured meat obsessions are my own.