When visiting a foreign city it can be all too easy to stick to what you know and Barcelona is no exception. While some people look forward to trying new dishes, many others like to stick to what they already know.
But it doesn't have to be so bad. And while some of the items on restaurant menus might be quite alien to you there is still plenty that you'll have no problem eating at all. So here we take a look at some typical menu items that you may like to try on your next trip to the city.
Photo: A coil of botifarra by Pasqual Broch. Usually botifarra is served in more manageable portions.
One thing you'll find in many restaurants and bars across Catalonia is botifarra, a pork sausage slightly spiced with pepper. If you're used to the kind of mass produced banger common in Britain then you may be pretty indifferent to sausage. But the botifarra is truly delicious. The typical way to serve it is with white beans cooked with garlic, but you should be able to get it served with chips instead. And botifarra sandwiches are so popular in Catalonia you'll see many fans take them wrapped in foil to eat while they watch FC Barcelona play at Camp Nou.
Pa amb tomàquet
Take a slice of good white bread, usually toasted. Smear it with tomato and sprinkle salt over it. Then drizzle olive oil over it, Jamie Oliver style. Then rub two pieces together to allow the bread to absorb it all.
What is so great about that?
Actually it is a dish in its own right and popular across Catalonia. Many years ago my family used to stay with friends in a farm house in the mountains near Manresa, some 70 kilometres from Barcelona. I remember how excited their son, the same age as me, used to be when he found out we'd be served pa amb tomàquet.
In restaurants pa amb tomàquet is usually served as an accompaniment to a meat dish. Some people like to rub the bread with garlic too. You'll also find that sandwiches made with baguettes almost always have tomato, salt and olive oil instead of butter.
Visit many bars and you'll see their sandwich menus include a Bikini. Deriving its name from a concert venue and nightclub from where it is supposed to have originated, it is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Very simple, delicious, and cheap.
Sit down in a bar for a beer somewhere and you often want something to eat with it. Surely it's got to be tapas. But what do you order?
You can get some olives, but many people hate them. You don't fancy squid in batter or anything you can't immediately identify by sight. But one thing you'll be completely safe with is a plate of patatas bravas.
The dish consists of sautéed potatoes with a spicy sauce. It goes great with beer and very easy to eat. The sauce is made from ketchup, mayo and Tabasco and the heat varies from bar to bar, but it's mild compared to most curries so even if you don't like spicy food you should be okay with patatas bravas.
Photo: Calçots cooking on an open fire by the author.
Years ago in a restaurant in L'Escala I saw a couple with a pile of charred vegetables served in a curved roof tile. Wearing bibs they would take one, strip off the blackened outer layer and dip the tender flesh below into a sauce before lifting it above their head and eating. I had to order it!
I immediately loved the dish and eat it whenever I can, often at home. Originally from Valls, in the south of Catalonia near Tarragona, calçots are a type of specially grown spring onion and today are wildly popular in the winter months.
Valls has an annual festival devoted to calçots and the calçotada. That consists of a calçot starter with grilled meat (including botifarras) as the main and accompanies, naturally, by pa amb tomàquet to mop up the sauce. These days you'll find them served in some restaurants in Barcelona if you visit at the beginning of the year.
If you go for the full calçotada you're looking at €30+ a head, but a handful of calçots as a starter should cost much less may be enough for lunch anyway.
I bet that when you think of eating out in Spain the first thing that comes to mind is paella. Originally from Valencia, in its best-known form this rice dish contains seafood, although it doesn't need to.
However there are paellas and there are paellas. Many bars sell premade paellas that lack any kind of flavour at all. Instead, head for Barceloneta, a district near the port, where you'll find a whole load of restaurants serving good paella.
Probably the best I've had was not in Barcelona but down in Castelldefels, south of the Catalan capital.
Almost universally you'll have to order the dish for two or more. But if you do want to sample a little paella you'll also see it is included as a starter on the more limited menu del día at many restaurants. It won't be as good as paella cooked to order, but it does allow you to sample the dish for a fraction of the price.
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