Starting off our Saturday with a grilled botifarra sandwich, a schmear of homemade alioli and a glass of Rovellats Cava can only mean one thing – we’re in Barcelona!
“We are going to explore the city through its culinary delights,” announced Renee, our extremely knowledgable guide. The Cypriot and I were about to venture forth through Gràcia on a food tour. I have actually never done a food tour before, nor darest I say it, been to Barcelona. So, when I heard about Devour Barcelona, I thought it would be a great way to explore the Greenwich Village of Barcelona – who doesn’t like to eat and learn at the same time?! What transpired was four hours of gastronomic bliss with a little history thrown in for good measure.
The 100 year old Casa Pagès was where we tucked into the aforementioned botifarra sandwich and washed it down with Cava. While chomping away, we were instructed that Gràcia was established in 1626 by Carmelites nuns whose covent was called Nostra Senyora de Gràcia (Our Lady of Grace), thus Gràcia. The locals take much pride in their locale, preferring to answer “I’m from Gràcia” instead of “I’m from Barcelona” and Catalan flags fly from most every window.
Although there has been a tavern here for over 100 years, the present day owners have been serving up a very hearty breakfast sandwich of grilled sausage and green pepper on amazing toasted bread which the Barcelonitas do so well for over 20 years. The owner’s wife is very particular about her alioli, getting out her mortar & pestle and making it by hand every day. After our lesson in alioli making, we glugged down every last morsel and were off.
In our Cava-tinted haze, we were gently guided to the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central and suddenly I was eating again – this time an olive & salt cod skewer. Markets are a thing of joy and there is not a trip that the Cypriot and I go on that doesn’t involve visiting a market. There has been a market here since the 1860’s and being in the middle of the fruit, veggies, fish, meat, and cheese seem to transport me back to Barcelona at that time. The history of the place is felt by every bite of home-grown Spanish cheese we sampled at La Trobada del Gourmet. They looked so appealing that a man even stopped and asked if he could have a taste!
Taking a break from eating, we sat down at Oli Sal for a tasting, but not of wine as one would expect. The three contenders were: Olicastesson, Oro Del Desierto Olive Oil & Cornicarba – yes olive oils! Oil Sal is one of the only olive oil specialty stores in Barcelona. Using a spoon to sample each drop of liquid gold, my refined palate picked the same one chosen by the famed Adria brothers to use at their restaurants! I won’t tell you as you have to be unbiased when you taste them yourself! After our short respite, we were ready to eat again – something sweet as promised.
Entering the jewel that is Patisserie Principe, I felt like I had been transported to the Middle East. All the sweets around me were dripping with honey! The owner arrived from Syria more than 30 years ago, fell in love with his wife and with Gràcia. Now he provides over 220 restaurants all over city with his honey-coated, pistachio-encrusted, rose water-instilled treats. A gift to the city that welcomed him in.
As we sat resting at one of my favorite stops on the tour, C’al Pep Bodega, sipping our black vermouth and stabbing pickled anchovies with toothpicks, I wondered how long it would take to become a local. How many bombas, how much crema catalanas, how much Cava?
Every bite on this tour told a story about a time and a place and I’m certainly not going to ruin the ending for you! You have to take the tour to find out what happens next but I can tell you that it involves tons more food in many shapes and forms – sweet and savory! I will leave you with a recipe – so simple, so delicious and truly Catalan:
Pa Amb Tomàquet
1 slice of the delicious crusty bread you only get in Barcelona (or your own local ciabatta will do)
1 fresh tomato – cut in half
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Toast the bread
Rub on the garlic on the toast
Rub the open face of the tomato on the bread
Drizzle on as much extra virgin olive oil as you want
Add a touch of salt
NB: The Cypriot and I were guests of Devour Barcelona and I can’t thank them enough for such a wonderful morning. Everything I write is my own opinion!