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When it comes to thinking of things to do in Barcelona, food has got to be somewhere near the top of your list! But with so much tapas in Barcelona to choose from, so many pintxo to nibble on and more Catalan specialities to feast on than you thought possible, where should you start? Choosing the best restaurants in the Catalan capital might be a matter of opinion, but these are the dishes you absolutely can’t miss trying.
Legend has it that this iconic dish was invented in the Barcelona beach neighbourhood of Barceloneta. Soft, fluffy mashed potato is stuffed with ground pork, dusted with breadcrumbs and fried to crispy, golden perfection. As if it could get much better, these croquettas are then served with two sauces which takes the dish to another level; creamy, garlicky, lemony aioli, and spicy, paprika charged salsa brava. There are probably a few people in Barcelona who claim their mother invented these bites of heaven (although they’re more tennis-ball-size than bite-size), but it’s generally accepted that the mamá of the Cova Fumada’s owner actually did.
The end of winter might not sound like the highlight of the culinary calendar in Spain, but don’t be fooled. In Barcelona restaurants and at festive street parties, you’ll find these native Catalan onions being celebrated by absolutely everyone, and after just one bite you’ll understand why. Somewhere between a leek and a spring onion, this native vegetable is thrown on an open flame and grilled to perfection - that is almost black and crispy on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. After being barbecued to an inch of its life, this humble onion is somehow made even more delicious by the accompaniment of romesco sauce. Things will get messy, but there are few things better than calçots dipped in their tangy sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, red peppers and toasted almonds.
The perfect dessert for balmy summer nights (okay fine, any night) crema Catalana will have you falling in love at the first bite. A rich vanilla custard is infused with just a hint of orange, poured into shallow ramekins, generously sprinkled with sugar and then blowtorched until the sugar caramelises and forms a glassy crust on top. It may sound to you like a French creme brûlée (because it is in fact almost identical), but it’s best not to bring up which nation invented the dish first. Instead, shatter the thin later of caramelised sugar with your spoon and savour the smooth, rich custard underneath.
Few things are better than a fresh, light salad (and a glass of cava) on a hot summer’s day. Esqueixada is exactly that, a zesty feast of raw salted cod, romesco sauce, perfectly ripe tomatoes, earthy black olives, a little bite from chopped onion and of course a generous drizzle of olive oil. Based around the main ingredient of bacallà, the local speciality of salted cod, each element of the dish dances around the plate and and perfectly comes together in each refreshing bite. A rustic classic, don’t miss trying this while you’re in Spain.
The simplest things often turn out to be the best, as is proven by pa amb tomàquet, a staple local dish. The name may only translate as a simple “bread with tomato”, but this certainly doesn't do justice to the explosion of flavours and textures you’ll experience. It’s all about great quality produce speaking for itself; freshly grilled bread is rubbed with raw garlic and ripe tomatoes, then drizzled with olive oil and finished with a sprinkling of sea salt. Eat it for breakfast or as a accompaniment to every meal, and whatever you do don’t forget to order it as one of the core staples of every tapas feast. If a restaurant doesn't serve it, that's your cue to leave.
Yet more proof that the simplest dishes are the best, escalivada is a vegetarian delight consisting of nothing more than flame grilled veggies, good quality olive oil, garlic and salt. “Escalivar” means “cooking with ashes”, so peppers, aubergines and onions should be chargrilled over a wood fired flame, which brings a smoky, sweet flavour. The best way to enjoy them is atop freshly toasted bread and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and if you’re there may even be some salty anchovies artfully thrown on top too. A staple of Catalan cuisine, escalivada are also preserved in olive oil and used as an ingredient in other dishes, especially tapas.
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