Catalonia’s unique history has created a Catalan culture and cuisine that is unique to its own style and form. Catalonia is blessed with an abundance of raw ingredients from vegetables to meats to seafood and so has culinary delights of diverse protein and fibre sources, it’s cuisine is characterised by foods which mix sweet and savoury flavours.
We could not miss out on all these culinary riches in Barcelona, in this post I will focus on three restaurants serving Catalan foods at three drastically different price points and comment on which was the most worth it.
Yes, I ripped the idea from Buzzfeed’s Worth It series.
La Bombeta ($)
Located on the former fishing village (now a beach district) of Barceloneta, La Bombeta is considered as one of the best tapas bars in Barcelona. Barcelona’s touristy appeal unfortunately means that tourist trap restaurants that sell inauthentic food have mushroomed all over the city, although you know that there is a real authentic restaurant here when most of the patrons seem local and English is not widely spoken by the staff.
There is a famous dish in Barcelona that was created by the fishermen of the area, and it has nothing to do with fish. Bombas, beaded meat packed within a potato mash and served with an aioli and spicky brava sauce was supposed to have been created in Barceloneta and La Bombeta has a rather traditional rendition of the dish, imagine biting into a soft mashed potato with covered with a slightly sour and spicy sauce and as you reach the end a burst of savoury and sweet meat flavour greets your tongue. That, my friend, is the beauty of bombas.
Bombas are not the only must-try Catalan dish in La Bombeta, another must try is Catalan Snails. Despite their slimy reputation snails are considered a great source of food, low in fats and calories high in minerals and proteins and have recently begun to regain popularity with locals too. Catalan snails are the less popular cousin to french escargot and is also prepared very differently. While the french version is usually simply made with butter and garlic, Catalan snails have a few different methods of preparation. A homecooked version can involve Iberico ham and tomatoes, or just a simply grill with salt, pepper and aioli (there’s even a Snail Festival every May) the La Bomebeta version involves it seems a stir with salt, pepper, herbs and is eaten with a aioli. The meat tastes like eating any other kind of mollusc or mussel and it great for people who enjoy trying different textures of food.
So much meat and snails had to go down with some greens and our choice of greens was a Spanish favourite – fried padron peppers. Padron peppers do not actually come from northeast Spain but from northwest Spain (the province of Galicia), but have become a favourite types tapas. These tiny peppers are bit size and easily held, but taste mild with almost no heat in them (even if you eat the seeds), so you don’t get a numb taste but instead you get to enjoy a light, soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the pepper as you bite into it which has this amazing ability to cleanse your palate before you proceed on to your next bite of meat or snail.
We ended our meal with a sweet treat, Crema Catalana which is a dish of sweet cream with a burnt sugar crust on top. If it seems familiar that’s because it probably is – there is a french equivalent, Creme Brulee. One of the differences between the French and Catalan version is that the cream in the Catalan version may be flavoured with more tropical flavours like lemon zest, orange zest or Cinnamon.
My wallet was happy and my tummy was happy.
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Portonovo Silvestre ($$)
Portonovo Silvestre faces a lot of competition being as it is located along Plaza Espanya, a square full of hotels and tourist-centric restaurants. But it doesn’t do much advertisement, unlike its competitors nearby, perhaps because it is the real deal – a family run restaurant with a perrsonality. The personality comes in the form of its owner who has pictures of himself and celebrity customers plastering every corner of the dining area.
Our meal began with three openers. First, Pa amb tomàquet, a Catalan appetiser of bread rubbed with tomatoes and sprinkled with salt and olive oil. The origins of the dish are humble with rural dwellers, left-over bread hardens after a few days but rural people could not afford to throw out the bread (we live in an age of waste today), so they would cut open a tomato and rub the tomato over the bread, using the juices from the tomato to soften the hard bread and consume it with some olive oil and salt for taste.
The next appetiser was a vegetable one, a tapas of preserved peppers, onions and chillies that were once again not spicy but amazing at cleansing the palate.
The third appetizer was Esqueixada, another traditional catalan dish, essentially a cod salad made up of salted cod (you can see a picture here of a fishmonger preparing the cod at the La Boqueria Market), tomato, onion, olive oil, peppers, vinegar and salt. I never tried cod in this way before and I have to say its certainly quite refreshing.
We moved on from tapas appetizers to the main dishes we were here to try, a paella or rice and vermicelli. Paella, like fried padron peppers, is not a Catalan original but a Valencian one that has become representative of Spanish food all around the world (Spanish people don’t think of the dish as being a Spanish one but a regional Valencian one), the inspiration for many interesting takes worldwide (even Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have their takes on it).
Paella is usually short-grained rice cooked over a pan with a mixture of ingredients. That’s essentially it. We had a squid ink paella, so the dish was black and was enriched with colour and richness of the squid ink. There were six people at the table and the paella pan we ordered was recommended for two people. It tasted great but it was so big and rich that we couldn’t finish it.
The fact that we couldn’t finish the paella might have also been due to the fact that the we also ordered a seafood Fideua. Just like Paella, Fideua is also a Valencian dish of staple cooked and served in a pan, the difference is that instead of rice it is made of noodles.
One thing to note about paella, Spanish people usually do not consume paella during dinner, and for good reason a paella is heavy and surfeiting and Spanish people tend to have dinner after 8pm, a dish that heavy will make it almost impossible to digest and sleep. So do as the locals do and don’t have paella except for lunch in Spain.
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El Asador de Aranda ($$$)
Now, strictly speaking, this is not Catalan food but Castilian-Leon cuisine food, food that comes from central Spain, which includes major cities such as Madrid and Toledo, I’m cheating. Local food uses the ingredients that can be found around it and since Castile is inland, it is a meat heavy rather than seafood heavy cuisine (like Valencia). Castilian-Leon cuisine typically uses stewing and roasting (asados) as methods to prepare meats. As its name would suggest, El Asador de Aranda is famous for being a roast house and its specialty is roasted pork and lamb.
The fancy restaurant brand (located in eight major cities all over Spain) took over a former villa and converted the whole space into a dinning compound, giving the restaurant a very exclusive feel. Most of the diners were local and were certainly more well-dressed than we were.
Portion sizes in Spain are small, in general one portion of roasted meat consumed by one person is a whole leg or shoulder from a calf. Seeing the size of the portion we ordered one portion of lamb and pork to be shared by six people. This was quintessentially roast meat, meat with light seasoning (salt and pepper at most) put into a clay oven and slow cooked till the skin is crispy and cackling and the meat drips with amazing juices washed down with only one thing – a good bottle of red wine.
When you have good meat, like this place had, you don’t do too much to it – just let the quality of the meat shine through. The pork skin was crispy and the meat juicy, the lamb was so fresh there wasn’t the gamey smell that you would usually get with mutton. Beautiful as the meat is, it’s filling, I can’t figure though how one person can finish the whole thing, that’s a lot of meat.
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Which was my worth it choice?
Check out the featured image at the top 😉