They do the most wonderful thing to toasted bread here in Catalunya. They rub it with half cut tomato, dress it with extra virgin olive oil, and then sprinkle it with sal de mar (That’s sea salt). Simple? Yes, and simply wonderful. It originally began as a way for poor folks to get more mileage out of their dry bread and avoid waste, but the combination of these common ingredients is much more than practical, it’s a delicious reminder of the Catalan cultural tradition of being resourceful. “Take what you have, what the land provides you with and make the most of it”, as centuries of Catalans have done. This is just a taste of the gastronomy and history that can be explored on the Devour Barcelona Food Tours.
Founded just this year, Devour Barcelona Food Tours specialises in a walking food and culture day tours. Their first one, launched in September, is a tour of Gracia, a neighbourhood rich in art and design. Gracia balances Catalan traditions with foreign influence, and home to a great number of incredible places grab a bite and shop.
Our lovely and informative guide, Renee, took us on a nine stop exploratory sample of what the Gracia neighbourhood has to offer. We didn’t just bounce from one restaurant or cafe to another, however. Devour Barcelona is dedicated to letting its guests experience as much gastronomy and culture as possible in the four hour excursion. Peppered in this tour are stops at markets, specialty shops, cafes with specific food offerings, and even a local traditional bodegas.
We started with a delicious botifarra breakfast at Casa Pages. Renee also had us enjoy a sample of local cava along with breakfast, as cava is a drink to be had at anytime for any reason. Unlike its French cousin, champagne, which is the choice for “special” occasions, you can find cava anywhere anytime in Barcelona.
Next it was to Mercator de l’Abaceria Central where where we sampled regional olives, salted cod, and artisan cheeses. What I didn’t know before the tour is that there are over 260 varieties of olives in Spain, but now I do. Building on the olive experience, our next stop was at Oil Sal where we learned a lot about two of the simple ingredients previously mentioned, including what the grades of olive oils actually mean. We even did an olive oil tasting.
I quickly realized that there is a big difference in flavor between the varieties and the oil you pick does greatly influences the flavor of food with which you dress it. Oh, and did you know that Spain is the largest producer of olive oil and that many Italian olive oil brands actually buy the olives and even the oil from Spain, only to relabel it as a product of Italy? Now you do.
Oil and Sal was a prelude if not foreshadowing of our visit to L’Anxoveta to make our own above-raved pa amb tomaquet. We turned it up a notch and even rubbed a clove of raw garlic on our bread before the tomato (I’m salivating now as I write this). Afterwards, we were treated to “da bomb”, a twist on patatas bravas. This potato and ground beef croquette, in authentic homemade brava sauce (not the straight from the jar stuff you find at all the tourist trap tapas bars) is worthy of its name, “la bomba.”
Our next stop was a sweet one, literally. Patisseria Principe is a Barcelona renowned Syrian handmade pastry shop supplying its strong Gracia faithful and also supplies many restaurants throughout the city. If you love honey and pistachio you’ll love this place. After getting sufficiently sugared up, it was time to wet our whistles at a local watering hole called Bodega C’al Pep. However, we weren’t here for the water, but rather the red vermouth. While in most English speaking countries vermouth is know mostly as a mixer, here it is enjoyed on its own. Most bodegas make theirs from unique recipes and C’al Pep is no exception. It is a delightful balance of fruit and herbs, invigorating while taking the edge off.
Next up was the extremely popular La Botigueta del Bon Menjar. Predominantly for take away pre-made food, del Bon Menjar and other place similar have increased in popularity by helping busy urban families get homestyle food on the table in a more time-saving manner. Its origins come from decades ago, when working women were still expected to cook for their husbands after a long day at work. Today it’s a favorite of the local singles set who are too busy enjoying Gracia’s big social scene to cook. You have to try the homemade meatballs in pea and bean gravy if you visit. It’s virtually impossible to have only one.
Finally, it was time for coffee before “gastrocoma” (Michael trademarked word) set in. Our last stop was at Pastisseria Ideal. While also a very popular pastry shop in its own right, it’s also know by Gracia residents as a place to grab a great coffee. Here Timmer enjoyed his customary cafe con leche, while I, being a more cut to chase kind of guy, had a cafe solo or shot of espresso. But since it’s near sacrilege to visit a Pastisseria this good without trying a pastry, we were treated to an accompanying mini cremat.
Now, with great coffee and a tasty treat in front of me, it was time to blissfully reflect on our gastronomic journey through Gracia. So many times I have walked through neighbourhoods here in Barcelona (Gracia included) and walked past numerous places with curiosity, but seldom the time to wander in. This not only applies to the cafes, but the specialty shops and bodegas as well. Devour Barcelona hits the nail on the head by giving curious aspiring foodies like myself the excuse to indulge in many places and tastes in an efficient and fun manner. Throw in the cultural and historical information (which was brilliant and informative), with kindred company, and a charming host, you’ll have a truly wonderful four hours enjoyed.
Whether you live in Barcelona or just planning on visiting the city, we highly recommend taking a Devour tour. However, remember three things. First, book in advance because space is limited to keep the tours efficient and intimate. Second, wear comfortable shoes. After all, it is a walking tour not a fashion show. Finally, and most importantly, indulge and say hi to Renee for us.