After visiting friends in Alicante, my daughter and I traveled up the coast of Spain to Barcelona. Being quite a foodie I was very excited to try a food tour around the capital city of Catalonia. At 11am we headed to the Gothic Quarter of the city, surrounded by narrow alleyways just begging to be explored. What am I looking for? “A guide with an orange umbrella and a big smile,” or so the instructions say. I spotted him straight away; Miguel who was born and bred in Barcelona. We met with a small group of 6 and went on our way.
We begin the tour at one of the oldest bakeries in the city, (opened in 1849) marked by a plaque on the pavement just outside. Sweet treats in the window with fluffy pink meringues, which caught my daughters eye, enticing us to come inside.
I wasn’t expecting to start the tour with something sweet, but it was a welcome surprise. Miguel explained the delights of the “chucho” sweetly prepared with a thin paste (like that of croissants) filled with pastry cream, then fried and covered with sugar.
Now, it can’t be a food tour in Barcelona without a stop at a food market. Most people visit Mercado de La Boqueria on the tourist trap that is Las Rambla but in Secret Food Tours tradition, we were going ‘local’.
We visited a nearby market, Marcat Santa Caterina, where locals will grab their meat and cheese or chefs will grab last-minute ingredients ready for their dinner service. Here, Miguel taught us to ‘follow the grandmas’ as they know all the best stalls after centuries of visiting.
Miguel also taught us the difference between the two types of ham you can buy. Jamón is made from the leg and shoulder of two breeds of pig – the white pig and the Ibérico pig, hence why it’s called jamón ibérico. One of my favourite things about this food tour was actually learning about what I was eating and during a blind tasting we were asked out preference between diffent items and which we thought were the most expensive. Along side the jamón ibérico we tasted the ibérico bellota, which is about 99 euros per kilo! These pure-breed pigs are fed acones to fatten them up and then aged for over 2 years.
As well as tasting different types of ham, we also tasted a few different types of cheese made mostly from goat’s milk, and a selection of olive oils.
After the market we went further into the Gothic Quarter, with so much medieval history to learn as we go. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about the history of the city on a food tour but it’s what made it that much more enjoyable for me. I love history so I was fascinated to learn things that you don’t normally read in the guide books or online. For example, each alleyway in the Gothic Quarter, which used to be a Roman village, is named after the businesses it used to house.
We also learned about the meaning behind the plaques and gargoyles that adorn several corners – they were used to denote one way streets in a time of horse and carts and to subtly advertise brothels for those looking for a lady of the night. Miguel has so much knowledge it was hard to keep up but he was happy to answer any questions we had throughout the tour.
We arrived at our next destination which was full to the brim with locals, tucking in to tapas and bread on their lunch breaks. The tapas place was tiny but we managed to squeeze in around a small table at the back. It is has been family-owned since it opened way back when and still uses the families recipes. The food was unbelievable and traditional, which I would have never found unless I was part of Secret Food Tours.
We tried a number of things: chick peas with a ‘ratatouille’ which was so few ingredients but cooked realy well. Another was creamed potato spread with sobrasada (a raw, cured sausage from Mallorca made with ground pork and spices) and topped with a poached egg. This deffinately wasn’t the most attractive dish but once mixed and spread on crusty bread was delightful. My favorite was a fresh squid and chilli dish. We washed it all down with locally-made cava, the Spanish equivalent to prosecco, and we were away again on to the last stop.
It’s not a food tour in Barcelona without a little paella party! Miguel took us to his favourite place in town and trust me, there are a lot of them. We walked down to Barceloneta where we had traditional paella by the beach with a couple of jugs of Sangria. It was nice to chat as we were in an intimate setting, away from the hustle and bustle and the perfect end to the tour.
Most of the places on the food tour heven’t been named since the whole point of the tour is that you are taken to secret spots known and loved by locals, although here are a few other recommended visits that Miguel shared with us:
Bodega 1900 (run by Albert Adrià, one of the most popular chefs in Barcelona)
La Mar Salada (Seafood + a terrace. Try the noodle paella!)
Bardeni (a meat bar near La Sagrada Familia with great churros!)
If you wish to check this out for yourself you can book directly with Secret Food Tours online and say ‘Hola’ to Miguel from Helen and Phoebe.