When visiting Barcelona, one of the highlights is the food. Not only Catalonia is a beautiful region but also boasts some of the best gourmet delicacies in Spain. Typical food in Barcelona is quite different from what you might have in mind if you have tried traditional dishes in other parts of the country. If you want to, not only see the sites but also try the local dishes, I have prepared a comprehensive list of the most traditional food in Barcelona. Put your bib on and bon profit!
Fish and seafood typical Catalan dishes
Esqueixada de bacallà
The main ingredient in this dish is cod (bacallà), a widely eaten fish here in Catalonia. In this case, the salted cod has been shredded to get the proper consistency. Add to it some chopped tomatoes, red peppers and onions plus black olives and a healthy drop of olive oil and, voilà, you have an amazing summer dish. A very refreshing gluten-free dish for those hot summer days in Barcelona.
A black dish? Really? Using the squid’s ink to flavour a recipe is very common on the coast of Spain. In the North of Catalonia, we have this black rice (literally) that is cooked in the same pot as the paella, a flat wide pan. Of course, don’t expect only the flavour of the ink but also the colour! As you can guess, squid is the main ingredient here, together with the rice. A good arròs negre is always served with allioli, a homemade garlic mayonnaise.
Although originally from a town in the Valencia region, it is very widely eaten in the Catalan coast too. Very similar to a seafood paella but made with noodles instead of rice. Monkfish, squid and prawns are usually added before cooking everything in a fish and shellfish stock. The presentation of a fideuà is always spectacular as it comes out on the dish it is cooked, the flat paella dish. Like with black rice, allioli is a great accompaniment.
Bacallà amb samfaina
Salted cod is very widely eaten in Catalonia. The fish need to be desalted for up to 3 days before you can start cooking it although, nowadays, it can be bought already desalted in speciality shops. The accompaniment is a sauce made with vegetables, onion, garlic and tomatoes very very similar to the Castilian pisto or the French ratatouille. If you like tomato sauce, vegetables and fish, try this original combination and don’t forget the bread to soak it all up.
Mandonguilles amb sípia
What a great Catalan invention. Meatballs cooked with cuttlefish in a rich gravy sauce. Really tasty and original. In fact, this combination of meat and seafood is very common and we call it mar i muntanya, literally, sea and mountain. The pollastre amb llagosta, chicken and lobster (the version from Mas de Torrent is the main image in this article) is definitely the king of this Catalan version of the “surf & turf”.
Traditional food in Barcelona for meat lovers
Adopted by the people here, cannelloni is considered a typical Barcelona dish. It tends to have stewed meat inside the tubes rather than the Italian minced meat. That is why it is traditional to eat them on December 26th using the leftovers from Christmas dinner. The cannelloni is always also topped with a béchamel sauce (very little, if any, tomato sauce is used). There are different variations and Canelons d’ànec (duck cannelloni) is my all-time favourite.
Escudella i Carn d’Olla / Sopa de Galets
Once the winter arrives, everyone fancies a nice warm dish. That is what escudella i carn de’olla exactly is. Not one but two dishes combined that are so intimately related. First, different types of meat are cooked forming a broth. This broth is served as the first course in the form of a soup that includes pasta or noodles. For mains, all the different meats are presented in an oval tray. On Christmas Day there is a variation of this traditional Catalan dish when the soup transforms into sopa de galets, with the big snail-shaped pasta shells.
Faves a la Catalana
Made with mainly fava beans, stock and a small bit of botifarra negra, a Catalan blood pudding. Both a filling and hearty dish, this bomb is usually cooked in an earthenware dish. It is a favourite in our household in wintertime when the beans are in season. During the winter, I demand this meal at home, at least once a week ;-).
Botifarra amb mongetes
This is a simple but effective dish. Like bangers and mash to the English but, instead of the potatoes, we have haricot beans served with the sausage. Traditional food in Barcelona city but even more enjoyable after a long hike in the countryside.
These are slices of veal cut and cooked in a rich sauce with seasonal mushrooms. Forget your Sunday roast with gravy. This is way nicer and a great way for meat lovers to taste traditional food in Barcelona.
Ànec amb peres
Another great example of the way Catalans mix sweet and savoury beautifully. Pieces of duck are cooked slowly and served with pears. This is a very special dish reserved for festive occasions.
Cargols a la llauna
One of the delicacies that this area gives us is snails. Abundant at certain parts of the year, snails are cooked traditionally in a tin tray (llauna) in a barbecue or in the oven and served with a spicy sauce or vinaigrette. The best way to enjoy them is by joining the Festival of Cargols that takes place every May in Lleida, West of Barcelona
Cold cured meats
Spain is, of course, famous for its jamón (cured ham) but the meats below are particular to this region:
- Botifarra negra: pork blood sausage.
- Botifarra blanca: white pork sausage.
- Botifarra d’ou: white pork sausage with egg.
- Fuet: a long thin sausage of dried cured pork meat wrapped in the gut. It resembles a salami.
Vegetarian traditional Catalan food to die for
Pa amb tomàquet
It consists of toasted Catalan country bread scraped with garlic (optional) and lightly coated with the flesh of fresh tomatoes. The final touch is always a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt on top. Usually, it is eaten as an accompaniment to a meal or, more commonly, as a base to sample the traditional cured meats. However, it is so delicious that it can even be a starter in itself.
A type of long-stemmed green onions grown in Catalonia which is barbecued on an open fire. Charred outer leaves make them very messy to eat so a bib and gloves are sometimes provided. Did you say a bib? Yes, a baby bib! The soft inside is always dipped into a garlic, tomato and almond sauce. They are seasonal from December to March and it is one of the culinary social highlights if you visit at this time of the year. The best place to appreciate the ceremony of calçots is out in the countryside but plenty of Barcelona restaurants have them on the menu during the season.
A vegetarian delight: Smokey grilled veg (red peppers and eggplant) served with olive oil as a hot or cold dish. Some variations can include tomatoes onions and garlic. Anchovies can also be added so if you are a vegetarian be sure this is not the case.
Espinacs amb panses i pinyons
This is a very simple but fab dish that has been consumed in Catalonia since medieval times. Fresh green spinach are sauteed in olive oil together with raisins and pine nuts. Sometimes the spinach has been steamed beforehand but I definitely prefer the first version.
… and food tours to soak it all up
When it comes to food tours, the offer in Barcelona is huge. You probably wonder: “with so many options, which food tour do I choose?”. Our advice is to always go with a real local company.
Nowadays there are many multi-city operators that offer their food tours in different parts of Spain or even Europe, sometimes disguised as “supporting local businesses”. Great marketing strategy. But the reality is quite different as your money will end up in Madrid, Rome or Paris but not in the place you are visiting: Barcelona.
Most importantly, only a true Barcelona company can show you the soul of the city’s food that others can’t compete with.
If looking for a food tour here, always ask yourself this question: Do they offer tours in other cities? If the answer is yes, think twice about joining them and choose a real Barcelona company instead.
Our recommendation is to join Lorea and Michael from The Barcelona Taste at one of their fabulous food and tapas tours in Barcelona. What makes this company stand out in Barcelona is that their food tours are limited to 6 people maximum. While others take up to 12 people, which is too large for a nice group to interact with the guide and have a nice conversation, these guys pride themselves in keeping it as small and personal as you can get. You can be sure that your guide will become a friend by the end of your experience.
The Barcelona Taste is the first company that offered this type of food tours in the city and is still the best. Their philosophy is to awe their clients with the best food at the best local restaurants in town. They have been recommended by Rick Steves, The Guardian or Time Out. And yes, they are only in Barcelona as that is the city of their expertise. Bon profit!
I hope you will have fun giving some of these foods a whirl. But a meal in Barcelona is not complete without something sweet so why not check out our post about Catalan desserts? Looking to learn about the city before engulfing all this fantastic food? Check out our award-winning Barcelona Free Walking Tours and Barcelona Private Tours. A great way to make the most of your Barcelona trip! Finally, if you are here for a few days, you can take a look at our very complete article with things to do in Barcelona.
Spain is full of wonderful gastronomic experiences. If you are travelling outside Barcelona, you can check out our friends’ posts for traditional food of Madrid and typical dishes in Malaga.
Post originally published on July 28th 2014. Updated on January 2nd 2022
Photographs by Javier Lastras, mpellegr, ihq, Jorge Franganillo, demoslavueltaaldia, Niu de Sol, Emi Yañez, Lablascovegmenu, Kent Wang, Mover el Bigote, foodandfoot, benremenat, allijulivert, Jacob Sunol, Gustavo Maximo, mumumío and Diari Ara
Kevin Brookes says
Number 5 and 13 looks delicious. You wouldn’t happen to have the ingredients? I would like to make one. Thank you for sharing this too.
Ann Marie Brannigan says
“Canelons” (#5) and salted cod (#13) are both delicious. I particularly love the different way the canelloni are cooked over here. I have found these 2 recipes in English searching around. I hope it helps.
Recipe for canelons
Recipe for Bacallà amb samfaina
Of course, the fun is in experimenting 😉
Anything for vegetarians ??..Seems like its a real paradise for non-vegetarians .Anyways thanks for the lovely pics
Ann Marie Brannigan says
Try reading my post for vegetarians in Barcelona. You are not short of options 🙂
Survival guide to visiting vegetarians in Barcelona
Dylan Pritchard says
Vegeterians? Bring it on! I have quite a few friends from Barcelona, and what they always like to cook was a special kind of Spanish omllette – tortilla. Main ingreadients – potatoes, sliced thin, eggs and copious amounts of oil. Otherwise, it won’t be authentic. I was afraid to eat it at the beginning, but with time I used to it. With proper workout in the free time, you won’t regret the extra fat in the meal.
Ann Marie Brannigan says
Tortilla de patata is a classic of Spanish cuisine that is cooked all over the country. The traditional one only has potatoes, egg and onions but nowadays you can find all kinds of potato omelette, including ingredients like ham, mushrooms, peppers, chorizo… All wonderful by the way 😉