I’m a sucker for a good food tour. To me, there is no better way to see a great city than to eat my way through it. And what better way to do that than with a local foodie as a guide?
Barcelona was the first real stop on my Grand Mediterranean adventure and where we’d be embarking on the cruise. I’ve visited Barcelona before – I’ve seen the Gaudi masterworks, visited the museums, and spent much time wandering La Rambla.
And so I was very excited to book slots on the Culinary Backstreets “Blessed by the Mediterranean” tour exploring some of the seaside neighborhoods of Barcelona – a great way to experience something different while still tasting some of what I love most about Spain. We booked four months out as each tour only allows for up to 7 participants (as many of the stops are very small neighborhood locales that cannot handle a larger crowd).
We met our guide, Dave (a UK native married to a Barcelona local) at the entrance of a local market. Our other companions – two couples on a cruise ship port stop – joined us and we were off to a caffeinated start.
Our first stop was at a local coffee stand inside the market. We learned about the various ways locals order their coffee and had a chance to sample them along with a selection of typical breakfast meats, tomato bread (one of my favorite Barcelona dishes), and a potato/egg frittata. He explained the way the day would progress and we got a few minutes to quickly introduce ourselves to our fellow travelers.
There was no time for leisurely chat however… we were off and moving through the market. Our next stop was a cheesemonger. We sampled a couple of native cheeses from the region (beyond the normal manchego I’m used to with Spanish cuisine). One was a goat cheese where the milk produced carries a volcanic ash flavor. The other a tangier cheese that tasted a bit like a white cheddar.
Our next stops followed the market path. We stopped off at a meat counter specializing in pigs (and all parts of the pigs – brains, stomach, snout, blood, etc.) I’m fascinated by the nose-to-tail movement, but was also slightly nauseated by the slight smell and sights (perhaps from the early hour) so I was happy to move onto the fish counters. We stopped and sampled olives along the way (so many varieties, so many flavors) and a bland cod fritter (this was the only thing most of us didn’t finish and the group later agreed it was the low point of the day.
We left the market (but not before seeing the archeological history of the site, a former monastery) and started roaming the narrow lanes of the old neighborhoods. We made several stops – a sweet shop to taste creamy almond nougat and a drink pressed from local nuts (possibly one of my favorite tastes of the day), various types of almonds, and pure dark chocolate. Some of the local shops we visited were over a century old!
We visited a beautiful Gothic cathedral on our way to one of our sit-down stops.
We popped into a small local corner bar specializing in the local version of vermouth (one of my favorite aperitifs). The bar itself is a shrine to flamenco dancing and the proprietor treated us to a plate of her cod fritters to accompany our iced refreshment. (These were much better than the previous one!)
Then a stop for fresh seafood and red wine – fried baby squid (better than any calamari I’ve had at home) and fried anchovies.
We made one more stop that included more local meats, a cheese plate, stacks of crusty tomato bread, and a delicious egg/tomato/sausage dish (my friend’s favorite) along with more red wine.
And then a final stop at a local wine and food shop where we learned about black pigs and Iberico ham. Our final tasting was three different types of this porcine delicacy accompanied by flutes of cava and more tomato bread and a finale of almonds coated in almond paste and rolled in chocolate (we had to buy a bag to take back which may have already been consumed in the room last night!)
The tour we took followed a slightly different route than normal because it was both Monday (a day when many restaurants and markets are closed) and August (a month when many local shops close for vacation) but Dave handled this with ease as we deviated from the usual routing.
Our $135 per person fee covered everything we ate during the 5.5 hour tour and the samples were plentiful (I actually went home with extra olives from our morning tasting). I found it to be a great way to shake off a tiny bit of jet lag while getting away from the throngs of tourists swarming the port from the ships docked there. We only saw tour groups once during the day as a couple of sticker-clad cruise groups walked by us on a street following their paddle-wielding leader like startled ducklings.
I’ll take this alternative way of touring any day.
One important thing to note – food on tours like this is often served in a communal sharing style (two frittatas with six forks, two people sharing a nut drink with two straws) so it may not be ideal for someone with heavy germaphobe tendencies – you know who you are!
Culinary Backstreets offers food tours in Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Mexico City, Rio, Shanghai, Tbilisi, and Tokyo as well as a great food tourism blog