Last updated: March 2016
Tapas in Barcelona have established a reputation that often overshadows even the Sagrada Familia itself. Everyone knows that you simply have to “try the tapas in Barcelona.” But what are they exactly, and what’s all the hype about?
A “tapa” is a small portion of any dish. The tradition originated in the sultry bars of Andalucía, when tavern keepers would place a slice of bread topped with cheese, ham, fish, tomato, whatever was conveniently to hand, over their clients’ drinks to keep the flies out. “Tapar” means to cover. They had also sussed that if they feed the rumble their clients would stay for a few more rounds, an arrangement that suited everyone. Free tapas in Barcelona are harder to come by than in the South, but there are a few tapas bars that honour the old time tradition.
A wide variety of tapas in Barcelona to choose from
Catalunya has a varied menagerie of ingredients that can easily find themselves on the tapas menu. Tentacle tips emerge from rich sauces, slices of blood pudding are paired with typical Catalan “botifarra” sausage, and the occasional gaspingly hot green pepper lurks innocently disguised amid a dish of “pimientos del padrón.”
If you prefer your adventurous moments to not involve the palate then fear not, there are plenty of other tasty tapas options to choose from. Indeed, some of the best tapas in Barcelona are also the simplest, and when prepared properly it’s easy to see why. Read our guide to discover what the tapas experience is really all about.
You can rate the quality of a Barcelona tapas restaurant by the way they prepare this deceptively straightforward tapa of “bread with tomato”. At its best, freshly baked rustic bread is toasted to give a crunchy exterior that contrasts with the soft flaky dough. Garlic is gently scratched over the surface, and fresh sun-ripened tomatoes are cut in half and rubbed in to create a layer of sweet tomato pulp and juice. Premium extra Virgin olive oil is generously drissled, and a few flakes of sea salt are sprinkled on top. This is served warm.
At other end of the scale you get pieces of rubbery baguette painted with canned tomato and a splash of cooking oil, and will find yourself wondering what the big deal about Barcelona tapas is all about…
For tapas in the Born district we recommend: Ziryab, C/ Grunyi 4
Every single bar claims to make the “best patatas bravas in Barcelona,” but what does it really take to claim that title? Fresh local potatoes are diced and shallow-fried in olive oil for an even crunchy texture. They are accompanied with two typical home-made sauces, “all i oli”, a light and fluffy garlic mayonnaise, and “salsa brava”, a tomato-based sauce with a unique spicy flavour.
That’s if you’re lucky. Otherwise you might end up with chunks of potato that have not quite been properly defrosted and are dripping with old vegetable oil that tastes slightly of the calamari rings that they deep-fried yesterday. They will probably also be drowning under an exaggerated squirt of industrial mayo and ketchup.
A great restaurant in Barcelona’s Gothic district that does tasty tapas is: Los Caracoles, Escudellers 14
These breadcrumbed bite-sized croquettes are like a Catalan fortune cookie – you never know quite what’s inside until your break the surface, and even then it’s not always certain. Popular favourites are made with “bacalao” (salt cod), chicken, ham, or cheese, and blended into a creamy texture with mashed potatoes, vegetables and spices. Mixed vegetable croquetas make for great vegetarian tapas. Most tapas bars in Barcelona offer a “croquetas de la casa” option with their chef’s signature filling. As for the less delicious “croqueta” fillings, we can leave that to your own imagination…
For tapas by the Barcelona seafront we recommend: Barnabier, C/ de la Marina 16-18
When prepared to perfection, “cheese bombs” are an indulgent treat that release a warm explosion of local Catalan cheese blended with mashed potato, black olives and Mediterranean herbs. They can be accompanied by a sweet preserve made with fruit of the season such as raspberries, blackcurrants, or pears.
But if it’s not your lucky day they’ll be starchy, dense, and speckled inside with tepid reconstituted cheese that the microwave didn’t quite zap properly.
For a selection of classic and creative tapas try: Lonja de Tapas, Pla del Palau, 7
When you see “tortilla” on a tapas menu in Barcelona, don’t be misled into expecting flat Mexican savoury pancakes. These are thick omelettes which can be served warm or cold, and are usually accompanied by pan con tomate. The traditional recipe for tortilla de patatas or tortilla Española is made with fried (and dried) potato slices and onion held together by the egg omelette. Other favourites are made with artichokes, courgette, and spicy chorizo sausage. So simple, but when freshly made with good ingredients this an absolutely delicious dish.
Tapas in Barceloneta doesn’t get much better than: L’Ostia, Plaça de la Barceloneta, 1