Matt Goulding

If he’s not propping up at a tapas bar in his adopted home city of Barcelona, the co-founder and publisher of Roads & Kingdoms is probably scoping out the rural barbecue scene in his native North Carolina. Or somewhere else in the world exploring the sweet spot where food, travel and culture come together. Goulding’s trophy room includes a James Beard award and an Emmy, plus his book series Eat this, Not That has sold more than 10 million copies. For The Local Tongue, he shares his advice on what to eat (while side-stepping what not to) when in Barcelona.

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The Best Of The Boqueria

The Boqueria is massive, and while they’ve closed a fair number of stalls in recent years, it’s still a huge, kick-ass market. If you want to wander around and take it in, make sure to go before 10am – that’s when you’ll have the market to yourself.

From a strict eating perspective, the Boqueria has loads of options, but for me, there has and always will be two stars of the market. The first is called Pinotxo which is kind of the first place you see when you walk in. I’ll go there in the morning and grab a café con leche (coffee with milk) from Juanito, who is no doubt the undisputed king of the Boqueria in terms of presence and energy. He’s been making café con leche in the same position, wearing the same bow tie for more than 60 years. Also take a xuixo, which is a local croissant that’s crispy on the outside and filled with cream on the inside. It’s your traditional go-to sweet breakfast, and these guys make extraordinary ones. The other option is to go full-on and full-in with an esmorzar de forquilla, which really just means ‘breakfast eaten with a fork’, because well, it’s intense stuff; things like garbanzos (chickpeas) are braised with morcilla (a type of blood sausage), classic Spanish tortilla, braised tripe and cap i pota which is a traditional Catalan stew made using both the foot and the face of a cow essentially; so you get all kinds of beautiful, gelatinous textures.

The other star of the market is El Quim de la Boqueria, which is a very special place to me personally. It’s been around for quite some time and has almost doubled in size over the last few years. They have an extraordinarily long menu for a relatively small place; it’s basically an encyclopedia of Catalan cooking. He cooks amazing huevo frito – fried eggs in olive oil served with little baby squid or with seasonal wild mushrooms – and he does the greatest fried artichokes that you can get in Barcelona. That and a bottle of Cava and you will instantly be in love with Barcelona before noon has even hit. It’s a good way to start the day.

There’s a great new spot that people haven’t really caught onto yet: a new place on the edge of the market called Direkte. It’s run by a well-known, local chef, and it’s very seasonal, market-inspired cooking but with little modernist touches here and there. It’s more progressive and ambitious than what you’ll find in the market centre. It’s definitely special.

Bring The Boqueria Outdoors With A Picnic In The Park

I always tell people few countries in the world are better for building a picnic than Spain, and Barcelona is a damn good place to start. It’s also a great wat to support the vendors and help sustain the traditional market model. Don’t buy smoothies, don’t buy the fruit cups – buy real products. Support the vendors that have been there forever, so buy fresh seasonal fruit and use that for a picnic instead. These vendors are very specialised in what they offer, and so it gives you the chance to just lay-out the very best version of all the things that you like to eat; from the bread all the way to great local wines.

For all manners of charcuterie, I go to a place called Aroma Iberic: here you have the best jamon, the best cured pork, really great cheese. In the back of the market is a place called Petra’s – he is the mushroom king of Catalonia. He has truffles, hard-to-find ingredients and you should buy some great dried mushrooms to take home.

There are loads of picnic spots around. You could go to Ciutadella Park, which is probably the largest central park in Barcelona, or Güell, the famous Goudí park – it’s probably a little crowded, but still an amazing spot. Also, down to the beach is always a good option. The last one is up on Montjuic – the mountain where they built the Olympic stadium – there’s lots of great spaces up there.

How (And Where) To Eat Tapas Like A Local

A place that’s really great for tapas is called La Plata. I took Bourdain there when we were filming an episode for Parts Unknown. It’s just the best of these classic Southern Spanish-style tapas bars where they only serve a handful of things – they’re not trying to cook something for everyone which is what a lot of the Barcelona places do. There are so many of these places that will serve 30 to 40 different tapas, which is totally fine. It’s a good way to eat, don’t get me wrong, and it’s certainly a nice way to see a lot of different kinds of Spanish food, but that’s not where the tradition comes from. The tradition comes from going to one place, eating one or two things and then going to the next place and eating one or two more things.

La Plata is the best exponent of that culture in Barcelona. We always start our Saturday there, it’s like our version of brunch. They do pescaíto, which are little tiny fried fish, a little tomato salad and butifarra which are pork sausages – and that’s the entire menu. Enjoy that with what’s called a porron – a little glass pouring jar that they traditionally drink wine out of throughout Spain. You don’t see it very often, but they have it there and it’s a nice way to drink.

You can go from La Plata to a place called Xampanyet – it’s pretty well-known and there will be tourists there for sure, but it’s great. They do great bacalao (dried salted cod) and get the classic Spanish tortilla (egg and potato omlette) that they make in the moment and comes out hot and just really well cooked.

If friends are in town, we’ll most likely jump from here to a place called Bar del Pla. They do a couple of things really well – like the jamon croquettes and patatas bravas – but the other 20 or 30 things that they cook there are not that great, but it’s a good end to a three-stop mini tapas crawl.

Where The Locals Eat

Laura and I really love to go to a neighbourhood called Barceloneta, which is sort of the fisherman’s quarters of the city, and eat at a restaurant called La Cova Fumada. It’s just an old hole-in-the-wall spot where they serve really, really great seafood which they cook a la placha, on the flat-top griddle. There’s calamari, baby octopus and fresh sardines – which are always sprinkled with garlic and parsley at the end which is super Spanish – and they do beautiful grilled artichokes. It’s really satisfying stuff, pretty cheap, always crowded but always fun. You can’t really lose there, it’s a special spot for sure.

Another thing you should eat in Barcelona is rice, like paella, or what’s even better is a dish called fideua – it’s like paella but made with short vermicelli rice-noodles and it’s very typical here along the Catalan coastline. There’s a handful of places in Barceloneta that do this dish very well. Can Majo is one of them, but my favourite one along the beach would probably be Chiringuito Escribà. On a hot summer day, the Spaniards, the locals, love to go to those places.

There’s also Martinez, which is actually not along the beach but on the mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. It has some pretty amazing views, and they do really good rice dishes, and great seafood too. It’s a beautiful spot.

It’s All About Cava In Catalonia

Laura my wife is from the area of Catalonia where cava (Spanish sparkling wine) is from, so we drink quite a bit of it, almost exclusively really. It’s just what you want to drink on a hot day in Barcelona. There’s everything from totally drinkable five-year-old bottles to really beautiful, transcendent 100-year-old bottles of cava, and then there’s everything in between. People who have it for the first time usually walk away totally converted. There’re all kinds of great Cava makers here, but Juvé & Camps make very good, accessible stuff, and there’s also Raventós – they’re larger producers but they make stuff that’s easy to find and also pretty good.

Natural Wine Bars

The natural wine scene has come up quite a bit in the Priorat area, just south of here – which is definitely a place I tell people to check out. But you can also find plenty of great natural wine bars here in Barcelona. Bar Brutal was one of the first natural wine bars to show up in Barcelona. It’s run by two Italian brothers, the Colombos, and they’re really great restauranteurs. Bar Brutal has really excellent small plate cuisine with a pretty expansive selection of natural wines, which they do well in all of their restaurants. They have a place called Xemei, and one of the more recent ones is called Franki Gallo Cha Cha Cha – undoubtedly one of the best pizza places in Barcelona with, of course, good natural wines to match. It’s a cool scene.

Vermouth Renaissance

The other beverage to think about when you’re in Barcelona is vermouth: dark, sweet vermouth. It’s traditionally been a strong part of the culture but went through a bit of a lull when it kind of became relegated to what the old guys drink in the afternoon, but it’s come back in a big way over the years. Now, the thing to do on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is go out and drink vermouth. It’s the perfect thing to do on a beautiful day. Everyone’s gathering, drinking and standing in and out the front of the vermouth bars. It’s a very social event.

When you drink vermouth, you want to be eating salty snacks like anchovies and potato chips deep-fried in olive oil: things like that. In fact, Spanish canned fish and seafood is extraordinary, and it’s also a big part of vermouth culture.

I’d recommend going to places like Morro Fi. These guys have three or four different bodegas around Barcelona, and they’re great places to drink, have snacks, socialise and really soak up the scene.

And then the heart of this new wave of vermouth culture is in an area called Sant Antoni, which is a very cool neighbourhood in Barcelona, and the street you want to go to is called Parlament. Parlament has about 10 or 12 little vermouth bars that on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon – or even on a weekday after work – are packed full of younger people eating and drinking. It’s a really cool part of the culture here, and most people don’t even know about it when they come to Barcelona.

Guide last updated August 2019

Our guides are fact-checked and updated every three months. Read more here.

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