Nothing about the way that people eat in Barcelona feels natural to me.
In Barcelona locals wake late and nibble on pastries and coffee at streetside cafes.
I typically wake early and have a superfood green smoothie… after yoga of course.
In Barcelona lunch comes in multiple courses and diners sit and enjoy for hours.
I typically make myself a raw salad and take it for a picnic on the beach.
In Barcelona it’s not unusual to go out for dinner at midnight.
I typicallly eat early and go to bed before midnight.
But I don’t travel to do what is typical for me. I travel to get outside my comfort zone. I travel to try something new. I travel to learn from the locals.
So when I arrived in Barcelona after eating like the locals in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, jeez that food is heavy, I was determined to get the local flavor without sacrificing what makes me feel healthy and light.
I sampled the best tapas, hunted down green juice, shopped in local markets, and even cooked my own food. In the process I discovered how to eat in Barcelona, balancing decadence, local culture, and overall health.
Eat Light and Late
There’s a reason why businesses open late in Barcelona. Half of the city was out drinking and eating until the early morning hours. Adjust to their time clock and hit the street for breakfast around 9 or 10am. Locals tend to have toast or a pastry for breakfast with a cup of coffee from a bakery or cafe. If you’re going to have a pastry, which you should definitely try at some point, save it for the afternoon and start your day with fuel instead. Order a hot water with lemon and a Tortilla Espagnola (delicious traditional dish of egg baked with potatoes) or homemade plain yogurt with fresh fruit.
While much of the Western world rushes through the day, in Barcelona it’s totally acceptable to sit down for a multiple course lunch. This is also the time of day when you will find the best deals. Most restaurants offer what’s called a “Menu del Dia” which includes your choice of a starter, an entrée, bread, a drink, and dessert, typically for around 10 euros. Yes, you read that right. 10 euros. What in the what?! The Menu del Dia is usually displayed on a chalkboard outside of the restaurant with the choices of the day and the price. Keep it healthy by starting with a salad, skipping the bread, and opting for coffee or tea instead of dessert.
Take a Siesta
After such a heavy lunch, it’s no wonder the siesta is a huge part of Spanish culture. And how else are you going to stay up until 11pm for dinner? Many shops and restaurants close for the afternoon and don’t re-open until evening, giving you the perfect opportunity to take some rest back at your room or a nap on the beach.
Tasting little bites of local Catalan cuisine is easily the most enjoyable eating experience in Barcelona. The city is full of excellent restaurants where you can sample all kinds of local dishes in small portions. Which, in my opinion, is the best way to eat when you’re going out. Nothing feels too heavy and you can graze for hours.
You remembered to take your siesta didn’t you? Restaurants tend to open in the evening around 7:30pm, so plan on heading out after 8pm. When you get to the tapas bar, snag a table ASAP then look around to see what others are nibbling on. You can point and order what looks good, especially effective if you don’t speak Spanish. Get things started with some local cava, sparkling wine for around 2 euros. Some of my favorite light bites include patatas bravas (fried potato chunks topped with spicy red pepper sauce and garlic aioli), grilled octopus, clams in white wine broth, and bombas (mashed potato ball stuffed with meat, fried crispy, and topped with bravas sauce).
There are so many wonderful options, but my top recommendations for tapas bars in Barcelona include: l’Anxovieta (make sure to get the bombas!), La Pepita (order a Gin and Tonic) La Xula Taperia, Ale & Hop (vegetarian and vegan tapas!), and Betlem.
If you want to scope out the different neighborhoods, the Hop on Hop Off Barcelona bus stops at all of the major tourist destinations and makes navigating the city quite easy.
Join the Experts
If you really want to learn about the food culture of Barcelona, join a food tour with Devour Barcelona. They take small groups on an intimate culinary journey through Gracia, both the trendiest and most traditional neighborhood in Barcelona, showing you the hidden gems. You’ll visit local dives, sample quality olive oil, nibble on cheese in the market, learn to make your own tapas, and gain a thorough understanding on what to eat, where to eat, and when to eat. I highly recommend taking the tour on one of your first days in Barcelona so that you can double back to your favorite restaurants for more. Some of my favorite experiences included having morning cava with the locals in a family owned bar and grazing through a beautiful food market. Celiacs, vegans, and health nuts need not shy away, they graciously accommodate dietary restrictions! You can find out more information or book your tour here.
Keep it Clean
The key to tasting all of the decadent treats in Barcelona is to balance it out with fresh greens. Fortunately Barcelona has a large selection of healthy restaurants and juice bars. My favorite is the restaurant group of Teresa Carles, which includes Flax and Kale, Teresa Carles, and Teresa’s Juicery. All serve fresh pressed superfood juices, my favorite is the Green Love made from spinach, apple, cucumber, celery, ginger and lemon. Teresa Carles is entirely vegetarian and has a DIY salad bowl (my favorite lunch always) while Flax and Kale is flexitarian and has a raw menu. Both serve a raw kale salad with spicy miso dressing that I loved. Some other popular spots for healthy food and raw salads include: Biocenter, Copasetic (big gluten free menu), Veggie Garden, and Woki Organic Market. There are also plenty of small organic grocery shops throughout the city where you can pick up raw organic veggies, healthy deli items, and all kinds of dried superfoods. Find an extensive list here.
Have Home Cooking
As much as I love dining out, I miss home cooking when traveling. Eating healthy is so much easier when you can cook for yourself, and it’s a great way to save money. This is why I tend to stay at places that have kitchens where I can prepare myself meals and snacks. For a local Barcelona experience, stay in one of Retrome hotel’s apartments which come equipped with mini kitchens, perfect for preparing healthy breakfasts and picnics. The small boutique hotel operate sustainably, using the original finishes in its renovated Deco rooms along with repurposed Mid Century furnishings. Because it’s such a small hotel you get excellent, personal attention.
You can shop for groceries at one of Barcelona’s many wonderful food markets (Mercado de la Boqueria on Las Ramblas is by far the most famous and touristic, Mercat Abaceria in Gracia is authentic and local) and at some of the organic shops mentioned above.
Have you been to Barcelona before? What did you eat there? Tell us in the comments!
(Full Disclosure: Devour Barcelona sponsored my food tour and Retrome provided a complimentary stay. As always my recommendations are 100% genuine.)