Come on, Vámanos! Excuse the Dora the Explorer reference, but it’s officially the start of our Spring Break! My friend and I ended up choosing Spain and France because those two countries fit both her criteria of places to get some sun and my criteria of avoiding Bavarian food. Our first stop: Barcelona!
Barcelona, as a part of Catalonia, makes a conscious effort to distinguish itself from Madrid. Catalan, not Spanish, is most widely used in the city. This made reading menus a bit difficult at first, but not impossible. The food of the Catalan region is characterized by a strong Mediterranean influence.
We started with La Sagrada Família. Gaudí actually died before finishing the church, and most of his designs were lost in a fire. As a result, construction is still taking place, mostly based off of reconstructions of Gaudí’s original plans. It costs €11.50 to visit La Sagrada Família, and there are no student discounts. The interior is just as amazing as the outside. Most of the churches we have seen are quite solemn on the inside, but upon walking into La Sagrada Família we were met with a flood of brightness due to the white walls and color from the stained glass windows. It doesn’t take long to walk through the inside of the church, but you will find yourself lingering to stare at everything around you.
The back of La Sagrada Família has Jesus’ story carved into the wall. Looking at this masterpiece, I can understand why, in addition to the civil war, it took so long to complete the church. There’s a handy sign to tell you which scene is which, so you don’t have to strain your eyes to make out who is doing what in each carving.
After the church, we wandered around the Boqueria Market, a food market. There were dozens of stalls selling meat, cheese, seafood, nuts, and more. Wandering is highly recommended. From what I could tell, though, fruits and fruit juices appeared to be the most popular sellers.
Scattered between the merchant stalls are also pintxo (or pincho in Castellano) stalls, where you can grab a bite to eat. At pintxo stalls or restaurants, food skewered with toothpicks is laid out on a counter. At the end of your meal, you pay per toothpick. We wanted our first meal to include pintoxos, but all the stalls we saw were way too crowded. Some even had lines. As a result, we went with a plan B.
We chose a restaurant called Casa Guinart, located on an outside corner of the market. The restaurant looked busy when we walked in, and there were plenty of people sitting outside already, but luckily there were seats on the second floor. With its blue wooden tables and animal skull decorations, Casa Guinart definitely gave off a rustic ranch atmosphere.
We ordered bread (€2.50) and three tapas: patatas bravas (€4.90), roasted chicken croquettes (€4.90), and artichoke chips (€6). Tapas are mini dishes, so be prepared to order more than one. Typically, three or four should be enough for two people. The bread was homemade, and I appreciate the fact that it was made with wheat flour. A full bottle of olive oil is placed on each table, and we used it liberally.
Patatas bravas are the most common tapas dish, and each restaurant, bar, or taberna usually will have their own sauce. Patatas bravas are thick-cut fried potatoes served with tomato sauce, mayonnaise, or both. Out of all the patatas bravas we ended up eating in Spain, the one at Casa Guinart was our favorite. The potatoes were perfectly cooked, not too crispy, and the sauce was so addicting that I contemplated whether or not to dip the bread that we got in the leftover sauce.
The chicken croquettes were also well received. Crispy yet not oily on the outside, the croquettes had a creamy filling. Croquettes are also a common tapas offering.
My friend’s favorite dish was the artichoke chips. These were a bit too oily for my liking, but I wouldn’t expect anything less when something so delicate is deep-fried. At one point during the meal, my friend started pushing more chips in my direction to prevent herself from eating them all too quickly.
Casa Guinart is a great sit-down alternative for anyone not ready to fight for a spot at the pinxotos stands inside the Boqueria. The food was all solidly executed, but the more expensive prices decrease Casa Guinart’s score.
As a side note, I’d like to add that meal times in Spain are not like the US or UK. Lunch is usually eaten at 2 PM or later, and the earliest dinner will start is at 7 PM. This also means that restaurants will open later, typically until 11PM or midnight. Most restaurants will close between 5-7 PM for a break, so be prepared to adjust your internal clocks.
La Rambla, 95
El Raval, Barcelona 08001