Endless possibilities left my appetite deflated.
Most foodies know Barcelona as one of the top 5 cities in the world for food, many revere it as the 2nd best with Hong Kong holding the crown.
I was definitely looking forward to some epic meals as the plane landed. The Boquerie Market and dishes with Paeia, Jamon Iberico, and various small fish/shellfish were on my shortlist to check out. What I ended up finding was a land full of vendors selling pretty much the same thing and anything unique or special would need some heavy translation to decode the menu. I guess if I had a bigger wallet and a bit more time, I could just go on a limb and order everything everywhere I went (one day!). For this time, I just had to do my best with the time I had, but as the title suggests the mystery to find out what makes Barcelona so popular among food mongers remains unsolved.
What this massive port lacked in the food sector was undeniably made up in beauty and vibes. The city is just overflowing with charm. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’m well accustomed to the sketchiness that comes along with urban areas. However, after walking up and down hundreds of streets, I was met only with hospitality and pride. The streets being filled with independent merchants threw me back to a simpler time devoid of corporations and 401(k)s. It felt that everyone was just living.
Just three days after the tragic van attack, killing 13 and injuring over 100 people, is when I arrived in Barcelona, so naturally one of the first sites I ran into was this candle lit memorial on La Rambla. It was well into the wee hours of the morning when I first left my AirBnb, therefore the most famous street in Barcelona was abnormally peaceful. We strolled toward the ocean, sat at the Harbor, and watched our first Mediterranean sunrise. Polite natives rode up regularly on bikes with backpacks of beer and water to make sure we didn’t go thirsty. My wife and I ended up making friends with French travelers; so, consequently, we danced, drank, and exchanged stories of our distant homes. Our first night in Spain was one of the most inspiring experiences of our lives.
Bright and early, I set out grabbing a crappy cup of espresso and headed to the Boqueria market. This place is no joke, serving up all the culinary realness you could ever ask for. If I lived here, I would never go out to eat. I would just shop here everyday and cook non-stop. The supply of fresh seafood, meat, and produce goes on and on. Aside from that there are just a few notable places for tapas, the rest are just your run of the mill pop-ups you see everywhere else. Bar Pinotxo is the most classic of the three offering all the best Catalan specialties at the highest grade. Operating for over 100 years, they really know what they are doing so go ahead and order anything. Oh, and make sure to get there early or be prepared to wait, there are only 14 seats at the bar and it’s always packed. Great food never goes out of style. I also recommend going over to the seafood area and trying an oyster the size of your head (ha!). It’s not going to be the best oyster ever, but damn is it fun.
Throughout the rest of the day, the crew and I worked off our meal by traversing pretty much the entire city. The Gothic quarter was one of our first stops, and it should not be missed. It’s staggering how abruptly the architecture changes. The whole area is gorgeous with the pinnacle being the Gothic Cathedral. One of my favorite things about Barcelona is that from the many birds eye views, there are just a few massive structures that tower over everything else making the already huge building just look insane, kind of like when you see pictures of Shaq and his tiny wife.
From there we hung out at the Bunkers Del Carmel which was an awesome hilltop where again we were cheerfully offered beer and water for a Euro. Looking down, the city looks like a desert of buildings, the streets acting as cracks in the earth. We thought it was a good idea to try walking down one of those cracks all the way to the ocean.
After about an hour or so, I was stopped in my tracks by dangling beef just aging away in the window. Listening always to my stomach, we ventured in. The steak was served Argentinian style which I doused in chimichurri and fries, which I also doused in wonderful chimichurri. We were laughing and having a great time with the staff, so they set a bottle of liquor on our table and told us to have at it. This put a strange twist on our journey to the ocean.
Eventually, we made it and surprising enough there was a bar dug right into the sand with lounge chairs, fire pits, and music. We must have had great energy because the bartender went ahead and gave us our first round for free (God bless Barcelona!). The whole day I was adamant on jumping into the water, so when the clock struck 3:00 am and the bar closed, you better believe that’s exactly what I did…naked. Swimming in the Mediterranean in my birthday suit with my best friend and wife was a divine moment for all of us. We waved to the trucks raking the sand and cheered under the golden moon, and you better believe that when we got out there the polite after-hours beer merchants were there to greet us with a warm smile.
All in all, Barcelona was an incredible European venture filled with unforgettable moments. We snuck into a casino, ran around an empty Camp Nou, dodged pedestrian traffic in a bike cart from hell, and so much more. The Catalan people showed us a great time, its just going to take a few trips to really get intimate with the food culture, but as you can tell it won’t be hard to convince my friends on a return flight.