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  • The Anonymous Hungry Hippopotamus

Barcelona Part 1: Tapas

Updated: Feb 22

Welcome to my series on the fabulous country of España. My visit to Spain was absolutely amazing. I had the opportunity to visit three major cities, starting with Barcelona, which is located in Spain’s Catalonia region. Barcelona was spectacular and surprising in so many ways. Some things I learned about Barcelona while I was there:

1) The city is older than Rome.

2) Barcelona is the most popular destination in Spain for international visitors (even though the capital city of Madrid is much larger).

3) The Eiffel Tower was originally intended for Barcelona, but the city rejected the bid.

4) Barcelona served as Spain's capital from 1937-1939.

5) Barcelona is the first and only city in the world to be awarded a Royal Gold Medal for architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

My trip to Barcelona included many stunning elements that I am excited to share in upcoming posts. For now, I will start with the experience I had on my first night in this gorgeous, Mediterranean city.

After landing at the airport, checking into my hotel and wandering up and down Las Ramblas (a pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of the city, made up of five different streets) to take in as much as I could, I headed straight to a food tour, featuring what else? Tapas of course -- Spain's most popular food.

Tapas are Spanish snacks, canapés, or small plates. The very best place to start on a tapas journey is Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, more commonly known as La Boqueria. La Boqueria is located in an enviable spot, just off Las Ramblas.

La Boqueria is Barcelona's most famous market and one of the best food markets in the world. The market's roots can be traced to the 13th century. Today, it is a collection of food stalls that features the city and country's freshest, most authentic and most celebrated foods. Below are some examples that still have my mouth watering when I reflect on them.

Salami Cone

Let me start by saying that the quality of the salami by itself was excellent. Add to that the assortment of outer coatings like black pepper, curry powder, Italian seasoning, garlic, and more, and this snack was superb.

Potato Chips

These spiraled and skewered potato slices are deep fried to create fresh, crispy, flavorful chips. This was such a fun way to enjoy one of my favorite, guilty pleasures.

Oysters and Sea Urchin

La Boqueria is filled with seafood stalls featuring the freshest catches of the day. At this stall, we selected whichever oysters or sea urchin we wanted. The vendor then opened and cleaned them for us to enjoy on the spot. So delicious!

Jamón Ibérico

This cured pork comes from the leg of Black Iberian pigs that live in a small, southern region of Spain. The aging process for this meat takes anywhere from a year and a half to three years. The result? A bright red, tender, hand-cut, slice of meat, that is well marbled and melts in your mouth. Unlike other pork products, jamón ibérico is meant to be served at room temperature for maximum enjoyment.

During my time in Spain, I learned that my favorite way to consume jamón ibérico is between two pieces of freshly baked bread. Simple and delicious!

Fresh Fruit Stand

Stands like these were everywhere, tempting you with fresh, bright, colorful produce at the peak of ripeness.

Every stall I passed was a sensory feast. There were stalls selling meats, cheeses, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, bread, pastries and more. I could have strolled through the aisles for many more hours alongside other fascinated visitors and the locals, eager to complete their routine shopping. Alas, it was time to go however. I resolved to return later during my trip to explore more.

From La Boqueria, our group headed to Irati Taverna Basca, located in the heart of Barcelona's Gothic neighborhood. Irati specializes in pintxos, which are small snacks hailing from the Basque region of Spain. The ingredients are often, but not always, served on bread and/or skewered with toothpicks, as you will see below.

Soppressata, Flambéed Goat's Milk Cheese, Roasted Cherry Tomato

Roasted Red Pepper, Anchovy and Caviar

Manchego Cheese with Olive and Green Pepper

In addition to the pinxtos, Irati also provided us with samples from their regular tapas menu.

Baccalau with Olive Oil and Smoked Paprika

Our first dish was the baccalau. You may remember from my post about dining in Lisbon, that baccalau is a dried and salted codfish that is Portugal's national dish. It is also very popular in Spain.

Pan con Tomate

In the same way that baccalau was ubiquitous in Portugal, I think I saw this dish, also called "pan tumaca" almost everywhere I traveled in Spain. Pan con Tomate, which translates to "bread with tomato," is made by taking ample portions of tomato pulp, adding olive oil and salt and then smothering the mixture onto grilled or broiled bread.

Fried Artichokes

The only other fried artichokes I have had have been incorporated into an Italian fritto misto. This preparation was very similar and equally delicious.


Albóndigas are a type of meatball that originated in Spain. They are most commonly made with pork and beef, although I have seen some versions that incorporate lamb. After being lightly fried, they simmer in a rich, tomato-based sofrito sauce.

Tortilla Española

A tortilla española is an incredibly versatile dish. It can be eaten hot or cold, and as an appetizer, a snack or a main course. The dish is made with eggs and potatoes and from there, the variations are numerous. Tortilla española can be thin or thick, with insides fully cooked or oozing with egg yolk and the potatoes can be soft or crispy. The world famous, and notoriously innovative, chef Ferran Adrià ingeniously put potato chips in his version of this dish. See what I mean about versatility?

Padrón Peppers

At first glance, I thought I was being served Shishito peppers in Spain. I wasn't too far off. Padrón peppers are actually cousins of the Japanese, Shishito pepper. Both have a similar look, taste and preparation, and both are generally mild, but once in a while, you will find one packed with heat. Eating them is like a fun game of chili pepper roulette.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas bravas are crispy, fried potatoes. What sets them apart from regular, fried potatoes is the bravas sauce which is made with tomato puree, olive oil and hot and sweet paprika.

"Bravas" translates to "brave." The sauce is named as such because it is supposed to be spicy, and thus set aside for the brave. I did not find this sauce, or any of the traditional, Spanish foods I had on this trip, to be spicy at all. So, if you have an aversion to heat, don't let the name of this dish dissuade you from giving it a try.

Green Apple Hard Candy

I ended the night on a sweet note. This candy store and factory made hard candies of almost every imaginable flavor. I was able to record one candy manufacturing expert, creating green apple flavored candies that I had the pleasure of tasting when they were hot off the press.

This concludes the first installment of my Barcelona series. I'm looking forward to sharing more with you about this city, as well as two others in my upcoming posts about Spain.

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