Spain is huge in the culinary world. Eating is an extremely important social activity in Catalonia, whether in the evening with friends, at lunch in a local bar with colleagues, or with the traditional Sunday family feast. Lunchtime that is between the hours of 2 and 4pm is highly respected.
Catalan cuisine is quite different from the food of the rest of the Spain. In Barcelona, the mainstay diet is typically Mediterranean, with an abundance of fish, legumes, and vegetables, the latter often served simply boiled with a drizzle of olive oil. Pork, in all its forms, is widely eaten, whether as grilled filets, the famous Serrano hamon, or embutidos (cold cuts) from inland Catalonia.
Some restaurants in Barcelona close on Sunday and Monday, so check ahead of time before heading out. There are not so many tapas bars as in the rest of Spain. If you want to get a true taste of Catalan cuisine, stay away from touristic places as La Rambla or the Sagrada Familia area.
Few words about Paella. Originally from Valencia, is very much an eaten dish here in Catalonia. It needs to be cooked up fresh and tends to be a big social ritual. Friends get together at the weekends with a giant pan and gas burner to cook up lunch with much fun and laughter. Of course you can order it in a restaurant as well, but please don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that this is the main cuisine of the Catalonia.
The day in Catalonia, as in the rest of Spain, starts with a light continental breakfast, often in a bar. Most Spaniards have strong coffee with hot milk or a shot of espresso “cut” with a dash of milk. Most people just have a croissant or doughnut. You can also ask for a bocadillo (roll) with cheese or grilled meat or cold cuts or ask for a bikini that is an old-fashioned toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich. They also offer the list of combination plates, that consist of a fried egg, french fries, bacon, and a steak or a hamburger.
Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Barcelona. Lunch usually includes three or four courses. You can ask for a menú del día (lunch of the day). It begins with a choice of soup, salad, or vegetables. Then follows the meat, chicken, or fish dish, simply grilled or in a rich stew or casserole. Desserts are light: Fruit, yogurt, or a crema catalana, kind of crème brûlée. Wine and bread are always part of the meal. Lunch is served from 1:30 to 4pm, with “rush hour” at 2pm.
Dinner is the perfect time to try the quintessential Catalan snack pa amb tomàquet – rustic bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato pulp, served with cheese, pâté, or cold cuts or to go to the tapas bar. If you choose a restaurant, expect a slightly finer version of what you had at lunch but with a larger bill, as the set-menu deal is a lunchtime-only thing. The usual dining hour is 9pm. In touristy areas and hardworking Catalonia, you can dine at 7-8pm, but you may find yourself alone in the restaurant.
N.B. All mentioned above is of course accompanied by some glasses of cava, wine or beer and great friends!
Bonne Appétit, or as they say here in Catalonia ‘Bon Profit’.