We had the chance to explore Barcelona’s food scene last fall when we disembarked from our Western Mediterranean cruise. While we already had the best dining experiences on the cruise ship and Tuscany, we knew that we should not miss Spain’s iconic and authentic local fare and went for what we considered our best tapas tour of Barcelona.
We were not disappointed! We enjoyed it and want to do it again as we plan to come back when Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is completed in 2026.
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Spaniards love their food. They typically eat more food in a day than most people in North America. But they do take their time eating, spread throughout the day. There are a number of books available to know more about Spanish food.
An average day of Spanish meals includes the following.
Breakfast (El Desayuno)
It is usually the smallest meal of the day. El Desayuno may include a hot café con leche (strong coffee with warm, frothy milk), or bollos (sweet rolls) with jam, toast with jam or mild cheese.
A more traditional version may have the famous churros, served sprinkled with sugar or dipped in hot chocolate.
Lunch (La Comida)
The midday meal or La Comida is the most substantial meal of the day, taken between 2–4 pm. It coincides with their two-to-three-hour break from work or school to enjoy lunch and take a short nap or siesta.
On our second day, we visited Montjuic, a historic mountain which was just a 10-minute taxi ride from our hotel. After strolling through the gardens and visiting Joan Miro Museum, we headed to Martinez, a local restaurant with a unique view of the port, the city and the sea. Their Socarrat rice (paella) and steamed monkfish were simply one of the best we have tried.
Socarrat comes from the Spanish verb socarrar (meaning to singe) and is an intrinsic part of paella, the proverbial icing on the cake (albeit in reverse). An authentic paella is cooked in a full, shallow metal pan so that the rice is thinly spread and touching the bottom that then leads to the crust formation.
Snack (La Merienda)
The late-afternoon snack in Spain is called La Merienda. It is necessary since there are typically five or six hours between lunch and dinner. Food can be anything from a piece of French-style bread with a bit of chocolate on top, or bread with chorizo sausage, ham, or salami.
When we visited the Picasso museum, we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant a few steps away from the entrance that served a selection of reasonably-priced tasty sandwiches.
Dinner (La Cena) and After Dinner
Dinner is a significantly lighter meal than lunch, generally eaten between 9 pm and midnight. The portions served at dinner are usually smaller. Dinner might include fresh fish or seafood or a piece of roast chicken or lamb with fried potatoes or rice. An omelet and fish with a green salad on the side are also quite common.
The typical Spaniards are night owls. They usually do not go to bed until around midnight. So, after the late-night dinner, Spaniards continue their socializing in neighbourhood cafés and taverns or go out to a nightclub or pub.
Little Meals (Tapas)
Have you heard the phrase “Vamos a tapear”? It means, “Let’s go eat tapas.” Having a verb coined for the purpose is a testament to how much people of Spain love their tapas. So what are these tapas? They are small plates of dishes like canapés or finger food usually taken well after breakfast but before the big mid-afternoon lunch or dinners.
The most common types of food eaten as a tapa are cured meats like jamón Iberico or chorizo, olives, cheese and other easy-to-prepare items. Dishes like fried potatoes with spicy sauce (patatas bravas), Spanish omelet (tortilla de patatas), fried calamari, or meatballs are also typical.
Tapas time generally involves hopping from one tapas bar to another (different ones at each stop), sip wine and chat. A tapear evening usually would go like this:
1. You arrive in a bar with your friends to have a good time
2. You order a drink and one or two tapas (often the house specialty) and enjoy
3. You ask for the check and pay
4. You move to the next place and repeat from step 1
5. You repeat the whole process between 2 and 4 times during the evening.
We had one such tapas tour in Barcelona, which we share below.
Our Authentic Tapas Tour Experience
We wanted to experience the world-famous tapas culture just like a local. As this was our first time in Barcelona, we decided to avail of the services of Hanna, a local host from Withlocals, to navigate us through the journey and afforded us a real authentic experience.
We collaborated with Hanna to come up with a private tour for our group of four, consisting of ourselves and our sister/brother-in-law from Texas. They were with us throughout our Western Mediterranean cruise. We had some constraints and preferences which Hanna took into account when designing the whole tour.
We met Hanna at the entrance of Santa Caterina Market, the starting point of our tapas tour. The market has an undulating, brightly coloured roof that would catch your eyes if you are in Barcelona Cathedral.
The charming exterior ushered us into a traditional market with food stalls and restaurants serving outstanding-quality produce. We had authentic Jamon Iberico, cheese and croquetas for starters.
From Santa Caterina Market, we walked to Euskal Etxea, a pintxos bar. Pintxos, usually found in the Basque country, are small disks of crusty bread topped with cheese, fish, meat or seafood and held together with a toothpick. In recent years, pintxos bars have been popping up all over Barcelona and getting popular with the locals.
The place was getting busy when we arrived. We immediately secured a space at a corner, while Hanna headed to the bar to order. When the waiter came with our pintxos, he also came with Hanna’s order of the bar’s specialty drink, a Spanish Cider. It was fun watching the waiter serve the cider. He raised the bottle over his head and splashed the cider into wide-mouthed glasses on his other hand below. We were a bit worried that he might spill it, but he did it with such ease and skill.
From there, we walked another couple of blocks and arrived at a bustling tapas bar – Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria). This place was crowded, rustic, and had an incredibly authentic old tapas bar ambiance. It was packed when we got there, and we almost can’t get in. Locals were enjoying their cavas paired with meats, sausages, and cheese and just chatting merrily. We blended with the crowd and were thrilled with the experience.
After we finished our order, we headed to another tapas bar at the other end of the district. This time, there were tables and chairs. It was a good break from all the walking and standing; also perfect as we were starting to get wobbly from all the alcoholic drinks we had. We indulged in the bar’s specialties of patatas bravas, pickled pepper, and of course, more wine. This time it was Spains’ popular vermouth.
The last stop before we finally called it quits was a stop at one of the local churro stands. To accompany the churros, we also ordered the Spanish hot chocolate – a perfect indulgence to cap the day.
We had an incredible and unforgettable tapas experience. Just looking at the pictures we took whets our appetite and makes us want to come back for more. We hope it did the same to you and inspire you to add Barcelona’s food scene and, more particularly, its famous tapas to your bucket list.
To have a personalized and authentic experience, it would serve you best to avail of the services of a local host. Check one out below!
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