We meet Esther, a Barcelona native, outside El Cafetó, a bakery on Ronda de Sant Pau in Sant Antoni. This is purely our meeting point, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, and so after introductions amongst our group we’re on our way.
I’m on a tapas tour organised by Context Travel. We are experiencing the local tradition of “pica-pica”, enjoying small plates over a glass of vermouth (or wine) before a meal. Our guide is Esther, who grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother. Catalan traditions and cuisine are in her blood. She is bubbly, and clearly very passionate and proud of Catalan produce and cooking.
A pica-pica food tour
To picar in Catalan, means to eat small portions of different types of food. Ideal places for this are the bodegas around Barcelona that specialise in this type of fayre. And for this tour we’re focussing on the area around Paral·lel.
Our first stop is the wonderfully rustic Els Sortidors del Parlament which is actually across the street from Poble Sec in Sant Antoni. This is a favourite of mine and, for good reason, is often popular with food tours.
This bodega, once a motorcycle garage, is one of the trendier places in now super-trendy Sant Antoni. They have an international selection of wines including many from Spain and Catalonia in particular. You can order from the wine list or better is to buy a bottle from the on-site wine shop and pay a €4 corkage fee.
We try the famous and ultra-Catalan pa amb tomaquet, which is bread rubbed with garlic and tomato and lavished with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. You prepare it yourself which is always part of the fun.
Accompanying this is a roasted vegetable dish with romesco sauce that is one of the best I’ve had. Romesco, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a tomato-based sauce that originated from Tarragona in southern Catalonia. Typically it’s made from roasted tomatoes and garlic, toasted almonds (also pine nuts or hazelnuts), and those small red and round, dried peppers you see hanging everywhere – ñora peppers. It’s an absolute winner and something you must try if you come here.
And finally, a cheese board with crisp bread and apple. The range of cheeses you can find throughout Spain is a revelation. The board ran the full gamut of goat, sheep and cow.
Neighbourhood favourite Quimet y Quimet
Our next stop is at neighbourhood favourite Quimet y Quimet. It’s touch and go whether we can get in as this tiny bodega is packed full. But the current fourth generation owners wave us in and we squeeze ourselves to a small standing room only table at the back. Quimet y Quimet is an institution. They serve montaditos, or small open sandwiches topped with an array of seafood, vegetables and condiments. They specialise in canned goods which Catalans hold in high regard – this is not the cheap stuff!
The last stop on our tour is Palo Cortao. One of the more modern tapas restaurants you will find around town. Named after the sherry Palo Cortado from the Marco de Jerez wine region in southern Spain. The owners and menu are influenced by their Andalusian and Catalan heritage and the two dishes we try here are typical of each.
First, the deep-fried artichoke slices so typical in Andalusia. Drizzled with dark and sticky cane syrup, like molasses. Alongside cannelloni. Very typical to Catalonia as well as Italy. They are called canelons and traditionally eaten on St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, with the canelons stuffed with the leftover meat from the previous day. Rich and delicious with a hint of truffle, it’s worth visiting Palo Cortao just for these.
Full stomachs and full of knowledge
There’s just three stops on this tour. But we leave full. Full stomachs and full of knowledge of Catalan cuisine and traditions. Of course you can go to these places yourselves. But as is always the case with these tours, it’s the wealth of knowledge and history about the place you live in or are visiting that really makes them worthwhile. It’s a wonderful way to spend an evening!
Find out more about Context Travel
I was a guest on Context Travel’s Barcelona Tapas Tour: Pica-Pica in Poble-Sec Walk. Their architecture tours in Barcelona are also great! And they’re not only in Barcelona. From Boston to Beijing, and Cape Town to Cartagena check out the cities available when planning your next trip. You can also get inspired via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.