catalonia-spain

The food in Catalonia is incredible

Nutrition is obviously a very important aspect of marathon training. Plenty of carbs to help your muscles recover, nothing fried, absolutely no beer, wine or anything alcoholic. And of course, the Famous Pasta Challenge—eat as much pasta as you can the night before as fuel for race day. It’s good then, that I chose Barcelona, home to Estrella lager and deep-fried tapas, as the place where I was to run my second-ever marathon. Still, plenty of winding streets to wander for some distance in my legs; plenty of delicious (deeeee-licious) food to fill my belly and fuel my machine… I suppose.

Whether I ate too much food, only my undisclosed marathon time can decide. This article will look instead at how I discovered Catalan food at exactly the wrong time in my life, and how I can’t stop thinking about it since I came back.


Before travelling to Catalonia for the first time, I never really got tapas. Sharing food?! As a son of the gritty, rainy north of England, I’m more tuned to sitting in front of the telly alone to eat my tea. I’ve normally got my hood up and my head down, finishing my meal before somebody else does. I now realise the error of my ways—the raw tang of fresh garlic on a pan catalan is better shared and you should probably never (ever) attempt to finish a full Spanish tortilla alone.

So here I was, gearing up for race day with a whole new palette to discover.

An ode to patatas bravas

If you don’t know patatas bravas, think of them as chips’ cool foreign cousins. Chips, ketchup and mayonnaise but they're crispier, with more bite and more fire. It’s chips with an accent; chips with a better dress sense than ours or chips that have been sitting cool in the hot Spanish sunshine all their lives.

patatas-bravas-barcelona

It’s a tapas dish consisting of cubed and (once, twice or even thrice) fried-til-golden potatoes. They are then smothered with a spicy tomato-based sauce known as salsa brava (brava meaning brave or fierce) and often come with a rich aioli acting as a cooling counterpoint. It’s a dish that encapsulates the simplicity of Catalan cuisine—everyday ingredients elevated by thoughtful preparation and bold flavours. 

El Cable Restaurant in Sitges

sitges-catalonia-spain

My holiday started with a few days in Sitges, around 40 minutes away from Barcelona on the train and perfectly away from the hustle and bustle. It was a training camp, both for my marathon and my stomach, and as soon as we arrived we tried the hotspot in town, El Cable. Even before you walk in, you can tell El Cable is a favourite amongst locals. At aperitif hour everybody stands outside and has a drink together—and that crowd seems to draw even more people to El Cable for small-plate flavours. 

The patatas bravas were some of the best potatoes I’ve ever tasted. Tangy salsa bravas would have been the sharp cherry on this cake if the aioli wasn’t as creamy, smooth and jarringly garlic as it was. The onion in the spanish omelette was sweet enough to cut through the buttery potatoes and eggs. We had blood sausage wrapped in filo pastry —delicious, if a little different—and I was introduced to pan catalan, a combination of fiery raw garlic and sweet tomatoes on fresh crusty bread. If raw garlic seems like a little much, a clove is simply rubbed on the bread before grated tomatoes are smothered on top.

It was all washed down by the most delicious of all—a crisp, cold (non-alcoholic—I’m training for a marathon, remember) glass of Estrella lager. If you’re looking for places to eat Sitges, this is it.

Barcelona as a culinary capital

Barcelona is a rich tapestry of foodie culture. For myself, this was mostly enjoyed in the Gothic Quarter. A tourist hotspot in Spain it may be, but the labyrinth of streets offer all sorts of dishes from around the world. Japanese ramen—girthy noodles sitting in a rich, spicy broth, pork char siu, a dyed egg with a perfectly jammy yolk and crispy nori all served in a massive (enormous) bowl—was enjoyed at the delightful Koko Restaurant. I would absolutely recommend it.

ramen-restaurant-barcelona

Peru, too, seems to be a running theme of Barcelona. Carmela was the unfortunate Peruvian restaurant where patrons and waiters had to watch me chew through dense carbohydrates immediately before my race. I ordered two portions of patatas bravas for myself, some kind of “sausage” sandwich, which wasn’t as us Brits would expect, and a portion of pig cheeks, mash potato and gravy. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but it was delicious to eat—and the free Pisco sour as we entered the restaurant was a perfect pre-race aperitif. I’d recommend it. The vibes in this restaurant were impeccable.

The final stop of this literary odyssey of Barcelona’s culinary sensation is a simple shoutout to my hotel’s breakfast buffet. We stayed in the sensational Yurbban Passage Hotel & Spa, the second-best rated hotel on TripAdvisor. It could not have been better, especially the buffet. Freshly baked croissants and other pastries, crisp French bread, cheese from cows, goats, sheep and all sorts of different animals; fruit so fresh that it was picked from the trees of heaven itself and cold cuts. Oh the cold cuts.

A special mention goes to the chef making the sobrasada toast: a freshly-baked slice spread with soft sobrasada sausage and toasted with cheese on top. I confused the sweet notes for drizzled honey—I was wrong—I just never knew how sweet high-quality paprika could be. I couldn’t recommend it more—my girlfriend doesn’t let me talk about it anymore.


Race day came and went. Whatever. I ran 42km with a huge stitch and full of patatas bravas, but I had made it. That night we celebrated with an ice-cold Estrella on the hotel terrace at The Edition and ate takeaway pizza in bed. Me, a marathon runner, had come back from Barcelona one stone heavier.

Worth it. Go to Barcelona and try everything possible. I dare you.


If you want to try some beautiful food click here to find out more about Barcelona cruises.
 

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