There's one certainty when travelling - for the BEST chance of finding the BEST food, eat where the locals eat! The question is - how do we find these local treasures? Who better to ask than the local guy who spends half his life roaming around the city in a car discovering some of the best cheap eats to satisfy his own palate - OUR TAXI DRIVER.
When we jumped into the cab at Barcelona airport, we were greeted by the all round awesome Albert, our very friendly taxi driver with startlingly blue eyes. Of course we asked him where his favourite place to eat was and like all Catalans (the region of Spain where Barcelona is situated) that seem to have an obsession with food - he pointed to his "larger" belly and said - "of course I know good places to eat. I eat too much. See?"
We thought "this guy knows his stuff", so after a record speed check-in at our hotel we jumped back into his cab with our empty bellies grumbling and told him to lead the way.
Now like every great story there was a bump in the road. Georges and I had managed to arrive in Barcelona on the second most "important public holiday" in the Spanish calendar behind Christmas. This meant most of the city was closed, including his pick of Tapas Bars - Cova Fumada (which was also recommended to us by none other than Nathan Sasi and sadly had closed down prior to our trip to Barcelona).
He dropped us off in the middle of the tapas and seafood hub of Barcelona - Barceloneta. The first restaurant we looked at was on the waterfront and looked like a breading ground for tourists being sold over priced food. A big no no for our taste!
We continued to follow our noses and see if we could find something more local. We were in search of a more authentic Catalan experience. Et voila, we stumble across a hub of activity near the main square. It was over flowing with the sound of Spanish chit chat and the beautiful smell of wood fire barbecued seafood and people spilling out onto the streets with a wine in one hand and a croquette in the other. By the looks of this place it was not a big gamble - so in we went.
We were seated in the back corner with a perfect view of all the goings on. The place was small but filled with all sorts - large family groups with babies crying in the hands of their grandparents and kids running around laughing. There was a young couple, an old couple, a few groups of friends and a couple of solo diners looking for a place to read the paper with a beer and deep fried calamari in hand. Not to mention the small bar at the entrance which housed the alcohol and some of the cold tapas. In the hour that we ate, this bar would have turned over 3 times with people just popping in and out for a quick drink and bite to eat - a culture that we are not used to in Australia, but I LOVED.
"TAPAS - noun. Small Spanish savoury dishes, TYPICALLY served with drinks at a BAR."
We dived into the 'picture illustrated menu' head first and went with our gut instinct. What did we have to lose. First up were the croquettes and these were the real deal. Deep fried cheese and Iberian ham, they were perfect little crunchy morsels. The texture on the inside can only be described as chewy, not at all what I was expecting but delicious none the less.
As you can see this restaurant is no frills, no fuss. Just amazing, authentic food presented simply and honestly. Continuing with our tapas experience came the anchovies in vinegar. Wow! The Spanish know how to let their food do the talking. The anchovies were seriously fresh and the vinegar didn't over power, it merely added to the rich Spanish flavours.
Next up was the pan fried octopus. It came served on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and seasoned with paprika. The octopus was cooked perfectly. it was not at all rubbery and the potatoes helped to compliment and carry the flavour of the beautiful seafood.
And finally, what's Spanish tapas without patatas bravas? Served how any well respecting potato should be, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and this time accompanied with a delicious pink sauce to dip (I have to admit I have no idea what the sauce was but it looked pretty and tasted fantastic!).
Our experience was topped off by our waiter who served us with a smile. He did his best to speak as much English as possible, which made me feel bad that I couldn't return the favour in Spanish, but he was happy enough to oblige.
Who knows if our Spanish stars were aligned and finding this place was pure luck or if we used our travellers know how to hunt down this local hole in the wall. Either way when it comes to scouting out authentic restaurants here are a few tips that we follow:
- Steer clear of the main tourist strips.
- Avoid big flashing lights and with a name spelt in anything but its local language.
- Look who is eating in the restaurant. If you see and hear people from that country then you're probably in the right place.
- Ask as many locals as you can where they eat. Not where they recommend you to eat.
Of course, these are simply a guide and like every good rule they deserve to be broken at times.