The region of Catalonia has a strong culinary reputation, both for its traditional staples and "nueva cocina española," a cutting-edge gastronomical deconstruction movement headed by native chef Ferrán Adrià. Adrià, arguably the most famous and imitated chef in the world, turns foods into foams, mixes unexpected flavors... he's essentially converted cooking into a grand experiment. The price, however, matches the innovation, so if you want to try any of his or his disciples' restaurants, book far in advance and dig deep into your pockets for this cult foodie experience.
On the other hand, classic, down-to-earth, Barcelona food would be impossible without a handful of essential ingredients. Olive oil, garlic and tomato are the top three without a doubt. Barcelona cuisine is characterized by an innate creativity that other Spanish regions lack. For example, raisins and nuts are often mixed into vegetable dishes; rabbit is combined with snails; poultry or meat is cooked with fruit.
Due to its proximity to the Mediterranean, Barcelona food includes great seafood dishes. You will also note neighboring influences from France and Valencia; the latter because Catalan cuisine includes a variety of rice dices, variations on the typical Spanish paella. Here are some essentials:
Pa amb tomàquet
Take a nice, thick slice of toasted rustic bread, rub some garlic and fresh tomato on top, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil to boot and add a pinch of salt. There you have it, pan amb tomàquet, a Catalan staple and breakfast favorite.
Sarsuela is a seafood medley - it's the variety show of Catalan food. It can contain any combination of different types of white fish, prawns, shrimp, squid, mussels, clams, crayfish or lobster. All of these ingredients are combined in a casserole with olive oil, tomato, lemon, paprika, white wine, sherry and other spices. Yum.
Like paella, fideua is cooked in a large, flat, circular pan with a combination of shellfish, poultry, meat and vegetables. Instead of rice, however, the base is fideus - short, skinny noodles.
The most ubiquitous Catalan desert, crema catalana is a delicious cold custard with a crispy, caramelized sugar coating.
Calçots are a local kind of baby onions charred over an open flame but tender on the inside. They're then braised with romesco, a special Catalan sauce of tomatoes, red peppers, garlic, almonds and olive oil.