Studying abroad in Spain for the semester or planning a trip to Barcelona? Everyone knows the best of traveling is the food (right?), so we’ve got a whole guide to all the best Catalan food you need to try.
Catalonia, the region of Spain along the northeastern coast, encompasses a whole range of Spanish geography and culture. From the famous Costa Brava to the Pyrennes mountains, big cities like Barcelona to smaller ones like Girona and Tarragona, there’s a huge variety of things to do—and food to eat. Keep scrolling for our guide on all the must-try foods while you’re visiting Catalonia!
Breakfasts in Catalonia—and Europe in general—are often smaller than a standard breakfast in the US. A typical breakfast in Catalonia includes coffee, orange juice and some kind of toast or pastry. Pa amb tomaquet (aka pan con tomate) is a traditional Catalan dish that’s literally toast with tomato, garlic and/or cheese on top. It may sound simple, but you’ll find yourself craving it after a few days exploring the region!
Of course, any kind of croissants or pastries are also a go-to breakfast staple, and you’ll be able to find them at any cafe.
Ensaimadas: This pastry originated in Mallorca, one of the Balleric Islands off the coast of Barcelona. But they’ve become quite popular (for good reason!) in Catalonia as well. Light, airy dough twisted into a spiral and topped with powdered sugar makes this pastry very addicting. Once you taste them, you’ll want one every day, so be prepared.
Traditional Catalan foods
During the rest of the day, there’s plenty of unique Catalan food to eat! Which ones can’t you miss while you’re there?
Paella: It’s hard to think of Spain without thinking of paella. While it originated in Valencia, each region of Spain—Catalonia included—has their own unique takes on the dish. What is it? A giant skillet of fried, spiced rice, with an assortment of ingredients mixed in, from veggies to seafood or chicken to sausages. In Catalonia, since it’s so coastal, you’ll find plenty of seafood paella.
You should also be sure to try arros negre, which looks like a black paella. The dish’s squid ink turns the rice a deep black color. Don’t let the color scare you off—it’s a regional specialty!
Escalivada: This basic dish makes a perfect appetizer or dish at a tapas restaurant—a plate of colorful grilled veggies, sometimes served over toast. Usually there’s bell peppers and onions and sometimes other veggies too.
Suquet de peix: One of the most traditional Catalan dishes, you’ll find this at most restaurants in Catalonia. It’s a fish stew, usually made with vegetable broth, potatoes, and a mix of white fish, prawns and/or mussels. Even if you’re not a big fish fan, it’s worth tasting at least a bite!
Patates braves: These are a staple in any tapas restaurant in Catalonia. For this dish, potatoes are diced, then friend and topped with a spicy sauce. Whether you’re ordering tapas to share with friends before a night out and grabbing a snack to down by yourself, patates braves are a classic Catalan food.
Jamón and botifarra: Spain in general is famous for it’s cured ham (similar to the Italian salamis) and sausage. You’ll find plenty around the Catalan region as well. Fuet is one of the more popular local varieties, which you can find at just about any local market or street food vendors. Popular markets like the Boqueria Market in Barcelona have dozens of stands selling paper cones of sliced fuet with cheeses and breadsticks for just a few euros. They make the perfect afternoon snack while exploring the city!
Crema Catalana: No doubt the most famous dessert of Catalonia, this is similar to the French crème brûlée. It’s very similar, with its custard base, but then is topped with caramelized sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest.
Xocolata con churro: Just what it sounds like: a set of churros with a small cup of thick drinking chocolate. It’s the perfect drunk food or late-night snack. Dunk the churros in the dipping chocolate, then devour (and drink the rest of the chocolate at the end). Also, the best part of these? You can find them (and eat them!) at any time of day, even during breakfast.
What to know about tapas
Tapas are very popular in Barcelona, and across Catalonia and Spain in general. You should definitely indulge in them as often as possible! You’ll typically find tapas—small plates—at bars and restaurants as appetizers. At some bars, they may offer you a small plate of tapas to go with your drinks (on the house!). However, more and more tapas bars are making tapas the main attraction. Go with your friends, order a bunch of small plates and then enjoy tasting a variety of foods to make a full meal.
Any Catalan food can become a tapa, it’s just a smaller portion of it. However, some of the more common tapas include patatas bravas, cured ham, cheese, croquettes, and pa amb tomaquet.
Street food stalls and local markets are also great places to try traditional foods. La Boqueria de Mercato in Barcelona is one of the larger (and more famous) markets. But each city will have local markets to explore.
Drooling for some Catalan food? Get a cheap ticket to Spain and save your money for the paella.