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The Mediterranean Diet: Eat these 10 foods in Barcelona

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Ham in Barcelona
Ham, part of the Spanish diet. Photos by Regina W Bryan

We’ve all heard about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, but do people in Barcelona actually eat this way? The answer is yes, on average.

Here are a few foods that make up the daily diet of most people in Mediterranean Catalonia, which should be on your list of edibles to sample:

1. Ham

Oh yes, ham. Though I don’t ever eat it, just about everyone else does. Ham is not so much Mediterranean as Spanish, and is devoured throughout Spain. If you eat pork, try to find a bit of pata negra ham when you’re in the city, which is said to be the best. Note that whole legs of ham often hang, hoof, hair, and all, in bars and restaurants. The queasy may not crave ham after glimpsing these haunches.

Seafood is often on the menu in Barcelona.

Seafood is often on the menu in Barcelona.

2. Crayfish and seafood

They look like shrimp they are actually escamarlà, or crayfish. You’ll often get these clawed critters on top of a paella. Seafood and fish is an important part of the Mediterranean Diet and most restaurants offer at least one fish dish.

3. Cheese

Like its neighbor to the north, France, and many other European countries, Spain produces potent, make-you-eyes-water, cheeses. None of that Kraft crap here. If you feel lost when you go to the cheese counter at the market, order with these tips in mind:

• local is better, so if you’re in Catalonia go for a Catalan cheese from the Montseny area or Cadí

• about 200 grams will get you a nice packet of sliced cheese, though you may have to ask them to cut it up  (you can also just get a hunk of cheese by the gram)

4. Wine

Though Rioja and Ribera del Duero are the two most common wines in Spain, they are not produced along the Mediterranean. Order a Priorat, Montsant, Empordà, or Penedès for a wine from Catalonia. Other Mediterranean wines from the Balearic Islands – Formentera, Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca – are also worth a taste test if you can find them (they are not very common, though you will probably come across them at a wine shop).

5. Fruit

Often, fruit is served as a dessert instead of cakes and pies. Expect pears, apples, mandarines, pomegranate, figs, and oranges. Bananas are flown in from the Canary Islands. Berries, like blueberries and raspberries, are not the norm and are expensive.

6. Olive Oil

This liquid gold is on every dining table in every restaurant. It’s poured on salads, bread, and is a significant ingredient in many dishes. Spain produces the most olive oil in the world. More than Italy. It is delicious and inexpensive, so enjoy it! Of course, olive oil comes from the olive, which is also abundant and affordable. Green olives are more widespread than black.

7. Cava

A sparkling wine drunk across Spain but especially important in Catalan culture. Penedès, a cava-producing region just 45 minutes form Barcelona, puts out some of the best cavaon the globe. The majority of bars and restaurants in Barcelona will have a couple cava labels on the menu.

Tapas in Barcelona; not free, still good.

Tapas in Barcelona; not free, still good.

8. Bread

It is impossible for my Mediterranean husband to eat a meal without bread. A baguette from which to rip spongy chunks, a sliced loaf of wheat, a few seeded rolls… whatever, but there must be “pa” (bread in Catalan). Barcelona is filled with bakeries meeting the pa demand. I’m not sure if there are more bakeries or bars, both being such a critical part of the culture here.

9. Tapas.

Sadly, Barcelona is not the “land of tapas” I wish it were. Tapa culture is fabulous because tapas are usually free. In many villages in the south of Spain, and some parts of the north, when you order a drink, be it a beer or a Coca-cola, the bartender gives you a tapa for free. This could be something as simple as a plate of chips or an elaborate rice dish. Sounds great, right?

Well you can forget about it in Barcelona. Instead, you’ll pay for those tapas, which generally range between €2-€8 a plate. Just because tapas aren’t free here, does not mean that people don’t eat them, they do, and in copious amounts. Try an order of white anchovies in vinegar or steamed muscles.

10. Vegetables

Friends who have come to visit me in Barcelona have often been surprised by the wide array of veggies on most menus. I’m not sure why. I guess they didn’t expect large goat’s cheese salads. The Mediterranean Diet calls for lots of salads, steamed vegetables, and plant-based dishes. If you’re a vegetarian or simply like to eat fresh greens, you won’t have any trouble along the Med.

You’ll eat well in Barcelona if you shop at markets, bakeries, and you local wine shop. The Mediterranean Diet is a tasty one, a healthy one, and for the most part, an affordable one.

About the author

Regina W Bryan

About the author: Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.

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