Food Diary: Eating A Trail Through Barcelona And San Sebastián

This is a new column built around a simple fact: We like to hear Vince Mancini talk about food and travel. His first entry comes from San Sebastián and Barcelona.

I won’t say I base my travel choices entirely around food, but food — specifically cheap, delicious food and alcohol — generally accounts for at least 85% of the decision. I recently returned from a romantic trip to northern Spain, to Barcelona on the Mediterranean, and San Sebastián across the way on the Atlantic side in the Basque region. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they say the food in Spain is very good.

The stories were true, even the bad food was good. Or at least, showing up in a new city knowing nothing but what my eyes could tell me and a few recommendations from friends, we managed to not have a single bad meal. I live in San Francisco, which is also known as a food destination, but if you spent a week here sightseeing without getting stuck in at least one overpriced tourist trap, it would be a miracle. I have a few basic rules of thumb for avoiding them, sure, like not eating any place with pictures of the food outside, or at any place that employs a “barker” to drag in passersby, strip club style — the operating theory being that a place with good food wouldn’t need that (I guess I sort of need my food to neg me) — but even those probably would’ve been fine.

[Do other people have the constant, existential fear that you’re not eating the best meal you could be eating? This is a problem for me.]

I should be clear that this is not a list of recommendations. I would’ve had to spend at least another month in both places before I could feel even minimally comfortable saying that some place I went is a “must-eat” (note to Uproxx: I would gladly take on this task).

In any case, this is more just a travel diary, a flip book, a photo essay of some of food sampled. I ain’t tellin’ you what to do, but if you get some ideas out of it, wonderful. And anyway, I probably missed the really good places. It’s just this feeling I have.

Canelones de Butifarra Blanca, Tapeo, Carrer De Montcada, Barcelona

Catalonians have this amazing sausage, butifarra, and the best way I can describe it is that it’s spiced simply and tastes intensely porky but with a hint of funk, like a paté. It’s… really f*cking good. This was my first experience of it, served inside a canneloni, covered in bechemel and meat reduction from Tapeo, our first stop on a food tour (shout out to Jo from The Barcelona Taste).

Can you say rich? It tasted like Thanksgiving.

Pan Con Tomate, El Chigre, Barcelona

In other classic Spanish dishes you’ve probably heard of, pan con tomate. All it is is bread, rubbed with garlic, spread with grated tomato, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt. Essentially the world’s laziest bruschetta. And yet it’s really good, in a way that defies all logic (you know, provided you have access to stupidly delicious bread and sun ripened tomatoes). El Chigre’s was my first experience of it, and so will probably always be the best in my mind (pretty sure they lightly toasted the bread over charcoal, which is probably blasphemously fancy for this dish, but it was real nice). I can’t wait to attempt this at home and be thoroughly disappointed. (Yes, that’s more butifarra in the background).

Cone of meat and cheese, somewhere inside the Santa Caterina market, Barcelona.

CONE OF MEAT! CONE OF MEAT! Another thing you’ve probably heard about Spain, the sheer variety of cured meats (let alone the taste) is overwhelming. There are about a million different types and grades of Jamón Iberico (you can read Simon Majumdar’s poncily written but admirably thorough guide to them here) including the stuff from the pigs fed only acorns and cured for 1000 days. It’s a lot like prosciutto, except the fat actually turns to oil when it hits your tongue (…something something your mom).