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10 Barcelona dining hacks

Who’s hungry? Catalans adore eating, and especially love dining out, the epitome of social activity. They are lucky enough to enjoy one of the finest, most imaginative cuisines in Spain, and Barcelona is the best place to sample its rich variety. 
The cooking is an attractive mix of haute cuisine and the traditional rustic Catalan cooking. And of course, don’t forget the wonderful range of tapas to sample. When travelling to Barcelona, it can be helpful to understand the general norms around dining, so here are our top ten tips.

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When in Barcelona...

1. Barcelonians, like all Spaniards, eat late. Lunch usually isn’t eaten until 2 or 3pm. Dinner is served from about 9pm until 11.30pm, although at weekends people sometimes don’t sit down to dinner until midnight. You can usually get a meal at almost any time of the day, but if you enter a restaurant soon after the doors have swung open, you are likely to find yourself dining alone, or with other foreign visitors. You could always adopt the Spanish system, which is to pace yourself for the late hours by eating tapas.

2. However – if you want to get a table, you won’t suffer for arriving a little early, say, 1.30pm for lunch.

3. Barcelonians tend to eat a three-course meal at lunchtime, including dessert and coffee. Nearly all restaurants offer a lunchtime menú del día or menú de la casa, a daily set menu that is a really good bargain. For a fixed price you’ll get three courses: a starter, often soup or salad, a main dish, and dessert (ice-cream, a piece of fruit or the ubiquitous flan, a kind of caramel custard), plus wine, beer or bottled water, and bread. Typically, the cost is about half what you’d expect to pay if you ordered from the regular menu. The idea is for people to be able to eat economically near their workplace.

There are some great bars and restaurants in tourist-heavy La Ribera and the Barri Gòtic, but you should explore the up-and-coming neighbourhoods of Sant Pere, El Raval and Poble Sec for the best local finds. 

4. Most bars (also called tabernas, bodegas and cervecerías) serve food, often of a surprisingly high standard. Here you can have a selection of tapas, sandwiches (bocadillos in Spanish, bocats or entrepans in Catalan) or limited plats combinats at almost any time of the day.

5. Barcelonians don’t drink large, milky coffees after meals – caffeinate like a local with an espresso or a cortado.

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6. Reservations are recommended at Barcelona’s more popular restaurants, especially from Thursday to Saturday. Many are closed on Sunday night.

7. Breakfast is a trivial affair in most of Spain, Barcelona included, except at hotels that offer mega-buffets. Local people usually have a basic Continental breakfast (or ‘esmorzar’) consisting of coffee accompanied by bread, toast, a pastry or croissant.

8. It’s best not to go for tap water – most restaurants wouldn’t serve it anyway, as while safe, it doesn’t taste very good. Stick to filtered or bottled water.

9. Don’t be shocked or put off if you see that red wine in Barcelona is served chilled. In the warm summer months, red wines actually need to be cooled to somewhere in the region of 15–18 degrees – and in fact, a bar taking this care is a bar you can trust is thinking about their wine.

10. Tipping isn’t really a necessity in Barcelona. Locals leave only a few cents or round up the change for a coffee or drink, and a euro or two for most meals, though fancier restaurants will expect ten to fifteen percent.

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