Travels To: Where to Eat in Barcelona, Lisbon, & Sintra

 the view of the castle of the moors in sintra, Portugal, from pena palace

the view of the castle of the moors in sintra, Portugal, from pena palace

My favorite way to get to know a new city is through the food, and we recently did just that in Barcelona, as well as with a few stops in Lisbon & Sintra on either end. I feel so lucky to have been able to take this vacation just a year after coming back from Rome (and after studying abroad in Spring 2014 as well as traveling in Europe in Summer 2012). I never thought that traveling would be something that could potentially become a part of my life, and the past few years have helped me realize that it might be - if I budget!

This trip was so worth every home-cooked meal and homemade cocktail over a night out. When we were on vacation, I said so many times, "This is so worth being on a budget at home." Don't get me wrong - I'm on a budget for many other reasons, including student loans and simply just being a teacher, but prioritizing my spending and babysitting on the weekend paid off as we sipped creative cocktails at a speakeasy or splurged on last minute FC Barcelona tickets. Plus, being travel-savvy doesn't hurt.

How did we find such a great deal? As a teacher in Boston, we have school vacation in both February and April, so we used Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to go somewhere for one of those weeks. We found a flight to Barcelona for cheaper than some destinations in the United States, including flights to Florida or San Francisco. When you consider the cost of hotels or even AirBnB in the U.S. vs. Europe, I thought we might be able to pull off this Barcelona trip for a shockingly reasonable price - and we did! The secret to the cheap flight was that it was through TAP Air Portugal, and included a 15 hour layover on the way there (we headed to Sintra, which we loved!) and a 24 hour layover on the way back (when we explored beautiful Lisbon). We had never been to Portugal, so we saw this as a huge perk rather than an issue.

Overall, I fell in love with Barcelona. It is a cosmopolitan, modern city that is a total foodie destination and the perfect place for a fun, whimsical vacation. Our day trip for hiking in Montserrat was breathtaking and well worth the breath of fresh air from the city. Exploring Sintra was the best way to spend a 15 hour layover, and 24 hours in Lisbon enticed me to go back some day. I came home feeling both exhausted and energized, satisfied and more curious to explore the world.

In terms of travel recommendations, we loved our hotel, Hotel Ciutat Barcelona, in El Born district of Barcelona. We booked it on Black Friday for 30% off (!) and loved that they provided fridges full of water bottles on every floor, had a perfect location near almost every top restaurant and cocktail bar we wanted to try, and that it was across the street from a cinnamon bun bakery. Because duh. There's also a rooftop pool that looked amazing, but sadly it was a little chilly to utilize in February. Next time! Another must is an FC Barcelona game, if they're playing, as well as a day trip to Montserrat for some hiking. We did a fun cooking class with Barcelona Cooking and semi-successfully recreated the paella recipe at home last weekend. If you're looking for more info on trip logistics and other recommendations, please feel free to reach out via the "Contact" page. Planning trips is a weird, obsessive passion of mine, and I spent hours and hours researching to maximize our time and tummy space and stretch every dollar. I'm happy to share!

Now on to the real reason why you're here - THE FOOD. I'll share a few highlights of what we ate during our six day trip, although if you look at the photos you might think we were gone for three weeks. I thought about apologizing for how many photos there are, but isn't that the purpose of a food blog? Note: this is a small percentage of what/where we ate. I still aim to create a Europe guide e-book but being a first year teacher has put a damper on my plans to have a side project. It's coming, eventually, I promise. The more traveling I do before then, the more I have to add to it, right?


 after an overnight international flight, our first stop (once we got to sintra, 2 hours from lisbon airport) was  casa piriquita . We picked up travesseiro, a traditional pastry of Sintra, meaning pillow in portuguese. They are puff pastry filled with almond cream. The bakery has been open since 1862 and provided the perfect fuel for our exploration of the pena palace and moor castle.

after an overnight international flight, our first stop (once we got to sintra, 2 hours from lisbon airport) was casa piriquita. We picked up travesseiro, a traditional pastry of Sintra, meaning pillow in portuguese. They are puff pastry filled with almond cream. The bakery has been open since 1862 and provided the perfect fuel for our exploration of the pena palace and moor castle.

 Once we made it to our barcelona hotel and got a good night's sleep, our first "meal" in barcelona was  demasie , a cinnamon bun bakery, literally a dream come true right outside our hotel door. We went here many times over our few short days in Barcelona. our favorite cinnamon buns (served warm) were classic cinnamon, dulce de leche, and tiramisu. Huge shoutout to ali over at  gimme some oven  for this rec.

Once we made it to our barcelona hotel and got a good night's sleep, our first "meal" in barcelona was demasie, a cinnamon bun bakery, literally a dream come true right outside our hotel door. We went here many times over our few short days in Barcelona. our favorite cinnamon buns (served warm) were classic cinnamon, dulce de leche, and tiramisu. Huge shoutout to ali over at gimme some oven for this rec.

 we dove into spanish cuisine pretty deeply - in a cooking class! We learned how to make paella (along with crema Catalana and much more) and semi-successfully re-created this recipe at home last weekend. We truly enjoyed our experience at  barcelona cooking  and felt it was a great value for the money!

we dove into spanish cuisine pretty deeply - in a cooking class! We learned how to make paella (along with crema Catalana and much more) and semi-successfully re-created this recipe at home last weekend. We truly enjoyed our experience at barcelona cooking and felt it was a great value for the money!

 crema catalana in action at  barcelona cooking .

crema catalana in action at barcelona cooking.

 I could eat Chocolate con churros from  Churreria Laietana  every morning. we watched the elderly man fry the churros fresh and they were just perfect.

I could eat Chocolate con churros from Churreria Laietana every morning. we watched the elderly man fry the churros fresh and they were just perfect.

 We stopped at  BAR pinotxo  in La Boqueria market for breakfast on our last day in barcelona. It gets mobbed for lunchtime, so we totally accepted eating a savory breakfast. I had a version of this chickpea dish twice in barcelona and am looking forward to re-creating it at home. This version included blood sausage - which I was not aware of when I ordered, but it was delicious.

We stopped at BAR pinotxo in La Boqueria market for breakfast on our last day in barcelona. It gets mobbed for lunchtime, so we totally accepted eating a savory breakfast. I had a version of this chickpea dish twice in barcelona and am looking forward to re-creating it at home. This version included blood sausage - which I was not aware of when I ordered, but it was delicious.

 the highlight of our meal at  BAR pinotxo  ended up being this pastry that was gently forced upon us despite the fact that we were stuffed. It's called xuixo, and it's a deep-fried, sugar-coated pastry filled with crema catalana. It is even better than it sounds.

the highlight of our meal at BAR pinotxo ended up being this pastry that was gently forced upon us despite the fact that we were stuffed. It's called xuixo, and it's a deep-fried, sugar-coated pastry filled with crema catalana. It is even better than it sounds.

 5 miles and 4,000 ft into the air above the region of barcelona, we had carried a selection of meats and cheeses for our picnic lunch (in 20 degree weather). All thanks to  Vila Viniteca ! This included the famous Jamón ibérico, which yes, we ate after a long hike in 20 degree weather at the top of a mountain. It's fine. At the shop, We spent about 20 minutes sampling cheeses and meats, and the wonderful staff there were so helpful and friendly. We got a little nervous as we were tasting that this would be a $60 picnic, but it came to just 12.50 euro! 

5 miles and 4,000 ft into the air above the region of barcelona, we had carried a selection of meats and cheeses for our picnic lunch (in 20 degree weather). All thanks to Vila Viniteca! This included the famous Jamón ibérico, which yes, we ate after a long hike in 20 degree weather at the top of a mountain. It's fine. At the shop, We spent about 20 minutes sampling cheeses and meats, and the wonderful staff there were so helpful and friendly. We got a little nervous as we were tasting that this would be a $60 picnic, but it came to just 12.50 euro! 

 our best bang for our buck meal was the "menu del dia" at  la pubilla . the Menu del dia is a great way to try a more high end restaurant at a reasonable price, and I had researched a lot on what our one menu del dia would be - and I made a good choice. for 16 euro, we had a glass of wine, an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. Every...single....dish....was....amazing. my main dish, above, was a perfectly delicate and garlicky fish. That is all I could translate from the catalan menu and it was delicious and that is all that matters. 

our best bang for our buck meal was the "menu del dia" at la pubilla. the Menu del dia is a great way to try a more high end restaurant at a reasonable price, and I had researched a lot on what our one menu del dia would be - and I made a good choice. for 16 euro, we had a glass of wine, an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. Every...single....dish....was....amazing. my main dish, above, was a perfectly delicate and garlicky fish. That is all I could translate from the catalan menu and it was delicious and that is all that matters. 

 one of the many dishes we had at our very authentic barcelona lunch stop,  el xampanyet . these are Padrón  peppers    (1 in 10 are spicy and I've had about 50 of these on our trip and none have been - am I just lucky?) served with cooked (rather than cured) jamon, a specialty spanish ham. It was salty and juicy and amazing. Also, they have 1 euro cava (Spain's version of prosecco, or sparkling wine) Where can you go wrong?

one of the many dishes we had at our very authentic barcelona lunch stop, el xampanyet. these are Padrón peppers   (1 in 10 are spicy and I've had about 50 of these on our trip and none have been - am I just lucky?) served with cooked (rather than cured) jamon, a specialty spanish ham. It was salty and juicy and amazing. Also, they have 1 euro cava (Spain's version of prosecco, or sparkling wine) Where can you go wrong?

I don't think any cocktail bar will ever top Paradiso for me. I'm planning to do a whole post on it, but for now, these artisinal cocktails speak for themselves. Tucked behind a secret door in a pastrami bar, we stayed for hours.

Bodega 1900 was probably our most "foodie" destination, run by famed Barcelona chef Albert Adrià. From left to right, the house vermouth (it is a vermouth bar, after all), anchovies (we REALLY took a liking to these in Spain/Portugal. It's a thing. Pigeon (WHAT) which might have been our favorite dish of the evening, "La Rubia Gallega" - aged beef tenderloin, and prawns. A must-visit, with a reservation.

 In terms of tapas bars,  bar del pla  came recommended from ali at gimme some oven as well, and she did not disappoint. This is the secreto ibérico - a "secret" cut from the famous acorn-fattened pigs of spain. It. Was. Mindblowing.

In terms of tapas bars, bar del pla came recommended from ali at gimme some oven as well, and she did not disappoint. This is the secreto ibérico - a "secret" cut from the famous acorn-fattened pigs of spain. It. Was. Mindblowing.

Our favorite stop from our short time in Lisbon was Ramiro, a Lisbon institution for fresh, delicious seafood. I really don't think I'll ever be able to eat seafood from the grocery store again. Check out those giant tiger prawns.


Remember when I said this is a small portion of where and what we ate? Yikes. Or Wow. Or whatever your reaction is. Trying new things, learning about new cuisines, and fumbling through my Spanish (which was no use in a city that increasingly prefers Catalan), and sharing these places with people who will enjoy them is something I truly enjoy. Someday, there will be an e-book about this. In the meantime, please feel free to hire me to plan your next vacation - only if I can come, too.