Local Intel: Tapas in Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain (August, 2010) –  Rather than tell you where to go and what to eat, I’ll begin with a rant about why, oh why, can’t tapas here be more innovative. Granted, there is such a thing as authentic tapas, and many would argue Barcelona has the only real thing. Fine. Coming from America, where tapas is a broad term describing anything served on a small plate, I understand I am no authority of what makes tapas good, or event authentic. So rather than infuriate Spaniards and profess they don’t know how to serve it, I’ll call this an observation.

I observe that tapas in Barcelona, is just, plain, standard snack fare, available anywhere in the city you want to sit down and take a rest. The key word is standard, as the actual tapas menu is identical no matter what restaurant you choose to patronize. The preparation and service is identical too, so you won’t get a different experience if you chose one bar over the next. This is why I won’t make a recommendation for the best places to eat in Barcelona, as I am sure you’ll observe there’s a good tapas bar on every corner.

Tapas at the base of Sagrada Familia
Tapas at the base of Sagrada Familia

In every country, experts on cuisine point out the failings of American chefs to replicate the real thing. Our pastries will never satisfy the French, our pasta never be authentic enough for Italian chefs, our Chinese food is a poor excuse for what constitutes Asian. The purpose of travel is to experience everything authentic about a particular culture. But the more I travel, the more I am beginning to appreciate the talents and innovativeness of American chefs and diners. Our chefs look at a traditional dish and immediately figure out how to improve it. That is why you can eat better pizza in New York than in Italy. American diners are adventurous enough to have tasted everything at home and abroad, and are constantly demanding that chefs push the envelope of tradition in favor of originality.

And so, you can order tapas from Jamonera in Philadelphia, or Mixto two blocks away, but what’s on the plate will always surprise you. In America, no two tapas dishes are alike even if they are called by the same name. But in Barcelona, patatas bravas is, well, patatas bravas. To be deemed authentic, the ingredients, the presentation and the service will be the same regardless of if its is on the menu of Quimet i Quimet or La Cova Fumada.

As excited I was to gorge on tapas all week, and I have to admit that by the time my departure neared, I was happy to never hear the word tapas again.  That is, until I returned to Philly, where my favorite Amada featured live flamenco and chef Jose Garces was preparing my favorite albondigas that night.

Amada, by Jose Garces, Philadelphia
Amada, by Jose Garces, Philadelphia

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