I took a long week-end in Barcelona a few days ago, and was a little disappointed with the city itself. It is so busy and noisy, and felt very polluted, particularly in the summer heat. But there are still some great aspects of the city, and it is possible to find some quiet side streets where everyday life is going on away from the constant rumble of traffic.
I stayed in the Grácia neighbourhood, in the north of the city, very close to the Parc Güell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The neighbourhood has become very popular with Barcelona’s younger generation for its many bars and night-life. Up until the small hours of the morning, you will hear the chattering and ringing glasses of the people on the square, practising the typical Spanish activity of the botellón (big bottle), i.e. socializing in public spaces while drinking alcohol. It’s really nice to see so many people out on the street so late, taking advantage of the fresh night under the trees. Grácia is a nice neighbourhood, a little quirky and full of funny details.
My challenge, as always when visiting a new city, is to find a place where they serve vegetarian food. But I’m looking for something good vegetarian, not the default lettuce leaf with a couple of tomato slices and a pickle. I first started with the traditional tápas, but quickly realised that they are mainly meaty, except for the patatas bravas, a wonderful invention of garlickey, tomatoey oven roasted potatoes. Beautiful. Eventually, I discovered to places to have really good vegetarian food, although they are quite different from each other, in terms of food, setting and price.
The first was a new café in the Poble Sec neighbourhood, a residential area through which runs a long pedestrian street full of cafés and bars. On a side street, away from the noise and chatter, I found the Café Mandacarú. It was a great find. The food was great, a completely vegetarian menu of tápas made of locally sourced ingredients, combined into mind blowing combinations. It has also good wine, and great service. The setting is refined, and if you are travelling on a tight budget, this might not be the best option for you. It is a little bit expensive, but I think the value for money is pretty good, considering the Mandacarú is using and promoting local ingredients, which, paradoxically are always more expensive than imports… They also have great music, especially jazz acts. That night, I saw the Jairo Ortega Quartet playing some beautifully rearranged Chopin.
The second place I went to for veggie food was in a completely different vein, but was much more affordable and almost dangerously good. Its a place called Maoz, which US nationals and travellers to North America might know. It is basically a vegetarian fast food chain. The one in Barcelona is just a falafel place, and for under 5€ you get a pita bread full of falafel. It is then up to you to fill it up with any salad items you want, the salad bar is free and unlimited. The choice is huge, from fried cauliflower to olive tapenade, coleslaw or stir-fried veggies, jalapeños and dahl, and the list goes on. Great stuff – I felt greatly stuffed after walking out, and had to go down to the beach and sit for a while before I could do anything else…
Close to Maoz, you can find the cathedral and its small side streets and courtyards, where you can also go and sit in the shade and digest.