Shopping in Barcelona: food shops in the Born

by Sally.Davies

Barcelona’s prettiest barrio - or district - has become home to some of its finest food shops. Take a mouth-watering tour

For centuries the area of La Ribera (and particularly the picturesque part known as ‘El Born’) was home to Barcelona's textile merchants, dressmakers and dozens of tiny clothing workshops. But, as the tentacles of gentrification have taken hold of its narrow cobbled streets, the landscape is slowly changing. The Born is now home to myriad specialist food stores, providing rosemary honey, strawberry tartlets and freshly roasted Blue Mountain to its boho chic denizens, and a happy hunting ground for hungry tourists looking to stuff their suitcases for the journey home.

Some of these shops, of course, have been around for decades. Founded in the 1850s, Casa Gispert (C/Sombrerers 23, 93 319 75 35) is a family concern famous for top-quality nuts, dried fruit and coffee. All are roasted on-site in the magnificent original wood-burning stove, sending irresistible wafts into the street. Delve into enormous baskets of almonds and hazelnuts, still warm from the oven, or choose one of its food kits, with recipes and ingredients for making Catalan specialities from spicy romesco sauce to crema catalana, the local take on crème brulée.

Originally the city’s best regarded wine merchants, Vila Viniteca (C/Agullers 9, 93 310 1956, www.vilaviniteca.es) more recently opened a delicatessen next door, with a ravishing range of top-drawer cheeses, oils, chocolate, hams, sausages and myriad other gastronomic delights, including more aromatic salts than you might think existed. Well-informed staff will make up sandwiches to order, and there are a couple of tables at which to eat them.

The technicolour Wonkaesque designs for the own-made chocolate bars at Xocoa (C/Vidrieria 4, 93 319 63 71) make them perfect gifts for the kids back home (should they get that far), but for immediate gratification, try the brownies, florentines or ventalls (‘fans’) of impossibly rich truffle-filled shortbread. All things chocolate-coated include langues de chat, candied orange peel, marrons glacés and every sort of nut, while the chocolate beer and tea is perhaps best enjoyed in theory.

The theatrically arranged windows and counters of La Botifarrería de Santa María (C/Santa María 4, 93 319 91 23) glisten pinkly with artisan patés, herb-coated country salami, spicy chorizo, top quality pata negra hams from Jabugo and, of course, the botifarra sausage, which Antoni Travé has raised to an art form. Apart from classics such as egg botifarres for Mardi Gras, the ‘boti’ has been stuffed with everything from wild mushrooms or Roquefort to sweet lemon and cinnamon.

Be a hit at any dinner party with a box of exquisitely sculpted petits fours from Bubó (C/Caputxes 10, 93 268 72 24/www.bubo.ws), or you could make afternoon tea fashionable again with a tray of its colourful fruit sablés, raspberry and almond brandy snaps, or dreamily rich sachertorte. Whatever you do, don't keep these to yourself – sexily designed and made with the finest ingredients, Bubó's cakes are meant to impress.

Friendly, English-speaking staff can guide you through the wine-racks at La Carte des Vins (C/Sombrerers 1, 93 268 70 43). It’s a small but user-friendly selection, hot on champagne and cava, clearly laid out and labelled by region and vintage. About 80 per cent of the bottles are from Spain, and cover all the important names from a L’Ermita ’99 to organic wines by Catalan producers Albet i Noya. There’s also a small collection of wine accessories and books on viticulture, including titles in English.

At Cafés El Magnifico (C/Argenteria 64, 93 319 60 81) the Sans family has been importing, roasting and blending coffees since 1919. Seventy varieties hail from all over the globe; Indonesia, West Africa, Papua New Guinea and the Americas (look out for the superb Yauca Selecto from Puerto Rico at €40 a kilo). In 1990 the family opened a tea shop, Sans i Sans (C/Argenteria 59, telephone as above), over the road. Boasting 300 different types of tea, it also displays some beautiful ceramic tea bowls and cups, many of them for sale.

Where to stay in the Born

One of the area’s most Boria BCN (C/Boria 24-26, €119-€299), which houses nine elegant rooms, of ample size and with useful-if-basic kitchens (microwaves but no ovens). On the roof is a peaceful deck for sunbathing, and a café is in the pipeline.

A sexier, more spirited place to stay is a short walk away at chic&basic (C/Princesa 50, €60-€180). Rooms are minimalist and snowy white, with adjustable mood lighting in different hues and glassed-in showers in the centre for exhibitionists. Elegant touches remain, such as the original cornicing, and there is an area where you can help yourself to tea and coffee.

 

Sally.Davies

I came to Barcelona ten years ago for a long weekend, and showed a horrible lack of originality in deciding I couldn't leave. I made it back to London for as long as it took to pack up my things and hand in notice to my landlord, and that was that. Fortunately I was able to take my job with me – I edit Time Out's guides to Spanish cities and work as a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph.

My Barcelona

Where I always grab a coffee: there are lots of terrace cafés along the pretty Passeig del Born, but my favourite is Rosal (no.27), which largely escapes tourist notice. Autumn update: though it's kept the name, Rosal has recently been subsumed by the faceless tapas bar next door. I'm back on the prowl for a regular haunt. Watch this space.

My favourite stroll: I’m lucky to live near the Parc de la Ciutadella, a storybook park with a boating lake, ducks to feed, a Gaudí-designed waterfall, playgrounds, sculpture and a thousand trees under which to read a book on hot summer days.

Fiction for inspiration: Cathedral of the Sea is never going to win any great literary prizes, but it’s a rollicking beach read, with a plot verging on Gothic and a fantastically detailed portrayal of the Born neighbourhood in medieval times, and particularly the construction of the 'People's Cathedral', Santa Maria del Mar.

Where to be seen: With a mixologist and DJs imported from London, the Eclipse bar on the 26th floor of the W Hotel is the current hot ticket.

The most breathtaking view: One for the brave, this one, because it does have a bit of a wobble when there’s a wind up, but the Monument a Colom (Columbus Monument) at the bottom of La Rambla has unmatched views over the city and out to sea.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Again, it would have to be the Parc de la Ciutadella, although the gardens of the Antic Hospital in the Raval are also a lovely retreat from the crowds along La Rambla.

Shopaholics beware: Passeig de Gràcia has most of the flagship stores for Zara, Mango, Diesel et al, along with some very gorgeous designer stores. It’s also a wonderful place in which to simply stroll and take in the Modernista architecture; even the lamp-posts are works of art. For quirky boutiques and eccentric specialities, though, you'll need to lose yourself in the maze of the Old City.

City soundtrack: There’s a Raval-based band called 08001 (the Raval’s postcode), made up of a floating membership of great musicians from around the world. Its mestissa (ethnic fusion) sound is very typically barcelonin.

Don’t leave without... fer vermut (‘doing vermouth’). Sunday morning, tall glass, red vermouth, lots of ice, slice of orange, splash of soda water, a saucer of boquerones (fresh anchovies) and a couple of friends. My favourite Spanish habit.