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.