While the pandemic’s overall impact on Barcelona’s food scene can hardly be described as positive — far too many family-run bars and restaurants have closed their doors forever — there have been a few phoenix-esque innovations worth celebrating.
One such case? Instagram-propelled food businesses, most of them without a permanent space or even physical location, often operating out of so-called ghost kitchens. These accounts usually offer one or just a handful of specialty dishes weekly, leaning heavily on fresh ingredients and eye-catching presentations in hopes of social media close-ups and prolific reshares.
This COVID-era phenomenon isn’t unique to Barcelona, but it is particularly revolutionary here. Takeaway culture has historically been all but nonexistent throughout Spain, with delivery and takeout choices falling into three main categories: pizza for big games, kebabs for late nights, and roast chicken for Sunday lunch. It’s not that other restaurants didn’t offer food choices to go (though requesting a doggie bag is still a faux pas), but rather that local customs tend to prioritize the social aspect of dining as much as — and oftentimes more than — the food itself.
While that mentality is far from gone, the Barcelona food scene has begun to make room for this other, more ephemeral way of eating. And while you should definitely not forgo the city’s incredible restaurants for the sake of an Instagram sandwich, there are some obvious benefits to these mobile businesses for travelers — starting with the fact that most offer sustainable delivery via bike almost anywhere in the city. That means you can plan a stellar picnic without worrying about schlepping a heavy pack of potentially squashed food across town, which is especially valuable in areas without a lot of great dining options (Park Güell, I’m looking at you). Better yet, recoup from a busy day of exploring with a private meal on that Airbnb rooftop patio you splurged for.
Besides, supporting these small, sometimes one- or two-person businesses is supporting a new generation of brave, scrappy innovators within Barcelona’s food scene. The city has often been criticized for its impenetrable barrier to entry for independent restaurants — especially those offering more international fare in a culture so deeply in love with its own cuisine. And these small-scale operations (many cap their orders at 20 or 30 per day) simply couldn’t exist using a more traditional restaurant model.
As the Barcelona bureaucracy has been slow to figure out licensing for these unconventional businesses, many owner-operators are still fuzzy in terms of legality and requested their full names not be published. In a surprising twist of fate, however, a few have now gained enough traction to make the jump to official brick-and-mortar locations. Whether ghost kitchen, pop-up, full restaurant, or something in between, here are some of Barcelona’s pandemic-born sensations to try.
When you can’t face another bocadillo de jamón, spring for lemongrass pork, chicken, or oyster mushroom banh mi prepared by Jenny Chu. At 28 euros ($33, with free delivery) for three, they’re the perfect alternative to a heavy multicourse menú del día. Have them delivered to you at Ciutadella Park (Thursdays only) before taking a turn around its picturesque pond in a rowboat. Jenny also has another Instagram business, Dumplings BCN, where she sells her homemade Chinese-style dumplings (frozen, 18 euros for 30, $21) and chile sauce (5 euros for a small jar, $6). How to order: Thursdays by 11:30 a.m. via Instagram DM.
There’s nothing quite like starting your day of exploring with the knowledge that you’ll have a hearty dish of killer comfort food delivered just in time for dinner. Poutine, burgers, ribs, deluxe mac and cheese and shrimp po boys are all prepared daily by former private chef and longtime local Nikki Freire, a Toronto native who says business picked up during the pandemic with the closure of restaurants. Did you come all the way to Barcelona for mac and cheese? Maybe not, but after a week of jamón and conservas, it’s a better way to cure your culinary homesickness than McDonald’s. How to order: Same day (ideally morning) via Whatsapp (+34 684 05 32 49) or Instagram DM.
Samosas are the unofficial street food — and better yet, beach food — of Barcelona. Rashid, the local samosa vendor we profiled here, has since created his own Instagram pop-up shop, and offers delivery of his star product — vegetarian samosas and for groups of 10 or more, a catered Pakistani meal at 10 euros ($12) per person. Flag him down around 8 p.m. in the MACBA plaza (be careful not to get in the way of the skaters), or place your order via Instagram to have your samosas delivered to the Gothic Quarter location of your choice. We suggest Plaça de Castella, just a block away from MACBA. How to order: For samosas, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., minimum 2 hours’ notice via Whatsapp (+34 602 36 13 54) or Instagram DM; For a Pakistani feast, 36 hours’ notice.
Widely touted as the best (and some say only) South Asian chai in the city, the Chai Guy, Bahram Ehsas, began selling masala chai to passersby in El Born in November 2020. With another gig occupying most of his time, Ehsas only does his pop-ups on weekends, preparing chai with tea and spices sourced from India, in versions ranging from hot and iced to vegan and traditional karak versions at cafes and restaurants around town. How to order: Show up at his next pop-up; find out where he’ll be on his Instagram, typically Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until the chai runs out.
Known Barcelona-wide for his superb fried chicken and fish sandwiches, Eddie was hosting pop-ups around town before the pandemic, and the subsequent quarantine put him out of work. This was a huge loss to fans of extra-crispy fried chicken, which is exceptionally hard to find outside of fast-food and chain restaurants in Barcelona. When restrictions eased, Eddie started delivering his fried chicken sandwiches along with other American diner dishes (think burgers and fries) one day a week. Today, he cooks 30 to 45 orders of whatever’s on special Wednesdays through Sundays from 2 to 10 p.m. in a brand-new kitchen, and is gearing up to open his first brick-and-mortar location in the popular El Born neighborhood, where you can (and totally should) pick up an order on your way to or from the Picasso Museum. How to order: Via Instagram, or show up at the new Fast Eddie’s physical location (Calle Carders 6, 08003).
Caribbean food is notoriously difficult to find in Barcelona, making Joosy Gastro’s Jamaican soul food a welcome newcomer on the local Insta-eatery scene. Leon Jackson, a longtime nightlife and music events organizer who found himself with more free time and less freedom of movement during the pandemic, wanted to create something that would help people feel a sense of escape, despite COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, and Joosy Gastro delivers. Get a jerk box lunch (vegan bowls with jackfruit jerk available, too) delivered for a welcome dose of heat, or book a table at Joosy’s pop-up kitchen at Olgod Craft Beers in Raval and wash down a fragrant lamb curry with a couple of cold ones. How to order: Order before 11 a.m. for lunch delivery, or book a table for dinner via Instagram.
Let’s start here: Green goddess sandwiches delivered to wherever you are on the beach. If that piques your interest, you aren’t alone. Popular with vegans and omnivores alike, these overfilled sandwiches are built on a special white loaf from the award-winning Baluard bakery and include the Dirty Vegans’ own meat substitutes, like bacon and sausages. (The vegan salami is so good they sell it to restaurants.) Two friends who were sick of their nine-to-five office jobs, the Dirty Vegans spent the beginning of the pandemic perfecting their business plan and menu before opening in October 2020. Currently the only exclusively vegan sandwich spot in town, Dirty Vegans also holds pop-ups around the city, including a regular slot at Casa Taos every Thursday. How to order: Same day before 11:30 a.m. via their website, or catch a pop-up.
“Sauce, like blood, is thicker than water” is the slogan of this micro-business run by an Italian American, Scott, and his Scottish partner Jane. It seems particularly apt, especially since this sauce kitchen was founded at least in part to provide long-term employment for the couple’s learning-disabled daughter. Drizzle the brand’s peanut sauce on some of the fresh vegetables you couldn’t resist in Santa Caterina Market, or schmear some on slices of freshly baked pa de pagès from Mistral bakery. A word of warning: Since these sauces must be refrigerated, they’re not ideal souvenirs, as much as you may want to bring some home. How to order: Instagram DM, email (listed on their Instagram account), or Facebook.
Learn to cook, then reap the rewards in a spread of homestyle Sri Lankan cuisine. Reserve your spot in an intimate class of up to six people, or book a private session just for you and your travelling companions. Cooking not part of your vacation plans? Takeaway from Ceylon Affairs will also hit the spot — try the pol pani pancakes, filled with decadent cardamom-flavored coconut cream. How to order: Via Instagram DM or Facebook messaging with at least two days’ notice.
When Paul McCarthy was laid off due to COVID, he took the opportunity to live out his dream of launching his own food business, the Hungry Ginger. The menu, offered weekly, includes a variety of international specialties in plant-based and gluten-free versions. If the timing’s right — menus vary by day and week — spring for the katsu curry featuring panko-coated eggplant, sweet potato, and tofu over fluffy white rice with sesame-drenched greens and a curry sauce. Place an order in the morning before you head out, and have it delivered to the steps of Montjuïc for an impromptu meal before you visit the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, or really anywhere in Barcelona. Be sure to request utensils if you need them. How to order: Order before 10 a.m. daily via Instagram DM or Whatsapp (+34 640 82 19 36).
Build your own Lebanese picnic with a Middle Eastern tapas box from Bottega Gourmet. Choose from stuffed vine leaves, grilled vegetables and meat, baba ghanoush, hummus, and Bottega Gourmet’s custom flavors of kibbeh — pumpkin, kale, spinach, beetroot, and organic blueberry, available fried or baked. Then hop on the Metro (with your portable feast in tow) to El Parc del Laberint de l’Horta for a picnic and long stroll along its historic garden paths. Or order a pastry or sandwich tray for your first day in Barcelona to keep on hand at your accommodations for quick meals before or after busy days out. How to order: Instagram DM, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the day prior.
Originally from the Midwest, Chris Ciolli has lived in Barcelona since 2005. A writer and translator, she’s contributed to local and international publications such as BUST magazine, Afar, Miniguide, and Fathom.