When you think about the city of Barcelona, a few things may come to mind: that drippy sandcastle cathedral by Antoni Gaudí, the iconic 2006 DCOM when the Cheetah Girls strut their way down Las Ramblas, the song by Ed Sheeran that makes our knees go weak when he sings in Spanish, the Mediterranean beach, the liveliness, the language and most importantly – the food culture.

Although I have heard several stereotypical interpretations of Spanish and Catalan cultures, there were a few things I did not discover until studying abroad in Barcelona. Rather than learning through mistake as I did, here are some food culture tips to know before visiting this beautiful Catalan city.

1. It's all about tapas.

Sherilyn McLean

Tapas are the quintessence of Spanish cuisine. These app-sized plates are intended for sharing and can vary from basic to more lavish dishes. Tapas found on most Barcelona menus include “patatas bravas,” or cubed potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauces, the beloved Catalan “pan con tomate,” or bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled in olive oil, and spicy sausages in red wine. So if you’re looking for personal, Cheesecake Factory portions in Barcelona, it may take you longer than the construction of Sagrada Familia.

2. But also, its about paella.

Sherilyn McLean

Although this famous dish originates in Valencia, Spain, paella found in Barcelona certainly does not disappoint. Paella is a Spanish delicacy that typically consists of rice, beans, vegetables, seafood or meat, and seasonings such as saffron and rosemary. However, different regions of Spain have added their own personal touch to this national dish. Paella in Barcelona often consists of fresh seafood that comes straight from daily markets such as the famous La Boqueria. Seriously, this dish is so good you should only address it in the formal USTED.

3. Pinchos.

Sherilyn McLean

Pinchos, also called montaditos, are pieces of bread with a variety of unique and flavorful toppings. The word pinchos derives from the Spanish verb “pinchar,” which literally means “to pierce.” Many restaurants in Barcelona allow you to pick and take your pinchos in a buffet-style manner, then count up your cocktail sticks when it’s time to pay. Pinchos are cheap and pair greatly with drinks, so don't apologize for having an excessive amount of sticks left on your plate.

4. Menu del día. 

Sherilyn McLean

Several restaurants in Barcelona offer a “menu del día” deal, which sets a fixed price for three courses of your choice and includes a drink. Taking advantage of this deal is perfect for when you want a larger meal than sharing tapas, while still being able to try a variety of dishes. The prices for this lunch special are relatively cheap, so take advantage of menu del día deals if you're traveling on a budget. 

5. Water is a luxury.

Sherilyn McLean

In the U.S, we have become accustomed to free water that is at our table before we even sit down. Do not expect this in Barcelona, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. On this side of the Atlantic, water is most of the time equally or more expensive than some alcoholic drinks. I’d say that the reason behind ordering wine at every meal was of an economic standpoint, but. . .

6. Getting on "Spanish time." 

Sherilyn McLean

Getting on Spanish time while only visiting Barcelona for a few days is borderline impossible. However, being aware of this schedule can be helpful when you are planning on when to eat. Here is a typical day in Barcelona: most stores and restaurants do not open until 9 or 10 a.m., very few being open before then. The city becomes alive until the mid-day siesta, aka 4-hour “lunch break” when most stores close for the time being. After the siesta, places being to re-open around 5 o’clock, but no one eats dinner until 9 or 10 p.m. Then the nightlife goes from midnight into the early morning hours. Sorry early birds and those with any sense of urgency, this city does not have the same agenda. 

7. Tipping norms.

Sherilyn McLean

Leaving a big tip may be expected in America, but not in Barcelona. Spaniards are not very big tippers, and gratuities are generally not expected by waiters. Of course if the service is excellent, most waiters will not be offended if you leave a few euros, but some may take excessive generosity as “pity money” so take it as a grain of salt. When in doubt, rounding up to the nearest dollar is always a good option.

#SpoonTip: Be sure to do your research about tipping before visiting any country, as it varies between cultures.

8. "Para llevar"

Sherilyn McLean

You may find signs on restaurants that read “para llevar” meaning “take away” as in you can take their food or drinks to go. However, these restaurants have the sign for a reason. Meals are highly prioritized times of the day in Barcelona. Spaniards cherish every meal with family and friends and often spend long hours sharing tapas and exchanging stories with loved ones, therefore taking meals to go is not very common.

9. "La cuenta, por favor"

And since the Spaniards treasure meal times, waiters will never rush you out of a restaurant. Unless you wave them down, they will never bring you the check even after your 2-hour conversation and 3 (…4?) glasses of wine. So when you are ready, grab your waiter’s attention and say, “la cuenta, por favor” meaning “the check please.”

Devouring the tastes of Barcelona is one of the best ways to participate in both Spanish and Catalan cultures. It is the greatest form of social activity in this dynamic city, bringing people together to share delicious foods and memorable laughs. So book a one-way ticket to experience the food culture of Barcelona now, and as the spaniards say before every meal - "¡que aproveche!"