Barcelona is a metropolis filled with almost 2 million people, yet in this huge city there are many things that tourists might be surprised not to find — especially in the area of food. I have searched for many of these commodities and come up short. Part of life abroad means life without certain things that foreigners might feel to be standard, and then adapting to those differences.
1. Take Out or Leftover Containers
Not once here has a sit-down restaurant offered to box up my leftovers- and trust me, there are often leftovers. The restaurant will ask if you are finished and then clear your plate, no offer to take your delicious meal with you. This is very different than American culture that is somewhat known for eating food from boxes, whether that be takeout or leftover food. When places do make food to go it is called “take away” and is always blatantly written in English. This fact is made apparent on menus or signs because it is somewhat unusual. Maybe these restaurants are trying to cater to fast paced Americans. Moral of the story, eat up!
2. Large coffee
As an avid chai tea latte drinker, I found this a bit odd. One of my teachers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona said Americans can swim in their coffees because they’re so big. While that may be true, sometimes a big coffee is what you need to start your morning in the US. In Barcelona, all coffees come in a size that is smaller than the average ‘tall’ at Starbucks. This is a big adjustment for those who enjoy the venti size. The café con leche is still very good though, and I have become a big fan.
3. Soft Bread
Along with your small coffee, you likely won’t be able to find soft doughy bread. The Spanish like their bread crispy: their baguettes, sandwiches, and bread on the table will all be crispier than many are used to. Doughy bread is not likely to appear often in the Spanish diet. It is even rare to receive bread at a meal and when you do, you usually have to pay for it. It is not a major change, but something that I noticed right away due to my love of carbs. I have grown to love my croissants here and have them almost daily.
4. Fast Meals or Service
Meals in Spain are an experience. They are meant to be enjoyed, no matter when they occur. This means that when you go out for a meal, do not expect rapid service. Waiters do not rush any process of the meals; my average time for a sit-down meal is about two hours. Though it has been nice to truly take in my food and company, it is an adjustment. The bill at the end must be explicitly asked for, or else you are assumed to just be enjoying a post meal conversation. I am still adjusting to the meal times and the length, as well. Set aside a good chunk of time for most sit-down meals in Barcelona.
5. Water at the Table
Water during meals is very different than in the United States. You will not be given a glass of tap water at a meal automatically when you sit down. You have to specifically ask for water, and if you want it to be still or with bubbles. When you get your water, it will come in a bottle that you will have to pay for. You will maybe receive a glass, and rarely with ice. It is probably the biggest difference I noticed with my eating experience. I have become accustomed to carrying bottled water with me when I go out because no one likes to pay 2 Euro for a bottle of water.
6. Food with Preservatives
Grocery shopping becomes a daily activity (except for Sunday’s when everything is closed) in Barcelona. It is difficult to buy in bulk here because food does not contain the preservatives like many foods in the United States — they tend to go bad very quickly. Planning for only your meal that day and maybe the next makes the most sense so that you don’t waste time or money. Be sure to cook up all your food that will expire right away and then have leftovers for the following meals. Nothing is worse than opening up a fridge full of rotten food.
7. A Bad Meal
Even though the food experience is different in Barcelona than in the United States, it is not a bad experience. I have had wonderful meals here and some of the best food of my life. Once you get past details that you may expect in America, you’ll really be able to dive into your meals abroad. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Be open to new foods that you wouldn’t normally find at home. Trying to find America abroad might not lead to a lot of food options or doors opened. I suggest trying some gelato in a waffle, tapas (I like tomato bread), or authentic paella right away and enjoy eating abroad.
Some of my favorites so far: