Eats and treats

I’ve been here for a year and a half, more or less, and I’ve realised I haven’t really advertised a lot of Barcelona’s little hidden greats, or cutesy cafés in pokey streets, sunny squares for ‘taking’ your coffee, and so on. I know when I look to go on holiday, sometimes it’s better to know some lesser-known, off the beaten track areas, so you’re not prey to crowds and tourism.

I live in Gracia, which I fell in love with the moment I strolled through the tiny rows of perfectly square streets and surprisingly placed placas – there seems to be one on every corner, full of hip and happening Catalans sipping beer and smoking, laughing carefree and giving no sign that the country is facing a particularly difficult time at the moment. The streets are lined with orange trees, tiny tiendas and boutiques, and because the buildings aren’t so high here as in the centre, you have the feeling that you’re just visiting a local town. If you have a spare day after visiting all the usual Gaudi and wandering around beautiful Barri Gotico, I’d highly recommend a stroll through my local area. Some of my favourite haunts I’ve stumbled across in my neighbourhood are as follows:

Placa de la Vila de Gracia

This large square houses a beautiful tall tower, striking in the sunlight, and pleasant to look at as you dine or drink in the local bars in the area. There is a particularly good café here called Bo, of which there are two in Gracia, although the dessert prices at five euros a pop leave something to be desired. This said, they have excellent tapas at better prices, and it’s nice to sit in the square, especially when the resident clarinet player is tooting away. After school hours, kids play football in front of the powder-blue town hall building, the square really bustling with life.

Enjoy a peaceful lunch in a sunny square

Carrer Verdi

In the maze of Gracia, there is a long street called Carrer Verdi, which has oodles of little boutiques and interesting shops placed along it. You can find a few restaurants with cuisine from further afield around this area, which I sometimes find lacking in Barcelona (the idea that Spanish food is the best in the world seems to be upheld by everyone at all costs, as I keep hearing from students in lessons). There are nice little delis which sell yummy olives, jamon, and the typical food from the surrounding areas. Gracia being a little upon the hippy side, there are many organic shops selling carrot croquettes and lentil dishes, a staple part of Catalan cuisine.


Humana doesn’t just exist in Gracia – it’s one of Spain’s only charity shop chains, and sells clothes only. There are several scattered over Barcelona, with an eclectic mix of pattered old shirts and clown-print trousers, with certain diamonds in the rough if you search hard enough. On certain days and weeks it has ‘sales’, in which every article is under 2 or 3 euros, which means the shop is cleaned out, and is packed to the brim with people. Normally, clothes are around the 6-10 euro mark, which is still quite bargainous, and some vintage clobber can be found with ease; whilst we do our good bit for the earth and give some back to those who need more than we do. The shop accepts donations too.

Hoy todo 1 euro - today everything one euro; bargain!
Hoy todo 1 euro – today everything one euro; bargain!


Close to the Mercat de l’Abecería Central, which is also worth a look (there is a little egg shop inside selling ostrich eggs, of all things), there is an organic food shop called Granel, which sells all kinds of things in a serve-yourself manner. Large tubes are suspended from the wall, and you can amuse yourself twisting the knobs to get the paella mix or red lentils packaged away in your little bags. It’s one of the only places I’ve found a large range of spices at good prices, including sweet dried chillies, a rarity here, among other things such as delicious loose leaf tea from a variety of flavours – from oolong to chocolate and orange infused. The prices are good and it’s nice to support the local businesses: important in these times.

Food tubes for self-service in eco shop Granel
Food tubes for self-service in eco shop Granel

La Lola

What looks like a bog standard restaurant/café (call it a diner, Spanish style), is a delicious surprise on Carrer Escorial. The food is cheap, good, and just like (Catalan) mummy made it. Croquetas, pimientos del padron, and nice home-made pizzas, with a wide range of fish and meat thrown in, washed down with some bravas and beer, make for a good hangover cure, I’ve found. A meal for five can come out at as little as thirty-five euros, which really is nothing to be sneered at. Whilst it’s never going to earn Michelin stars, I’d recommend it for a traditional tapas evening with good service and jolly waiters (depending on the time).

Some other places I like, whilst not in Gracia, are equally worth a visit, especially as they’re more central…

Caj Chai

Ranging from crammed to the brim with people clamouring for a good cuppa, to deathly empty and eerie, Caj Chai sells what looks like thousands of different varieties of tea, including inventive mixtures with coffee, steamed milk, and other delights. I’ve been a few times, but I still get lost every time I look for it, as it’s situated in Barri Gotico, where to me most of the streets are similar and rather confusing. It’s worth the search, though, and because of its location, is less likely to be full of map-reading head-scratching lost tourists.

Find it on Carrer Sant Domènec del Call, 12, for a cuppa chai
Find it on Carrer Sant Domènec del Call, 12, for a cuppa chai

Juicy Jones

If you’re sick of fried food, as nice as it is, take a jaunt to Juicy Jones, a vegan café just off La Rambla, which also makes reasonably priced fresh juices, either from the menu or to your taste. The menu del día, a snip at 8.50 a pop, offers two courses and a dessert (which to be frank, is always a bit weird as it’s never remotely what you think it’s going to be – I’ve never seen halva that looks like jelly). It does a very nice thali, with good spice levels, and the starters include the biggest bowl of hummus you’ve seen in your life, so value for money is definitely noted, particularly in an area which is the rip-off zone of Barcelona.

Eclectic interior of Juicy Jones
Eclectic interior of Juicy Jones

Rosa del Raval

Now, the food here is nowt to write home about, but with cheap margaritas and a range of frozen cocktails, I found I enjoyed it more than I expected to (Mexican isn’t as good or popular here). The atmosphere is jovial and relaxed, and occasionally a free frozen shot of strawberry daiquiri may be thrown in if you play your cards right. Sounds of mariachi bands pipe over the sound system, and the lurid tableclothes really give you a feel of Mexico – bright, enjoyable, and a popular spot both for eating and downing a few drinks.

Bright and captivating, and some tasty mojitos to help
Bright and captivating, and some tasty mojitos help

All this is just a taste of some of the great places I’ve discovered during my stay here: come here and find out for yourselves!



Les Comparses

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into one of Willy Wonka’s eclectic dreams should you visit the seaside town of Vilanova i la Geltrú come Carnaval weekend. Late afternoon and forgotten sweet wrappers litter the floor, men dance around in traditional hats that wouldn’t look out of place on a garden gnome, and women wave shawls above their head, shouting in jubilation. What’s this all about?


Les Comparses, of uncertain history, perhaps originated in Italy, but nobody’s really sure; and I can’t unearth anything myself. This Sunday festival is the pinnacle of Carnival celebration in Catalonia; it’s completely unique, and an utter spectacle to see. You must be invited to attend, as it is a couples’ celebration, and all must be in ‘parells’ (pairs). All couples gather in various bands throughout the town, each belonging to their own group which sports a specific colour, pattern, or design, for the men’s traditional costume. Men wear suit-jackets and a ‘barretina’, which is the aforementioned hat, traditional throughout Catalonia. Men also carry a large square of cloth, fashioned into a bag, which holds a large quantity of brightly coloured sweets (we’ll get to that later). Most of the women are dressed similarly, in a flowered shawl and skirt. They wear a flower in their hair which may also correspond to the individual group’s colour scheme. Some 8,000 people take part in the celebration, and come 9AM in the morning, all couples are gathered in their meeting-places, sipping the first beer can of the morning, and getting into the festive spirit.

Getting ready to leave, dressed to the nines.
Getting ready to leave, dressed to the nines.

I was lucky enough to be invited this year, and I’m so glad to have been part; watching from the sidelines, as many tourists and locals alike do, just wouldn’t have been the same. We gathered outside the bar, our meeting point, ready for the ‘bandera’ (flag) to lead our procession, waving it through the small streets of the town. As the flag leaves, the flag-bearer following the designated route, the couples link arms and skip along the streets, most clinging onto a can of Estrella or San Miguel as well as their partner. The procession weaves into squares and small streets, and out come those sweets, being thrown at passers-by, onlookers on balconies, and members of other parading bands (or just your partner’s face and friends, even if it is forbidden to throw them into ‘la cara’). Skipping through the streets continues throughout most of the day, stopping at participating bars to grab more beer, or something stronger, and the bands continue on, growing merrier and merrier as the day passes.

I’m not altogether sure why the sweets are thrown, but as more and more tiny weapons are hurled into the air, the floor becomes a sticky mess of wrappers and trodden-in caramels or bonbons. A sugary film covers the tiles in the plazas, and the participants’ shoes become sweetie high-heels, papers and big lumps of sticky boiled God-knows-whats attached to the bottom. The more you drink, the less disgusting it feels, and you begin to forget. It’s all part of the fun, anyway, and it’s worth launching mini-missiles for a few hours of feet discomfort.

Coloured sweets are bright in the air
Coloured sweets are bright in the air

The processions finally lead their way to the Placa de la Vila, where the anticipated event takes to place: the big sweet war. Here, we wait patiently, crammed into each other, accompanied with the sounds of the marching bands that have played along with us all day, and loud shouts of ‘In-de-pen-den-cia’, which often, understandably at Catalan celebrations, is heard at large gatherings. Finally, the great event commences, and we all proceed into the square, circling it, skipping together still, the girls swinging their shawls, and the boys clinging on to their remaining sweetie-stash. A countdown is begun, and a grand roar goes up upon zero, as the girls run to the side of the square, desperately covering their faces and heads with their shawls, huddling together, and the boys lob sweets at each other, high in the sky, until their bag is empty. It’s quite a spectacle to be seen. After all the sweets are thrown, the groups dance and celebrate in the square, drinking, continuing the merriment, and posing for pictures.

Dancing in the square commences
Dancing in the square commences

I had seen pictures and videos beforehand of the event, but it’s true that it really didn’t prepare me for this rare experience, that comes but once a year. I’m lucky to have taken part, and hope I’m fortunate enough to be able to participate again in the future. I would suggest to anyone to go and see this utter spectacle; you really won’t be able to believe your eyes, as my words can’t capture this beautiful tradition as well as the experience can.

Girls cover themselves with shawls as boys hurl sweets into each other's faces
Girls cover themselves with shawls as boys hurl sweets into each other’s faces

Stuff that just doesn’t exist

Teaching adults English and teaching children English have obvious differences. I’ve enjoyed making the progression much more than I thought I would have done and actually find it rather satisfying, and much less exhausting. Adults don’t tend to run into the classroom and natter on at me in million mile an hour Catalan about how Joan hit them in the playground.

One thing I’m enjoying is discussing different vocabulary in our two (or three) languages – both differences and similarities. Obviously we know that both languages describe things in different ways and manners, and what may be ridiculously simple in English may become incredibly complex in Spanish, and vice versa. One thing I like with English is how many onomatopoeic words we have – I haven’t found so many in Spanish. A horse, for example, has the verb ‘relinchar’, which doesn’t sound remotely like a sound our hoofed friends make. To clap can be two things (commonly); ‘aplaudir’ (obviously the same as ‘applaud’) and ‘dar palmadas’, which literally means to give palms.

Here are some other words which either don’t quite translate in the same way or don’t have any direct translation whatsoever…

‘Hop, skip, jump’.

The Triple Jump is the same in Spanish, but everybody I’ve asked about the three separate steps has given me a befuddled look and simply informed me they’re all jumps. Er, not for us. I already knew they didn’t have a word for ‘hop’, they simply jump on one leg, and I’m really not sure still how they go about skipping in P.E – to skip with a rope is to jump, too; ‘saltar a la cuerda’, similar to the American ‘jumprope’, but to skip gaily is another matter…do they just run slowly? I decided to give a demonstration of the three different verbs, which was quite an amusing sight, only to be met with a blank look and told I was just jumping in three different ways. Technically, I suppose that’s right, but they feel like very different things to me!

The three steps of the triple jump: jump, jump, jump.
The three steps of the triple jump: jump, jump, jump.


In literal translation, this means ‘plugged’ in English. What it describes is a person who has got their job or got to the place they are by social connections rather than hard-work; it has negative connotations. I was asked by the students how to say this in English and was racking my brain for a rather long time. I don’t know if I just have a bad memory or if we don’t have a specific word for this in English at all. I know we can give someone a ‘leg-up’, but I really can’t think of how to describe someone who has been bumped up to the top of the pack having done no work of their own, with just one simple word.


Yes, we have this verb. It’s the verb ‘to be’. Generally it’s pretty easy, as one is permanent (‘ser’) and one is non-permanent (‘estar’). For example, you say, ‘soy alta’ – I’m tall. That makes perfect sense. You are permanently a tall person. You say ‘estoy feliz’ – I’m happy, which also makes perfect sense, as you’re hardly going to be happy as Larry for the entirety of your existence. One thing I really struggled with when learning how to use these verbs is how they describe being dead, and where a country or place is. Let me elaborate. When you say someone is dead in Spanish, you say ‘está muerto’. Er, what? So he’s dead, but it’s not permanent? I suppose this relates to the idea of a state of being, but then I would argue that being tall probably counts as a state of being too, so learning this confused me rather a lot. Perhaps the language is very superstitious or believes in zombies/ghosts. We also use ‘estar’ with countries and places, which to me, again, is very odd. If you want to say ‘Scotland is near England’, you say ‘Escocia está cerca de Inglaterra’, again with non-permanence. Er, where are they going? Will they have one day decided they’ve had enough and ship themselves off? I know how to use the verbs now, but learning that part was a bit of a headache to say the least.


Last year one of the teachers at school described one of the kids to me as this, and asked me how to say it in English. I grabbed the dictionary and came up with the word ‘cuddly’, which really doesn’t describe what she was trying to put across. This word describes someone who loves to be made a fuss of and needs a lot of attention (i.e the human equivalent of a dog). They love to be pampered and need to be the apple of everyone’s eye.


What’s the opposite of deep? For a Spaniard, it’s probably ‘not very deep’. When using this word to describe a sea/lake and so on, rather than a personality trait, you usually just describe it as ‘little deep’.


Such a brilliant word, covering all manner of things. This isn’t just specific to Spanish, it doesn’t generally exist in other languages, or so I’m told. ‘Stuff’ comes up in a higher level book in the school where I work, and at first people put it down to be translated as ‘cosas’ (things), but I don’t think this really adequately covers the meaning of stuff. I think we could substitute ‘things’ for ‘stuff’ in the majority of sentences, but it just isn’t the same, when we mean ‘a collection of things’, i.e ‘he knows his stuff’…I’d never say ‘he knows his things’, as I’d be wondering what kind of things he knew, whereas with stuff, for some reason it’s quite apparent what he knows.

‘Tengo ganas’

This phrase (in Spanish, it’s not quite the same in Catalan) is used the same as ‘I feel like…’. I like it much better in Spanish. I had a student ask me about the meaning of ‘I feel like a cup of coffee’, because to him it was very strange to use language in that way. He read it very literally and probably thought I was suffering from some kind of medical condition. In Spanish they can’t have this double meaning from the phrase, so to me it makes more sense.

This double entendre cannot be made with the Spanish phrase.
This double entendre cannot be made with the Spanish phrase.

The many different ways we describe ‘rain’.

Obviously Spanish have different words for rain, but I think we have more…because it rains more, so we need other ways to describe it; for example, ‘it’s spitting’. ‘Sleet’ is ‘watery snow’, and ‘raining cats and dogs’ is ‘llueve a cántaros’ which is ‘raining pitchers’, similar to our ‘bucketing it down’.

Seems a bit silly when you look at it this way.
Seems a bit silly when you look at it this way.

I’m sure there are many more concepts which linguistically don’t exist in both languages…I’d be interested to know more, but these are just some I’ve come across both in the classroom and in day-to-day life. Sometimes I find I can express what I want to say in such an easy way in Spanish, when it’s more difficult for me to do in English, and vice versa. Perhaps Spanglish is the future when it comes to the art of conversation!