One of the most pleasant ways of getting to know a different culture is to sample its national dishes. Cosmopolitan Barcelona, which has always enjoyed a reputation for good food, provides plenty of opportunities. Your City takes a look at some of the national cuisines on offer — India, Sweden, Vietnam and Greece
Seeing a space ship instead of a bar as you walk in does put you off your stride a bit. Is this really an Indian restaurant? But a heady aroma of spices and a photo of a flying bus packed with the happy citizens of Mumbai immediately put your mind at rest. Surya Muntaner is restaurateur Ketan Trivedi’s second venture inspired by his homeland. Like his first, Surya Pau Claris, the décor here is the work of Argentinian artist Fabio Camarotta who played on two themes: the Mumbai of the future and the jungles of Mahabaleshwar. How will the most densely populated city in the world look in 2115 and what wildlife prowls the foothills of the Western Ghats? You can ponder these questions while waiting for your order, but meanwhile let’s study the menu. Gourmets who prefer classic Indian cooking will be happy. A wide selection of curries is offered. The butter chicken, tender meat in a rich tomato and cream sauce, is especially good. And something to go with it? Why not try a local innovation — naan rolls? Naan is a leavened wheat flatbread, that comes plain with butter, or flavoured with cheese or garlic. You can fill it with chicken tikka masala, with lamb or salmon, whatever you like. For those who eschew both meat and fish, Indian cuisine is remarkably rich in choice. Amongst the most popular vegetarian options are hummus, homemade paneer cheese, fresh salads, and vegetable purées. There is also an openness to cultural dialogue. Take Peruvian ceviche, for example, with its strong notes of ginger and hot chili pepper, in other words a clear influence of India. Speaking of chili, for European palates less accustomed to the fiery taste, Surya Muntaner lets you choose the level of spiciness in all its dishes.
Owner and chef at this restaurant is Nina Olsson. As soon as she moved to Barcelona six years ago, Nina realised that the pleasures of her new life would not be complete without the favourite dishes from her childhood. So the Sant Antoni neighbourhood now hosts the city’s only Swedish gastronomic embassy. When it came to designing the interior of Pappa Sven, Nina and her family decided to make the place just like home. The tables were made by the owner herself, the nesting boxes came into this world thanks to her grandmother, while the author of the main light fitting in the shape of a sledge was her father, the self-same Pappa Sven whose portrait now hangs on the wall. So, what does this cosy Scandinavian apartment have on the menu? Meatballs, those favourites of Karlsson-on-the-Roof, are there, of course. Pappa Sven serves herring, something not very familiar to Spanish palates, as well as anchovies. The portions are pleasingly generous, while the combination of sweet and sour seems well harmonised — meatballs are served with a cranberry sauce and the flavour of salmon is attenuated by a sweet mustard. Any thirst brought on by the salty starters can be slaked by a shot of home-made aquavit or cider, imported direct from Sweden. Nina is true to the traditions of home with her desserts as well. Drop by at the beginning of January to try her semla buns filled with whipped cream and almonds. Everyone who wants to have good fortune in the New Year should have one. One other local custom is to buy something small to take home with you before leaving. The restaurant’s little shop not only sells Kalles caviare paste, but also little washing up brushes, just like every Swede has at home.
Where: Villarroel, 22, metro Sant Antoni/ www.pappasven.es
If you’ve ever stood on the banks of the Mekong River, you’ll know what bun bo is. It’s a rich beef broth with rice noodles that’s a staple of Vietnamese fast food stands. It’s also on the menu at Barcelona’s Bun Bo, and made the same way, with just a couple of tweaks to make it easier on more delicate European stomachs. The rich variety of flavours in Vietnamese cuisine owes a lot to the different grasses used. These must, of course, be fresh, and so should the other ingredients. Jorge, one of the owners, says that their kitchen follows a strict rule: to use only what has been bought fresh that day. He’s not fibbing, judging by their spring rolls at least. Rolls of wafer-thin rice paper harbour a filling of fresh shrimp, pork, cashew, noodles, mint and basil. Another signature dish is the pho soup, again with rice vermicelli and spring onions. One bowl, the Vietnamese say, will set you up for the entire day. They’re not kidding, this nutritious soup simmers for a whole 8 hours. To intensify the flavour you can add pepper, mint, bean sprouts and lime juice to a base of beef, chicken or vegetable broth. The atmosphere is very special, too. Little Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling, the walls are guarded by an army of Buddhas, while parked in the middle of the dining area is a genuine street cart. The unusual décor and good food make Bun Bo a popular spot, so be ready to join a queue for a table in the evenings. The best place from which to observe its progress is the bar. A caipirinha or a mojito will set you back 50 per cent less than in many other Barcelona eateries.
Where: Sagristans, 3, metro Urquinaona/ www.bunbovietnam.com
“Crazy pomegranate tree” is how the name of this restaurant translates. The owner of Magraner Boig, Kostis Bernardis, borrowed it from his fellow-countryman, the Greek poet and Nobel Prize-winner Odysseas Elytis, whose portrait relieves the austere simplicity of the interior. The sundrenched white and blue of Greece is hardly discernible here. This is a more homely Greece, as experienced by its locals rather than tourists, and then it’s shown in just a few details. The home-made tables covered with patterned tiles, for example, or the Greek music which carries you across to the shores of the serene Aegean. Gastronomical special effects are, naturally, laid on as part of the journey. For starters there’s fried halloumi cheese made from a mixture of cow’s and goat’s milk. Wash this down with a glass of Greek wine and you begin to feel the gentle lapping of the waves beneath your feet. Aniseed-flavoured ouzo goes well with keftedes meatballs. Especially noteworthy is Kostis’ own tomato sauce made with 14 ingredients to a recipe he inherited from his mother. If the myth of the beautiful Io, transformed by an enamoured Zeus into a snow-white cow, is still fresh in your mind, then you’d probably prefer something vegetarian. In this case ask the waiter to bring you kolokithokeftedes, made from courgettes, with mint and oregano. They are delicious, especially in combination with tzatziki.
Where: C/d’En Robador, 22, metro Liceu/ www.elmagranerboig.com