The Sants neighbourhood in Barcelona was originally a crossroads village where travellers, merchants and locals came from the south or from the west on their way to Barcelona. When the industrial revolution arrived late to Spain this area became the location of the big, new factory enterprises and masses of workers. 

Culinary Backstreets has created a powerful food and history walk through the neighbourhood. Paula, our guide, met us at the Sants metro station and after a brief history introduction we set off for our first stop, a coffee and some local cheeses, sausages and tomaquet. We continued on, stopping for a variety of tastings, always in small portions as we would be eating a lot. You need to pace yourself on these tours. 

The Sants area is known for it’s strong working class ethic expressed in the cooperative movement. We viewed a new housing complex being constructed and financed by the community without government or private funding. 

Another cooperative project is located on the grounds of the textile empire built up by the industrialist Batlló in the early 20th century. The grounds are vast with a number of massive brick buildings covering hectares. They had stood empty and unused for years, but following the end of the Dictatorship the heirs of the industrialist tried to reassert control of the abandoned site. The community reacted with hostility because during the Franco dictatorship one of the Batlló family had been given special favour to exploit the local community and he had a series of Doric columns erected in front of the main building. This was perceived as a display of Fascist power (in  the manner of Albert Speers, Hitler’s architect of the Third Reich). The columns still stand as a reminder of Fascist oppression but the site has seen a flowering of workshops and crafts employing locals since 2011.

Incidentally, for the art-minded tourist the famed architect, Antonio Gaudi, built a grand city-centre home for Batlló, which is now a great tourist attraction. 

Paula then took us to a typical but increasingly rare, neighbourhood bodega for a drink of vermouth (vermut). Hand painted tiles still adorn the walls and old men sip whiskey or beer. We savoured the dark vermouth with a classic spritzer of carbonated water, used to stretch the drink as long as possible.

Near the end of the tour we stopped at another typical bodega for a traditional Catalan lunch of scrambled eggs and truffles followed by a dish of beans and squid. Both dishes were made with precise fidelity to tradition supervised by the eighty four year old proprietor. Both were delicious.

This is a great tour that will take you away from the glitzy and crowded locations that cater to the crowd. It will broaden your understanding of the city and it’s people. 

Graham Mulligan