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Gastronomy and tourism: blending local essence and global logic

The case of Basque taverns in Barcelona’s El Poble Sec neighbourhood
Gastronomie et tourisme: un mélange d’esprit local et de logique globale; le cas des taverns Basques dans le quartier du Poble Sec à Barcelone
Maria del Pilar Leal Londoño, José A. Vázquez-Medina and F. Xavier Medina


This article explores the local-global relationship established by food tourism when urban destinations with a high volume of tourists, such as Barcelona, appropriate traditional local dishes from other regions. The case study is the pintxo, a typical and traditional ‘tapa’ from the Basque Country, which has been reappraised and adapted to the tastes of residents and tourists in a neighbourhood in central Barcelona. The neighbourhood of El Poble Sec boasts a high concentration of eateries serving pintxos. In particular its pedestrianised thoroughfare Carrer de Blai has become popular with residents and tourists alike as a place to enjoy pintxos. Visiting these eateries transforms the tourist experience and redirects it to new imaginaries, creating a gastronomic image of a destination based on new dynamics in which the relationship between the local and the global, the traditional and the authentic, becomes blurred and hazy.

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1Food—and thus gastronomy—has always been a part of tourism. What’s more, it forms a significant part of it, as it represents one third of tourist expenditure (Hall and Sharples, 2003; Quan and Wang, 2004; UNWTO, 2012). Despite this, the importance of gastronomy to a destination’s image has not been sufficiently studied and the academic world has been slow to acknowledge the theoretical potential for examining the subject (Everett, 2008). A number of authors, however, such as Richards (2002), Fields (2002) and Hall and Sharples (2003), have noted that gastronomy is important not only because it forms a key part of the tourist experience, but also because it has become a strong source of identity in postmodern societies.

  • 1 We shall use the Basque spelling, “pintxo”, rather than the Spanish version, “pincho”, in that we a (...)

2The main purpose of this article is to analyse how the image of a tourist destination is built by the tourists themselves, thanks to a local-global relationship capable of transporting gastronomy and, specifically, on the basis of the appropriation by urban destinations of traditional local dishes from elsewhere. The proposed case study is based on the neighbourhood of El Poble Sec in Barcelona. The conceptual framework is based on local-global aspects highlighted by Shouten (2007) such as authenticity, identity, host-guest relation, and tourist-local encounters (see also Richards, 2007). Moreover, aspects related to the social and spatial transformation experienced by urban destinations due to tourism are also pointed out. An initial study based on secondary sources has been complemented by subsequent fieldwork. This fieldwork included direct, participative observation of the phenomenon of local-global relations resulting from gastronomic tourism, informal conversations with tapa and pintxo1 bar owners and customers, and virtual ethnographic work based on the TripAdvisor platform.

3The article is organised into six sections. In addition to the introduction, the first section contains a conceptual and historical outline of the pintxo and Basque taverns in Barcelona. Sections two and three describe gastronomic tourism and its relationship with Basque pintxos and pintxo eateries as polysemic social spaces, respectively. Section four describes the study’s methodology and context. Section five presents and discusses the results of the case study, whilst the sixth and final section provides the conclusions summarising the article and also some guidelines for future research.

Basque restaurants and taverns in Barcelona

4Basque restaurants and taverns began to become fashionable in the 1990s. Now, more than 20 years later, not only do they boast a continued presence, but also, in the case of Barcelona, they form a direct part of the city’s urban foodscape, popular amongst locals and visitors alike.

  • 2 This introduction will make use of and occasionally update some of the data published in Medina (20 (...)
  • 3 A traditional Basque custom involving the consumption of small glasses of wine (known as “txikitos” (...)

5The evolution of Basque eateries in Barcelona witnessed a boom in the second half of the 1990s with the opening of Basque restaurants and taverns throughout the Catalan capital (Medina, 2002).2 Customers appreciated not only the peculiarities of the Basque Country’s culinary specialities themselves, but also the somewhat exotic style and customs of the Basque restaurants and taverns, where distinctive snacks, commonly known as pintxos, are served, typically accompanied by small glasses of wine called txikiteo.3

  • 4 A cured sausage similar to chorizo typical of the Basque Country.

6Pintxos are a kind of tapa or small snack served as a sort of appetiser. They are served using bread (usually of the baguette/French stick variety) cut into slices and topped with various specialities. These toppings can range from a simple slice of cured meat (normally of the traditional Basque varieties: blood pudding, txistorra4, chorizo and cured sausages, among others) or cheese, to something much more elaborate, such as tuna or seafood salad, prawn specialities, combinations of purées, cheeses, and many others. The topping is usually affixed to the bread by a cocktail stick, leading to its popular name pintxo (meaning pin, prick or pierce). As the portions are small, pintxos are reasonably priced, allowing customers to sample a variety for relatively little money. The consumption of pintxos normally accompanies the pre-dinner txikiteo, a habit that can also, on holidays and weekends, be extended to lunchtime. Pintxos are also an important catalyst for social interaction (Ramírez Goicoechea, 1991: 289ff.).

7More recently, pintxos have evolved in tune with nouvelle cuisine and have become small culinary gems bringing together the best of Basque cuisine in small mouthfuls that allow you to taste a wide—and occasionally complex—variety of flavours and combinations at a reasonable price. This does a lot to explain their success.

8Another interesting aspect is the way in which pintxos are consumed and paid for: the Basque way. Customers help themselves to as many as they want and, when it comes to settling the bill, they show the waiter the number of cocktail sticks on their plate. Payment is calculated based on the number of sticks, and hence of pintxos consumed, or by simply telling the waiter how many you have had, with no apparent monitoring by the waiter of how many have actually been consumed.

9The appearance of Basque restaurants (rather than taverns) in the city is by no means a recent phenomenon. Barcelona has a range of restaurants specialising in Basque cuisine, including some very well-known ones, some of which are more than 50 years old. Table 1 provides information on the opening (closures are not taken into account) of Basque restaurants and taverns in Barcelona in the second half of the 20th century, from the 1950s up to the popularisation of Basque taverns in the 1990s. This phenomenon has continued unabated until today, spreading from the districts in which these establishments had been more or less concentrated at the start of the period (the districts of Dreta and Esquerra de l’Eixample and Ciutat Vella) to the entire city, without exception. Particularly remarkable is the fact that, between 1996 and 1999 alone, the city witnessed the opening of as many establishments of this type as it did in the forty years from 1950 to 1990.

Figure 1. Basque restaurant and tavern openings in the City of Barcelona by periods (1950-1999)

Figure 1. Basque restaurant and tavern openings in the City of Barcelona by periods (1950-1999)

Source: Medina (2002)

10The reputation of the city’s best-known and longest-established Basque restaurants (Aralar and Jaizkibel, for example) has served to foster the great prestige traditionally held by Basque cuisine in Barcelona. It has also meant that new gastronomic initiatives have been able to benefit from the professional, business, and customer base of a city that already boasts a very varied and extensive restaurant sector.

11As previously mentioned, until the second half of the 1990s, Basque restaurants and taverns tended to be concentrated in specific areas of the city. Firstly, in District 2, called the Eixample (Expansion), where, in the part known as Dreta de l'Eixample (the right-hand side), the street of Carrer de Sicília, in the stretch between numbers 107 and 202, contained some of Barcelona’s most renowned Basque restaurants with others located on adjacent streets, just a few metres away. Within the same city district, its left-hand side (Esquerra de l'Eixample) was home to another concentration of these establishments, one that has grown over the years.

12In more recent years, District 1, Ciutat Vella (Old Town), the city’s oldest quarter, became another important focal point. This growth was especially pronounced after 1994, the year in which the Euskal Etxea or Basque house was reopened, with the opening of more than half a dozen Basque restaurants and, more particularly, taverns specialising in pintxos.

13Finally, a fourth area has begun to emerge more noticeably in recent years in the upper part of the city (zona alta), which embraces District 5, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi and District 6, Gràcia. These districts have witnessed a degree of specialisation in their restaurants, with an emphasis on the ‘New Basque Cuisine’. According to one of the leading chefs of Barcelona’s Basque diaspora, the popularization of Basque cuisine is due to the “great importance placed on raw materials, an obsession for finding the right timing for each dish and a concern for respecting the inherent flavours of the produce” (López de Viñaspre, 1996: 43).

Lizarran and Sagardi: the popularisation of Basque pintxo chains

14The unique identity and quality of Basque cuisine is recognised by diners who seek it out and appreciate it. We also believe that this recognition—together with other factors such as its somewhat exotic or even ‘ethnic’ air, simplicity, abundance, media impact, and convenience in eating (as in the case of pintxos)—has contributed to its expansion and popularisation in Barcelona and in Catalonia in general.

  • 5

15In this regard, one noteworthy example of the degree of popularity and success that Basque cuisine has attained in Catalonia is provided by restaurants of the Sagardi group and of the Lizarran chain. Lizarran is a Basque franchise created in 1998 that, in less than five years, had spread not only throughout the city of Barcelona, but also throughout a large part of Catalonia and the Valencia region. Today (2017), it boasts more than 250 establishments located throughout almost every part of Spain and even abroad (in countries including Italy, Slovenia, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Ecuador, Georgia and Japan).5

  • 6 In addition to Sitges, where the initiative began, and Barcelona, a year after its foundation the c (...)
  • 7 By 1999, they had already opened taverns in Valencia and Gandia.

16Lizarran’s origins are to be found in the Izarra tavern in the town of Sitges (in the Garraf region of the province of Barcelona). Here, in 1988, a number of partners from the Basque Country decided to open a Basque tavern, where they began to prepare and serve pintxos in the Basque way. In light of the success of this first initiative, they opened a second tavern in Sitges, which quickly became as popular as its predecessor. It was at the end of the nineties (in 1997-1998) that Lizarran was launched as a Basque restaurant franchise. It was gradually introduced into the city of Barcelona and progressively spread throughout the city—mainly in the areas where other Basque establishments, mainly restaurants such as Aralar or Jaizkibel, already existed: Gràcia, Esquerra de l'Eixample, Dreta de l'Eixample and Ciutat Vella. Subsequently, Lizarran began opening eateries in other locations in both Catalonia6 and Valencia,7 and in the year 2000, they opened a tavern in Madrid.

  • 8 The original quote is: "que la autenticidad de los productos y de los procedimientos sea la máxima (...)

17Not every establishment in the Lizarran chain, particularly those outside of Sitges and Barcelona, has Basque staff in the kitchen or behind the bars. All, however, as affirmed by the chain’s senior management, are directly advised by its management to ensure the “maximum possible authenticity of the products and of the procedures”.8

18A different model is followed by the Sagardi Group, this time not based on franchises, but rather on establishments owned and managed by the group itself. Founded and headed by Basque-Catalan entrepreneur, chef and anthropologist Iñaki López de Viñaspre, the roots of the Sagardi Group are to be found in the Irati tavern, opened to the public in 1994 in Barcelona’s old town, Ciutat Vella.

19From its very beginnings, and particularly with the opening of the first Sagardi restaurant in Barcelona, it has been noted for its quality Basque cuisine, using high-quality produce, and with prices that, whilst not exactly cheap, aim to be affordable. From Barcelona, the group has expanded throughout Spain (Madrid, Seville and Valencia) and began its international growth in 2008 by opening its first restaurant in Argentina (Buenos Aires). Today, it is also present in Portugal (Vilanova de Gaia, Oporto), the United Kingdom (London, opened in 2016) and Mexico (Mexico City, opened at the start of 2017). Currently, the group has 25 restaurants, two hotels and a catering company.

  • 9 Sagardi, for example, even offers groups (of either locals or visitors) the option of following a p (...)

20Basque specialities have won a great amount of prestige and market share in Barcelona, a city where businesses in the restaurant sector face a great deal of competition due to the wide variety of culinary options on offer. The presence of Basque eateries in Barcelona has reached such an extent that they have been assimilated as part of the city’s gastronomic landscape by locals and tourists alike.9

Food tourism and culinary cosmopolitanism in Basque taverns

21The operational model of pintxo eateries has been reproduced by all kinds of restaurants and taverns throughout the city. These represent a modified version of the model that burst onto Barcelona’s culinary scene in the late 1990s. This kind of establishment has adapted to fit the global movements inherent in the culinary cosmopolitanism (German Molz, 2007; Jonas, 2014) that can be perceived in the city’s foodscape. Some pintxo restaurants have diversified in line with diners’ preferences, using a standardised model of production and service in their operations. This process has permitted the addition of new products meeting the needs of new customers, who have access to multiple cultural and hence culinary options. These new options, to name but a few, include hamburgers, crêpes, burritos with guacamole and ratatouille, and even some dessert interpretations, such as tiramisu, all of which are today to be found in Basque pintxo-style standardised formats. Nevertheless, as Jonas (2014) points out, the definition of culinary cosmopolitanism should not be limited solely to being an appeal to “gastronomic multiculturalism”.

22In the pintxo eatery model, consumers find a kind of culinary diversity from which they can freely choose, using the cocktail stick counting method. It is a new way of experiencing a kind of culinary cosmopolitanism that adapts dishes which are universalised to suit all palates through an experience that copies a distinctive way of eating associated with a particular cultural group. In these establishments, customers not only find a single ‘culinary Other’, but a multiple approach to different Others: Others which are standardised under a single concept (German Molz, 2007), and which allow the practise of a new form of culinary tourism.

23Within a context of hypermodernity in food, in which consumer demands and profiles are constantly changing (Ascher, 2005; Zukin 2014, 1998), cuisines have acquired the ability to mobilise and relocate to beyond their original birthplace. This has led to new configurations arising from both the global context and the specific peculiarities of the places to which they relocate.

24In the case of the pintxo eateries located on Carrer de Blai, the local-global relationship can be appreciated in the expression of the sheer range of forms of preparation coming together in the same format. This confers upon them a sense of singularity that shapes new notions of what is ‘local’. In this regard, as Salazar (2005: 629) explains, the relationship between global and local “involves the construction of increasingly differentiated and distinct consumers, or the creation of new consumer traditions. This goes hand in hand with global marketing strategies which rely on the philosophy that diversity sells”.

25So it is that a model that was initially conceived of as an ‘ethnic’ restaurant seeking to reproduce ways of eating associated with a specific cultural grouping has abandoned the search for ‘authenticity’ as a commercial advantage in order to move on to a specific operational model linked with a more global outlook. It is a model in which inventiveness and hybridisation take precedence over tradition. It has also led to a form of gastronomic tourism in which locals and tourists converge in a system that prizes experience building over ‘authenticity’.

26Recent years have seen the emergence of culinary options that have taken up this operating model, whilst adapting and opening up what they offer to consumers keen to enjoy the pintxo experience without necessarily seeking out Basque food (Medina, 2002). Thus, the ‘Basque’ label is often blurred in businesses of this type, although, in the ‘local’ collective memory, eateries of this kind are still associated with an ‘ethnic’ cuisine. However, these restaurants appeal to a wider customer base of cosmopolitan diners, offering a diverse culinary range that goes beyond traditional Basque cuisine.

27The aforementioned phenomenon can be used to discuss some of the postulates made by Edensor (2001) regarding the practise of tourism. To begin with, we agree with this author that tourism “can be conceived as a set of activities, imbricated with the everyday, whereby conventions are reinforced and broken” (2001: 59). In this regard, we agree that, today, tourism can be conceived as a series of changing structures that constantly modify the spaces in which they occur. Edensor (2001) indicates that, currently, special attention should be paid to the praxis of tourism that favours experience, which does not necessarily have to be in contrast with everyday life. This is how the new pintxo taverns bring together locals and tourists, since, as Edensor states: “tourism is a process which involves the ongoing (re)construction of praxis and space in shared contexts” (2001: 60). Therefore, on the understanding that the collective imaginary views this type of establishment as ‘ethnic restaurants’, we also agree with Albrecht’s statement (2011: 100) in noting “the domestic experience of ethnic dining as a form of culinary tourism, offering tourism a mode of engagement and experience rather than as a specific form of travel”, to regard establishments of this kind as liminal spaces for the culinary tourism business, frequented by locals and tourists alike.

28Furthermore, beyond the diversification of products, the standardisation of the format of production and service of the pintxo restaurant model allows us to analyse the mobility of both people and information. These phenomena have fostered a sui generis gastronomic movement that permits analysis of the coexistence of the global in spaces that provide local appeal within the framework of food tourism. Because of this, Basque taverns become spaces for negotiation between the exotic and the banal, between the ethnic and the local (Albrecht, 2011: 101). In this regard, as Edensor puts it: “globalization increasingly penetrates everyday life through the objects we use, the activities and routines we enact, the places we inhabit, the relations we have and/or seek” (2001: 60).

29In this article, we shall be paying special attention to the spaces of negotiation between the exotic and the banal, the ethnic and the local, the global and the local. We will apply them to the example of the new Basque taverns, to problematise the close relationship between tourism and gastronomy in an expression of the intrinsic coexistence between the local and the global. To do this, it is important that this work should analyse not only the products offered in these establishments, but also the way in which they are eaten, the imaginaries and the narratives built around them. These allow us to reflect upon the new structures taken on by food tourism within a localised space.

30Based on the above, in assessing experience beyond the product, we shall also be examining the ways of constructing the ‘culinary other’ as a means of exploring the close relationship seen between the global and the local, continually being affected by the social negotiations occurring in this kind of eatery. As Molz states (2007: 77), the construction of a culinary other should be viewed in terms of constant negotiations and power relationships: rather than fixed associations such as native-local, or global-authentic, they are due to a specific time, space and circumstances. The pintxo taverns studied in this article show how the culinary other is not solely a construct of the food tourism of consumers seeking to explore a different culture, in line with the traditional interpretation of gastronomic tourism. It is also a consequence of a new class of diner, one immersed in a system of mobility of information, of ways of consuming, and of people, as is the case in a broadly cosmopolitan city like Barcelona.

Pintxo taverns: from ethnic showcases to spaces for urban transformation

31The social sciences, in examining the commercial aspect of the food phenomenon, often regard restaurants as polysemic spaces. Beriss and Sutton (2007), for example, suggest that restaurants can be seen as institutions providing the stage for a wide range of contacts and social interactions between different groupings. So it is that restaurants can be regarded as social spaces where people come together and establish interactions, perhaps fleeting, but where they share the dining experience in a single setting. The sum of these interactions influences different fields of these subjects’ social reality: they mark belonging, delimit status and class and, above all, shape and define, in a sense, the territory to which they belong.

  • 10 We are aware of the approaches from different standpoints, such as the anthropology of urban confli (...)

32Restaurants are nerve centres for urban transformation and are, at the same time, spaces for negotiations on many levels. Taking up Bourdieu’s concept of social spaces, Hassoun (2014) states that restaurants must be regarded as total social spaces that permit the observation of not only the interactions between the actors participating in them, but also the acquisition of status, belonging and political affiliation manifested in these spaces. At the same time they can also be viewed as living registries of the historical and urban transformations of the places in which they are set, as well as spaces conducive to the negotiation of tastes. In the words of Mitchell (2014), restaurants can be seen as spaces for the visibility of different groupings that represent ways of appropriating the territory. In this regard, Zukin (1998; 2014), based on observations of the relationship between types of restaurants and the urban transformations of the places in which they are set, has suggested that the type of restaurants points to not only a process of urban transformation of the naturalised type, but also certain issues, such as the racialisation and gentrification of the places in which they are located. Hernández (2017), in a study of the markets of Barcelona’s old town, suggests that the process of ‘commercial gentrification’ occurs, not only on a commercial, but also on a symbolic level.10

33The Basque taverns opened in El Poble Sec have led to a gastronomic route, ‘crawl’ or circuit that has become a meeting point for locals and also an emerging tourist attraction within the gastronomic sphere of the city of Barcelona.

34A number of authors who have studied the presence of ethnic restaurants in different contexts (Albrecht, 2001; Medina, 2002; Hassoun, 2014; Ray, 2016; Vázquez-Medina, 2016) have agreed on the role of ethnic restaurants as culinary interlocutors and means and agents of transformation of the places where they are located. Similarly, the same authors agree that these spaces provide showcases for a new relationship between ‘us’ and ‘them’, on the basis of taste and flavours.

35In the case of the pintxo taverns of El Poble Sec, statements such as the relationships between ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘locals’ and ‘tourists’ become even more complex: these establishments provide the setting for new forms of food tourism routes that have facilitated coexistence between locals and visitors at points of social interaction. These points are often paradoxical, with constant fluctuations between being a tourist or not, between neophobia and neophilia in trying familiar flavours in different formats, between modernity and tradition, between local and global and between authenticity and counterfeiting. These paradoxes are constantly being negotiated and these negotiations help, to a great degree, to explain these restaurants’ success.


36The methodology employed to research the case of Basque pintxos in the neighbourhood of El Poble Sec is based on the triangulation of secondary and primary information gathered through direct observation of the phenomenon, the collation of informal chats with establishment owners and with some of their customers, photograph-based visual documentation and tourists’ reviews published on TripAdvisor in the period between January and September 2017.

37Whilst we are always aware of the many criticisms that can be made of them, we nonetheless believe that tools such as TripAdvisor are already transforming sectors such as the hotel and restaurant trade ‘from within’. As Figueira da Costa (2017: 191-192) notes, TripAdvisor is a large and important social network of travellers who exchange experiences via a digital travel portal that publishes user reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. The site is widely used on the Internet, mainly in the food sector, with more than 150 million reviews, making it the world’s biggest travel website. In our specific case, and in addition to its popularity and its prolific usage, TripAdvisor was chosen because it is a network that provides a good level of filtering by language, geographic origin of the comment and the gender of the reviewer. Additionally, it is the social media network on which the majority of the establishments analysed have been reviewed by tourists.

38The analysis took into account variables such as gender, the country of publication, and whether the review referred to Barcelona as a destination. These variables were used to create a matrix in Excel format that permitted the analysis of 260 reviews published in English by users of all the bars analysed during the period from January to September 2017. The English language was applied as a filter because it provided a greater number of comments published by tourists than in other languages, therefore allowing access to a broader sample.

39Aware of the limitations of TripAdvisor, we also show the available websites of the establishments, for the purpose of identifying the type of pintxos they prepare and thereby establish the personalisation thereof in accordance with the tastes and preferences of tourists and locals.

40Secondary information came from statistics and reports published principally by the city’s public institutions. Additionally, Basque pintxos have been chosen as a case study, amongst other reasons, because they are an example that can be extended to embrace other urban destinations that appropriate traditional local dishes from other regions, making them their own and thereby contributing to creating a new gastronomic image of the destination. For this research work, we have taken into account all the establishments on El Poble Sec’s Carrer de Blai selling pintxos and promoting them as their main product.

Table 1. List of pintxo establishments in El Poble Sec





Blai 9 Tapas



68 analysed

Blai Every day 12

No website


11 analysed

Blai Stop



4 analysed

Blai Tonight y Blai Tonight 2



16 analysed

D Picos Pardos


No reviews from 2017





1 analysed


No website


1 analysed

La Favela


No reviews


La Tasqueta de Blai

No information provided


116 analysed

Pincho J.

No website


23 analysed

Taberna Berri

No website

No reviews


Tapas Blai 11

No website

No reviews


Vi and Beers

No website


6 analysed


No website


51 analysed

Own figures based on fieldwork (2017)

The context of the case study

41El Poble Sec’s origins stretch back to the second half of the 19th century, with the neighbourhood’s urbanisation dating from 1856 (Catany, 2013). Today, according to Barcelona’s 2016-2019 Municipal Action Plan, the El Poble Sec neighbourhood, located within the city’s Sants-Montjuïc District, is the fifth-largest neighbourhood in terms of population in all Barcelona. El Poble Sec is home to 29.1% of the Sants-Montjuïc District’s foreign population. The largest population group is that born in Catalonia, and the second largest is that from Andalusia (6.1%), the result of the processes of immigration to Catalonia in the 1960s. The neighbourhood is also home to a significant number of people who were born abroad (11.2%).

Figure 2. Geographic location of the El Poble Sec neighbourhood, Barcelona

Figure 2. Geographic location of the El Poble Sec neighbourhood, Barcelona

Google Maps, 2017

42El Poble Sec is a neighbourhood focusing on the retail and services sectors. Retail premises are dispersed, although completion of the pedestrianisation of Carrer de Blai, one of its main internal thoroughfares, has contributed to the galvanisation of the neighbourhood. According to Catany (2013), the neighbourhood has an area with a high demographic density and a significant percentage of non-EU immigrants. What’s more, the proportion of elderly people living alone is well above the city average. Additionally, family incomes are low in comparison to the rest of Barcelona’s neighbourhoods. There is little new housing available, and second-hand properties are very old, resulting, to date, in lower prices than the city average for the secondary market.

43The changing composition of the population led to an increase both in the demand for amenities and in that for public spaces. It has also increased claims for greater public space in streets and squares, and for the need to foster new relations of coexistence. One of the most significant shortcomings seen at the beginning of the 21st century was the lack of public amenities permitting the establishment and upkeep of relationships between residents. Additionally, neighbourhood associations called for more police control and action to put an end to the situation of insecurity that existed. They complained that Carrer de Blai and other adjacent streets had become a hotbed of conflict (Catany, 2013). The plan for pedestrianisation and for the promotion of retail, bars and restaurants also formed part of local public demands at the time.

44In the very early years of the 21st century, it was also possible to identify a number of urban planning deficiencies in the neighbourhood’s streets and squares, in terms of both basic elements such as pavements, roadways and green spaces, and also its entire public sewer system. The issue of internal mobility was more or less solved thanks to the fact that it has a ring road (formed by Avinguda Paral·lel, Passeig de la Exposició and Carrer de Lleida), which helps cut internal traffic. However, the main problem is one of parking, as most apartment blocks do not have a car park and the majority of streets are so narrow that, if you wish to park there, you have to do so using part of the pavement. For this reason there is a need to provide the neighbourhood with more parking facilities.

45Another issue to be considered is that of accessibility. The neighbourhood enjoys a prime, central geographical location, just alongside the Esquerra de l’Eixample district and, particularly, the popular adjacent neighbourhood of Sant Antoni (currently undergoing the most intense process of gentrification in all Barcelona, making it one of the most fashionable areas for eating out). This location has facilitated access to El Poble Sec from any street leading from Avinguda Paral·lel. It is also well connected by public transport, boasting two metro stations (Poble Sec and Paral·lel) as well as the Montjuïc funicular, which directly connects it to the top of Montjuïc hill.

46The period from 2005 to 2008 saw implementation of the Pla de Barri (Neighbourhood Plan). This was aimed at the overall improvement of the neighbourhood in a number of aspects touching on public spaces, building upkeep and the urban fabric, to increase the public’s quality of life. One of the main axes of the plan was to provide El Poble Sec with the resources needed to ensure regeneration from an economic and commercial as well as from a social and planning perspective, in line with its central location, and taking into account the new social and demographic realities of the neighbourhood. Implementation of the Sants-Montjuïc District Municipal Action Plan (Pla d’Actuació Municipal del districte de Sants-Montjuïc 2008-2010) allowed for, amongst other things, improvements in the neighbourhood’s signposting, and encouraging and assisting tourists to cross through the neighbourhood on their way from Avinguda Paral·lel to Montjuïc and to the Ciutat del Teatre theatre complex.

47Implemented as a result of the creation of the Neighbourhood Plan, the pedestrianisation of Carrer de Blai was one of the most important measures to stem from the neighbourhood movement. The final result of the works has been welcomed by neighbourhood associations as an improvement on the previous situation. Some locals, however, continue to express their dissatisfaction, as they feel that too many street terrace permits have been issued to the street’s bars, leading, on the one hand, to them encroaching on a public thoroughfare with their tables and chairs and, on the other, to an increase in noise at all hours. One of the measures taken by the City Council in an attempt to alleviate the noise problems was to remove the public benches that used to be set all along the street, to prevent concentrations of people who might generate excessive noise (Catany, 2013). As a result of this measure, Carrer de Blai is now the Street with the greatest concentration of pintxo and tapas bars in the entire neighbourhood: a pedestrianised street that has become a ‘gastronomic’ artery for locals and tourists alike (see Photo 1).

Photo 1. Terrace on Carrer de Blai, El Poble Sec

Photo 1. Terrace on Carrer de Blai, El Poble Sec

Photo: P. Leal, 2017

48Both the recent rise to prominence of El Poble Sec, and its proximity (especially that of Carrer de Blai) to the popular and rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of Sant Antoni, have made the neighbourhood fashionable among both locals and tourists in recent years. The unique ‘flavour’ of its late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century urban framework of narrow streets, old buildings and lively neighbourhood atmosphere, close to the city centre yet without the problems of the latter’s urban crowding, not to mention the affordability of its property prices compared to the city centre, have in recent years made El Poble Sec an attractive place to live. This has also led to the opening of a number of hotels there, not to mention the growing presence of holiday apartments. In this regard, it can be said that the gentrification process affecting the neighbouring Sant Antoni appears to be expanding to include El Poble Sec. Similarly, the proliferation of ‘trendy’ establishments and restaurants affecting the former is also extending to embrace areas such as Carrer de Blai, which has ended up becoming a fascinating focal point of pintxo and tapas bars that currently attract both locals and tourists.

The relationship between tourists and pintxos: empirical results

49The theoretical sections of this article have defined ethnic restaurants as spaces for historical and urban transformation, whilst pointing to human mobility as the creator of a gastronomic movement that permits the coexistence of the global in spaces that appeal to the local. So, to gain a more in-depth understanding of the local-global relationship created by tourists visiting Basque pintxo taverns and of how this relationship shows a link with the creation of the image of the tourist destination, this section looks at the results obtained after applying the aforementioned matrix.

50In the case of the 15 pintxo bars and restaurants analysed and located on Carrer de Blai, we can see how these establishments are based mainly on the knowledge created and managed by established players in the Basque pintxo business such as the Lizarran chain. In the case under review, the oldest establishment, Blai Tonight, dates from 2010, and its success led to the subsequent opening of a second establishment named Blai Tonight 2 (see Photo 2). This bar, named after the street it stands on, claims it was the first to offer pintxos on the pedestrian thoroughfare. According to the information we have obtained, a year later, in 2011, the tavern Koska opened as a traditional Basque pintxo bar. Its owners, an Argentinean and a Basque, mentioned in an informal conversation that, in the summer season, up to 40% of its customers can be tourists. The most recent establishment to date, opening in July 2017, is La Favela, serving fusion food combining pintxos with traditional Brazilian cuisine.

Photo 2. The Blai Tonight pintxo tavern in Carrer de Blai

Photo 2. The Blai Tonight pintxo tavern in Carrer de Blai

Photo: P. Leal (2017)

51Analysis of TripAdvisor reviews indicates the geographical distribution of reviews shown in Figure 3. However, it should be pointed out that, for 39% of reviews, it was impossible to determine the country of origin, and it was therefore decided to assign them to an ‘undetermined’ category. Nevertheless, generally speaking, the sources of the reviews reflect the presence of predominantly European tourists, most particularly from the UK (which provided 20% of the comments analysed). Also noteworthy is the presence of reviews from US tourists, representing 11% of the total.

52Any review of these results must always bear in mind the limitations of the analysis performed. On the one hand, there is the greater or lesser propensity, custom and possibility of tourists of different nationalities leaving reviews and comments on TripAdvisor. On the other hand, there is the filter established by researchers to only analyse reviews in English, ignoring languages that have quite a substantial presence, such as French, Italian and German, in addition to those tourists using Spanish.

Figure 3. Number of reviews analysed by country

Figure 3. Number of reviews analysed by country

Source: The authors, 2017

53Furthermore, from an analysis of the assessments made by tourists visiting Barcelona based on the reviews published on TripAdvisor, 66% provide an appraisal, be this positive or negative, of the quality of the pintxos and/or tapas in the review published (see Figure 4). Only 12% make mention of or reference to an unforgettable culinary experience, as seen in comments such as: “our best food experience in Barcelona” (in a review published by a German tourist on 17 April 2017 after visiting La Tasqueta de Blai).

Figure 4. Appraising pintxos and/or tapas

Figure 4. Appraising pintxos and/or tapas

Source: The authors, 2017

54Despite this, 84% of reviews recommend the establishments visited, which indicates a degree of good service and, in general, a good gastronomic experience. However, one can observe some confusion with regard to the concepts pintxo and ‘tapa’, with the two terms being mixed indiscriminately in the majority of cases. So it is that around 24% make specific mention in their review of the name pintxo, whilst the remainder (76%) refer to the concept of Spanish tapas, as can be seen in comments such as: “If you don't like the typical tapas served on a big piece of bread, this is a great place to go” (review published by a Canadian tourist on 24 January 2017, Blai 9 Tapas).

Gastronomic routes: between the global and the local

55These empirical findings allow us to propose some guidelines for explaining how certain local-global relations are articulated in the gastronomic offerings of the El Poble Sec taverns and the issues arising in the construction of these relations. On the one hand, there are the interactions and representations between locals and tourists in the gastronomic experience. On the other, there is gastronomic multiculturalism and the alternatives to the culinary restrictions in the construction of the new consumer and his/her relationship with the ‘culinary other’ as a way of expressing gastronomic routes in global processes.

The street experience: building an imaginary on the basis of an urban gastronomic route

56One of the findings frequently associated with the reviews uploaded to digital platforms is a walking tour of different restaurants working under the same concept. The discourse constructed on the basis of the reviews found on this platform frequently highlights two important aspects of the tourist viewpoint. Firstly, enjoying a ‘local experience’, copying the itinerant consumption associated with the habit of ir de tapeo (going for tapas), associated with a local form of consumption and, secondly, coexistence with the ‘culinary others’ based on experiences in different establishments located close to each other, which offer culinary experiences in conditions similar to those of local residents.

57‘Street life’ therefore becomes a commercial value inherent in global processes that can only exist as a global experience associated with a local one. This is why, in the construction of this imaginary, the tourist experience involves a desired legitimation in terms of proximity and authenticity, in the form of recognising ‘locals’ as regular customers of this type of establishment. This local-global relationship is appreciated by some tourists when they refer to the presence of local residents as a good indicator of the quality of a tavern’s pintxos, as can be seen in the following comments:

581-“Amazing tapas, this little place packs full of tourists and locals alike”. (Tourist comment published on 11 April 2017 on the establishment Blai 9 Tapas)

592-“This little gem is a very popular attraction for locals and tourists. It's a little bit away from the typical tourist area so it doesn't seem to have the cruise boat people”. (Tourist comment published on 30 September 2017 on the establishment Blai 9 Tapas)

603-“Excellent food, hidden gem and popular with locals”. (Tourist comment published on 16 August 2017 on the establishment Blai 9 Tapas)

614-“It seems very popular amongst the locals”. (UK tourist comment published on 1 May 2017 on the establishment Blai Tonight)

62Regarding the construction of the image of Barcelona as a destination by tourists visiting El Poble Sec’s pintxo bars, it can be said that tourists accumulate mental images of the destination based on the cuisine consumed in the place visited (Gunn, 1988) (e.g. comment 2), thereby contributing to the configuration of a gastronomic image of Barcelona ‘on the move’ and one based on their culinary experiences of El Poble Sec.

63Nonetheless, it is interesting to note how this contact between locals and tourists raises doubts in the minds of locals as to the quality of the experience, generally associating it, negatively, with ‘tourist traps’, which is to the detriment of their experience in these taverns. So, for locals, the presence of tourists and the construction of representations associated therewith are negative aspects in terms of the dining experience. As local regulars put it, an establishment’s value is impaired when its consumers are associated with the figure of the tourist. As an informant notes with regard to this kind of establishment:

  • 11 45 year-old man, Barcelona resident.

[…] Tourists haven’t got a clue. You can give them anything and they can’t tell if […] it’s good or not, if it’s done right… And, of course, […] if a bar is full of tourists and locals are used to a certain quality, well, the quality suffers because who knows what they serve […] They don’t know […]. Someone from here, who knows what’s what, might well say “Hey, what’s this?” […] But a tourist doesn’t know […]11

64In the eyes of locals, tourists become a figure that encourages increases in product prices, a loss in quality and the ‘theatrification’ of the experience as a result of the distortion of the restaurant’s original concept. Nevertheless, local El Poble Sec regulars continue to extol the virtues of the creation of a specialised gastronomic route that provides an itinerant experience that means one does not have to leave the neighbourhood and that provides the added values of complexity and character to the territory in which it takes place. The gastronomic landscape of the street thus becomes a benchmark as a route for the confluence of visitors and residents, whose liminal nature forces interactions that shape a new way of carrying out food tourism framed within a more global, contemporary system.

65Digital platforms often feature reviews by locals to the effect that the presence of tourists in these establishments has a negative effect upon the dining experience, or even as a reason for negatively reviewing the visit, associating it with a mise en scène of local experiences. As Salazar (2005) explains, this kind of phenomenon is due to the processes inherent in the relationships forged in glocalisation and that are repeatedly problematic. These interactions could define new opportunities for the analysis of these kinds of expressions of food tourism, which also entail negotiations and tensions in the construction of new social spaces as convergence points for locals and tourists.

66Additionally, we believe it is worth outlining how this new neighbourhood image is being constructed on the basis of the creation of a gastronomic route of pintxo taverns. The results obtained show that 26% of reviews published mention Barcelona. However, it is important to note that 16% directly mention the neighbourhoods of El Poble Sec or Carrer de Blai, whilst 8% indirectly mention the neighbourhood by referring to Montjuïc or the Paral·lel metro station. This is interesting if we bear in mind the aspects that might impact on the creation of an image for a destination that transcends the main urban destination (Barcelona) to highlight new urban spaces that become important for tourists. Some of the reviews analysed show this:

67Pinchos in Poble Sec(tourist comment published on 23 March 2017 on the establishment Blai 9 Tapas)

68The association or identification that has been created with regard to the neighbourhood and its culinary offerings in pintxo taverns shows how, in global processes, tourism helps certain urban spaces become constructed and delimited gastronomic territories that are points of convergence between residents and tourists.

69The operating model of the taverns, moreover, offers a dining option where gastronomic alternatives catering to certain dietary restrictions are possible thanks to the inclusion of options suitable for all palates. Culinary diversity, therefore, not only satisfies the needs of diners transiting through multiple information, merchandise and flavour systems, namely to enjoy an experience that permits access to a complex repertory; it also becomes an opportunity for ‘gourmetising’ some options as alternatives catering to certain dietary restrictions.


70This article explores the phenomenon of Basque pintxos in Barcelona and its effects upon the construction of a tourist destination’s image based on the cuisine of other geographic regions. It thus explores the local-global relationship that is manifested in the appropriation of traditional dishes from elsewhere, which are adopted by the destination and confer upon it a global image thanks to tourists’ narratives.

71To do this, it takes a look at the history of Basque pintxo taverns in the city and their recent transformation into ethnic spaces that have contributed to the destination’s urban, social and culinary transformation. As noted in the preceding sections, although the arrival of pintxos on Carrer de Blai in the El Poble Sec neighbourhood is a relatively recent phenomenon (less than a decade old), the successive openings of a number of establishments, all offering pintxos and tapas, are contributing to the promotion of a gastronomic image of this tourist destination vaguely linked with Spain as a whole and not just to Barcelona, and still less with Catalonia. Additionally, this image being transported by tourists visiting the bars on El Poble Sec’s Carrer de Blai is a popular and affordable one, whilst also being one that allows them to enjoy an experience deemed ‘authentic’ thanks to their appreciation of ‘mingling’ with locals as a clearly positive aspect.

72Carrer de Blai’s Basque pintxo dishes are affordable within the context of culinary offerings to tourists, and are highly regarded in terms of value for money. Similarly, the reviews that have been analysed point to an image based on destination qualifiers employing adjectives such as “good”, “cheap” and “popular”. Nevertheless, these adjectives are offset to a degree by the use of another kind of descriptor that fosters the image of an authentic destination that is outside of normal tourist routes, as factors that find clear favour with tourists.

73With regard to the urban and social transformation experienced by El Poble Sec in recent decades, we see how this has brought together tourists and locals thanks to the conversion of Carrer de Blai into a pedestrianised street. It can be said that the actors involved in the neighbourhood’s transformation (City Council, neighbourhood associations, retailers, etc.) have permitted a (to date) peaceful coexistence between tourists and locals that is (also to date) unquestionably popular with residents.

74The recent phenomenon of Basque pintxos in Barcelona’s El Poble Sec neighbourhood illustrates how the appropriation of traditional dishes from elsewhere (and their evolution and transformation at a local level) has an effect upon the construction of a destination’s image by tourists, who habitually accept as local and authentic the things they experience there. Although most of the Basque pintxos are not cooked by Basque people, these snacks are accepted by tourists as being local and traditional.

75Examination of TripAdvisor reviews indicates that, for many tourists, Basque pintxos and sangria are a typical part of Barcelona cuisine, providing and receiving feedback to and from Spanish cuisine as a whole. One can therefore also observe a hybrid system in which tourists fail to differentiate between local and global aspects. Nevertheless, this failure to differentiate impacts upon the construction and modification of the image of urban tourist destinations, as has happened in the case of Barcelona.

76In light of all the above, we believe that this study of Basque pintxos can be of use to future analysis and, particularly, in understanding the local-global relationship, which is transported thanks to gastronomy and associated with both locals and tourists on the basis of the negotiation of the images collectively created and divulged in these spaces, both liminal and shared.

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1 We shall use the Basque spelling, “pintxo”, rather than the Spanish version, “pincho”, in that we are dealing with an originally Basque speciality that is usually written in the former way in the establishments themselves.

2 This introduction will make use of and occasionally update some of the data published in Medina (2002), stemming from fieldwork on Basque migration to Barcelona and Catalonia.

3 A traditional Basque custom involving the consumption of small glasses of wine (known as “txikitos”) in different bars, along a more-or-less established route (or “crawl”).

4 A cured sausage similar to chorizo typical of the Basque Country.


6 In addition to Sitges, where the initiative began, and Barcelona, a year after its foundation the chain already encompassed L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Igualada, El Vendrell, Mataró, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Terrassa, Sabadell, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Vilafranca del Penedès, Tarragona and Reus.

7 By 1999, they had already opened taverns in Valencia and Gandia.

8 The original quote is: "que la autenticidad de los productos y de los procedimientos sea la máxima posible".

9 Sagardi, for example, even offers groups (of either locals or visitors) the option of following a pintxo trail visiting its establishments in the Ciutat Vella district.

10 We are aware of the approaches from different standpoints, such as the anthropology of urban conflict and cultural geography, which take a critical look at urban rearrangements and their relations with the tourism processes inherent in them, and we regard them as essential to our study. However, we shall not stop to discuss them, but instead use them as the starting point to analyse a way of expressing urban gastronomic tourism within a specific context.

11 45 year-old man, Barcelona resident.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Basque restaurant and tavern openings in the City of Barcelona by periods (1950-1999)
Credits Source: Medina (2002)
File image/png, 13k
Title Figure 2. Geographic location of the El Poble Sec neighbourhood, Barcelona
Credits Google Maps, 2017
File image/png, 652k
Title Photo 1. Terrace on Carrer de Blai, El Poble Sec
Credits Photo: P. Leal, 2017
File image/jpeg, 180k
Title Photo 2. The Blai Tonight pintxo tavern in Carrer de Blai
Credits Photo: P. Leal (2017)
File image/jpeg, 80k
Title Figure 3. Number of reviews analysed by country
Credits Source: The authors, 2017
File image/png, 17k
Title Figure 4. Appraising pintxos and/or tapas
Credits Source: The authors, 2017
File image/png, 4.7k
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Electronic reference

Maria del Pilar Leal Londoño, José A. Vázquez-Medina and F. Xavier Medina, Gastronomy and tourism: blending local essence and global logicAnthropology of food [Online], 13 | 2018, Online since 03 July 2018, connection on 18 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Maria del Pilar Leal Londoño

Ostelea. School of Tourism and GRIT-EAE. Universitat de Lleida.

José A. Vázquez-Medina

Observatorio de la Cultura Alimentaria de México. Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Mexico City México.

By this author

F. Xavier Medina

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) y GRIT-EAE. Barcelona.

By this author

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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