As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
But this year we are planning to dive even deeper into the cities we work in. Getting off the beaten path leads to fresh experiences, but more importantly, it’s a way for us to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to declare 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” one in which our focus will be on lesser-visited neighborhoods and the people and places that keep them going. To get things started, below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
Most locals know the Sants-Montjüic area as a place they pass through on their way to Barcelona’s main train station, but to us it represents something much deeper: A neighborhood where we can still experience the city’s original soul – culinary and otherwise.
While other parts of Barcelona, especially its historic center, have had to contend with the effects of the city’s growing popularity, Sants has somehow managed to stay under the radar, allowing it to keep much of its traditional charm and way of life, while also being an inviting area for new ventures to give it a go. This is a place where you can still find old bodegas with wooden casks filled with bulk wine for sale, homey vermuterias where locals gather to chat over seafood tapas, family-run restaurants where neighbors come on a daily basis for favorite classics and bakeries that keep Catalan traditions alive by offering holiday specialties all year round. To top it off, the neighborhood has a recently restored covered market, countless old-school food shops and a wonderful mix of traditional spots that have been around for generations and new restaurants and tapas bars opened up by innovative young chefs escaping high rents in the center of town.
Adding to the neighborhood’s distinct character and charm is its history rooted in Barcelona’s 19th-century industrial development. Sants was once one of the city’s economic engines, something reflected in the area’s street names – there’s one honoring James Watt, inventor of the steam engine – and the old factory chimneys that dot the neighborhood, as well as the still strong working-class identity of its residents. These days, the old textile factories that made the area famous are being put to use in new and innovative ways, housing an eclectic mix of community-run groups, from choirs to co-op radio stations and even urban farms.
A large number of entrepreneurs and locals have fled the overly gentrified city center, preferring instead to work and live in Sants. These residents have plenty of choice when it comes to eating. Culinary gems like La Mundana and El Petit Pau, which are relatively new to the scene, shine bright, while restaurants like Terra d’Escudella and bodegas like Bartolí and Salvat, a bar that’s like a second home for its loyal clientele, keep the traditional spirit of Catalan identity alive. – Paula Mourenza
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.