Paco Méndez restaurant Niño Viejo.
Paco Méndez restaurant Niño Viejo.

Photo: Sara Larsson


Barcelona’s Latin flavors

Around the world, South-American food is becoming more and more popular, with the smash hit that is Peruvian Nikkei cuisine leading the way. Nowhere is this trend more visible than in Barcelona. The Catalan capital has long been home to a thriving South American community, but it took a while for the city to embrace its cuisine. Not so any more.

“Mexican food tends to get a bad rap,” says Paco Méndez, the Mexican-born Michelin-star chef who heads up Niño Viejo and Hoja Santa, in Barcelona. Both are part of the elBarri restaurant empire run by Albert and Ferran Adrià, famous as the masterminds behind former-best-restaurant-in-the-world, el Bulli.

Michelin-star chef Paco Méndez“People think our food is cheap and fatty but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Authentic Mexican food is flavorful, colorful and fresh,” continues Méndez, whose Hoja Santa became the second Mexican restaurant in Spain and Europe ever to be awarded a Michelin star in 2015.

Although there is no such thing as pan-South-American cuisine, Méndez says there are some common themes throughout the continent. “Tomato, corn and chili are three ingredients that are present in almost all Latin-American food,” he says.

Looking at World’s 50 Best Restaurants, no city has more than three restaurants on the list. Four cities boast three restaurants each. They are: Mexico City, London, New York and Lima and, based on the rankings, the one that comes out on top is Lima, Peru, home of Nikkei food.  

When you first hear about a restaurant serving Peruvian-Japanese cuisine, you will probably pass it off as some kind of crazy fad fusion. But it turns out Nikkei cuisine, which is based around raw fish dishes such as sushi, sashimi, tartare and ceviche, has actually been around for some time. Nikkei food emerged in Lima after an influx of Japanese farmers arrived there in the late 19th century. In the northern hemisphere, it burst onto the scene when Nobu opened in New York in 1994. These days, you will struggle to find a hip eatery that does not feature at least a seabass ceviche or tuna tartare on the menu.

But there is still more to Latin American food than just Mexican and Peruvian. Other South American countries have exciting culinary traditions of their own, from the Brazilian moquecas and feijoadas to everyone’s favorite Venezuelan arepas.

Here are the hottest spots for South American cuisine in Barcelona right now:


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