La Bomba Tapas and Barcelona Anarchists

In the Barri Gràcia, we bite into La Bomba tapas, which pay tribute to historic Barcelona anarchists. They go down easy with today’s Catalán identity.

“Watch out, the brava sauce is spicy,” warns Renee. In Barcelona’s Gràcia neighborhood, a labyrinth of tight historic streets, we are biting into La Bomba tapas. Carlos, the owner of L’Anxoveta, hovers anxiously, water at the ready. They couldn’t have known my husband. It’s the sort of statement he takes as a challenge, while simultaneously acting as my taster.

“You’re safe,” I hear, so I take a bite, too. And just like that, we both become obsessed.

La Bomba tapas. Our first day in Barcelona, and we get a twist on a traditional tapa with a fascinating history, served in a trendy modern space on a tiny ancient street. This moment will encompass every impression we get from Barcelona.

la bomba tapas

La Bomba at L’Anxoveta, Barri Gràcia, Barcelona

La Bomba tapas. They’re crispy croquettes filled with a mix of potato and meat, centered in a pool of red picante brava, topped with an aioli fuse.

Renee tells us L’Anxoveta was born out of a dream. When economic hardship during a recent recession caused Carlos to lose his job, he opened a restaurant. He thought he’d be better at being his own boss. Renee thinks he serves the best La Bomba tapas in town, and she has brought us here as part of a Devour Barcelona tour of the Gràcia neighborhood.

la bomba tapas

Renee with Carlos pouring cava at L’Anxoveta

Renee goes on to fill our day with great culinary finds scattered across Gràcia, a village founded in the 17th century by Carmelites. It was swallowed up into Barcelona when the Eixample plan merged Old Town districts dating from medieval times with neighboring villages. The result: a bustling new city that straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. But at the end of our day with Renee, on impossibly full stomachs, we’re still obsessed. It’s La Bomba tapas we think about. We want to eat them again, and we want to know more about how they came to be.

Barcelona's Eixample plan merged the medieval waterfront with existing villages (darkened areas) to create a modern, gridded city. Gràcia is at the top.

Barcelona’s Eixample plan merged the medieval waterfront with existing villages (darkened areas) to create a modern, gridded city. Gràcia is at the top. La Barceloneta is the triangular space by the waterfront. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As the Eixample modernized Barcelona, alternative ideologies were blooming in Europe. With the wealth and population shifts that had risen out of the Industrial Revolution during the 19th century, came economic disparity. In Barcelona, violence was frequent as anarchists, police, gangsters and hired guns, as well as Republicans and bourgeoisie, clashed for control. Bombings and assassinations began in the 1870’s and continued through the 1920’s and 1930’s, as a series of workers’ movements rose and fell.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Jonathan Sills, who claims to eat “like a teenager fueling a growth spurt,” writing for We Are Never Full, reminds us that the anarchist weapon of choice in those days was a “round iron ball stuffed with explosives ignited with a string fuse.”

And in a most excellent video series, Anarchism in Barcelona: The Spanish Civil War (Part 1 of 2), the Vagabrothers interview Nick Floyd, guide for an anarchism themed tour of Barcelona, who provides more historical clarity:

“Until the 20th century, there’s nothing unique about Spain [in terms of anarchism]. Anarchism has a very long history in France, Italy, Europe and elsewhere. But the difference is, at some point in the early 20th century, it gets supplanted by socialism and communism in the rest of Europe. In Spain, instead of that, it grows.”

In La Barceloneta, a since-gentrified, but then pretty shady, waterfront neighborhood, anarchists traded contraband and revolutionary boasts in bars and taverns. Both Sills and Renee repeat the story: At La Cova Fumada (the Smoky Cave), barkeep Maria Pla shaped round potato and meat croquettes. Then she got the cheeky idea to plate them with aioli and spicy brava sauce to resemble bombs with fuses lit in a pool of blood. La Bomba tapas.

Renee says, “most Barcelona foodies know that during this time of instability, La Bomba tapas were intended to make light of the chaos.” This stands to reason: it’s hard to imagine Barcelona surviving over the last 100 years without a mitigating perspective. We’ve already noted the Catalán penchant for lingering in each present moment. This kind of happiness roots in despair, even as it flourishes in the sun.

Nick Floyd goes on to explain,

“Historically, Barcelona has always been the city most associated with anarchism because it’s where the most remarkable experiment with anarchism took place, which was in the summer of 1936.”

On July 19 that summer, shots were fired while the city was filled with more than 6,000 athletes from 22 countries. Countless spectators had come for the Olympiad Popular. This event had been organized in the face of the controversial Berlin Games, in which American Jesse Owen would famously compete and win, much to Hitler’s disgust. In Barcelona, all these visiting foreigners would instead see a revolution and the start of a Civil War.

Marina Ginesta, 17-year-old communist militant in Barcelona, 1936. Photo Credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com

Marina Ginesta, 17-year-old communist militant in Barcelona, 1936. Photo Credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com

Franco’s coup against the Republic was infamously bankrolled by the Nazis. Ensuing attacks by fascist anti-republican forces had Barcelona’s anarchist/unionist workers defending the city with weapons they had to illegally seize. After beating off Franco, they then took over the factories where they had worked.

Over the next few months, Barcelona’s anarchists went on to collectivize thousands of other symbolic entities – 4-star hotels, certain churches, and administrative buildings – in a proletarian coup. Public services – transportation, shipping, power and telephone companies – and communications enterprises – theaters, newspapers and printing companies – were run by worker committees. And run well, by the ordinary people who had always been told they could not. All work was made equal.

“Everywhere change was apparent. The whole character of Barcelona changed. Posh restaurants no longer existed. Collective eating houses took their place. A spirit of comradeship was in the air.” – Eddie Conlon, The Spanish Civil War: Anarchism in Action (1984)

Click here if you can’t see the fascinating video interviews with actual participants below:  

Things took a darker turn as leftist ideologies splintered. Over 7,000 religious clergy were killed, as it was thought they represented the old regime. Religious relics and tombs were desecrated. In May, 1937, pro-Stalinist forces killed hundreds of anarchists and their allies over a 3-day period in an attempt to wrest control of the telephone system. And economic challenges, caused by foreign embargoes and the seizure of the gold reserve by the Fascist government, hamstrung Catalunya’s immense productivity by limiting access to raw materials.

In 1939, Barcelona fell to fascism, along with the rest of Spain, under Franco.

Nowadays, Barcelona’s Apple Store occupies the building which once was the Communist Party headquarters. Instead of Lenin and Stalin, iPads and MacBooks are icons of the people. In Anarchism in Barcelona: The Bank and the Bike Shop (Part 2 of 2), the Vagabrothers go on to examine modern-day anarchists who exist on the edges of Barcelona society. These groups, the main of which is Okupa, use methods like squatting, vandalism, education and workshops in self-sufficiency, and takeover protests.

Modern day Barcelona anarchists use squatting as a means of resistance. Photo Credit: zerocoder

“Occupy and Resist.” Modern day Barcelona anarchists use squatting as a means of resistance. Note the A for Anarchy symbol at right. Photo Credit: zerocoder

But the most remarkable aspect may be their volunteer community services such as clothing and bike exchanges which win hearts and minds against capitalism and government control. There is even a post-capitalistic community set up in an abandoned industrial center on the outskirts of town. Barcelona anarchists acknowledge their activities are necessarily temporary because of illegalities, but the ideological value of group strength within a self-sufficient framework is appealing to many.

We go back to Gràcia armed with more information and recommendations in an email from Renee. First stop is a return to L’Anxoveta. Carlos deserves simultaneous blame and compensation for the initial introduction. We find him happily busy, serving diners with a broad smile. He is truly a better boss of himself than anyone else might be. After more than a week in Catalunya, this is a common story that we can relate to as entrepreneurs.

Pete and Carlos at L'Anxoveta

Pete and Carlos at L’Anxoveta

Ordering up “La Bomba, dos,” Pete’s getting proud of his new Spanish. Uno for me. The flavors blend: tartly perfect aioli, and a sweet picante bite in the brava sauce. Crisp shell and smooth inner texture. We do it again.

Not too far away is Cafè Pagès. Renee had taken us to the owner’s father’s bar, Casa Pagès, around the corner for sandwiches of grilled botifarra sausage. Now in her email she lets it slip that the son’s Cafè makes good La Bomba tapas. We make a beeline.

The atmosphere in the Cafè is retro, and it’s easy to imagine it being here just as it is during the war. Confidently, we order Las Bombas, three for Pete and two for me. The server looks horrified. “No!” she exclaims. “La Bomba is big! Try just one and see!” Chastened, we comply.

Interior of Cafè Pagès. Photo Credit: Cafè Pagès

Interior of Cafè Pagès. Photo Credit: Cafè Pagès

Cafè Pagès’ La Bomba tapas are twice the size of the ones at L’Anxoveta, and taste different, too. There is no brava sauce, and the aioli is generous. This version is a meal, and we can definitely linger with it.

La Bomba at Cafè Pagès

La Bomba at Cafè Pagès

We ask about the prep method and ingredients, and the cook emerges. Yes, there is egg, two in fact. One to bind the meat and potatoes and one to roll La Bomba in. I flash on a weird sort of anarchist parody, with me rolling croquettes in a 1930’s kitchen while animated political discussion rises and falls to the crackle of a radio. La Bomba tapas.

La Bomba tapas

Simple ingredients with a pow!

It’s time for us to go. We’re leaving Barcelona in the morning. The streets of Gràcia are quiet in the mid-evening. I notice an “A” for anarchist symbol in some graffiti as an older couple walks ahead, helping each other along. They are unhurried, in deep conversation. As we pass, he graciously proffers a match, cupping her cigarette with his hands against the wind. We turn down Travessera de Gràcia toward our hotel on the Via Augusta and they are behind us, standing still.

We are grateful to our hosts, Devour Barcelona, for this outstanding introduction to the Barcelona food scene, and fostering our obsession. All opinions are our own.

TripAdvisor’s Recommendations For Best Tapas in Barcelona.

Pinnable Image:

La Bomba Pinterest

Practicalities, Tips and Information:

Devour Barcelona Gràcia Culinary Tour, Four authentic hours include a dozen tastings and (at least!) two drinks at small, local family-run establishments, and a visit to a local market. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10am. Tours are held in English (other languages on request) for up to 12 people. 65€ per adult, 45€ children 6 – 12 years. Wear comfortable clothing, walking shoes and sun protection. Rain or shine.

L’Anxoveta, Carrer de Sant Domenèc, 16 (Gràcia). (+34) 934 14 92 23 Tapas, anchovies, octopus, squid and seafood. Daily plates. A variety of local wines.

Cafè Pagès, Torrent de l’Olla, 27 (Gràcia). (+34) 933 68 09 58. Comprehensive cafe menu with tapas, salads, lunch plates and dinners. Full bar.

La Cova Fumada, Carrer Baluart 56 (Barceloneta). (+34) 932 21 40 61, Open at varying times depending upon the day. No sign out front. Point and eat.

Spanish Civil War Tours in Barcelona visit key sites in the city between 1936-1939, covering anarchism, daily life, George Orwell and other literature, and the effects of bombing. Daily except Wednesdays and Sundays at 10am for between 3.5 and 4 hours. 20€ per adult, 10€ children 11-15 years of age should be very interested in history.

Informational video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=41&v=Sq3vZkyu3ms

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Betsy and Pete! What a COOL article! Such an interesting take on all your experiences in Barcelona and Catalonia. I am so glad you were able to check out some of my recommendations (and return to l’Anxoveta!!!). Hope you had a blast in Canary Islands 🙂
    renee has an awesome blog post here: Recipe: Sangria de CavaMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Renee – It’s all your fault! 🙂 Thanks so much for lighting the fuse to know more about La Bomba. We’ll stay in touch.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Tanj – You’d love Catalunya, definitely. We can’t wait to get acquainted with more of Spain.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Tawanna – So many awesome combinations for every preference, aren’t there? Glad you like the post. 🙂

  2. says

    Gosh, it’s as almost I already tasted that La Bomba tapas with your post, and with an engaging history to go with it as well! When I was in college, I used to stay in a dormitory manned by a Spanish nun who really cooks the best croquettes! Your post made me miss her and her delectable Spanish cuisines. 🙂
    Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine has an awesome blog post here: Travel Thoughts: PossibilitiesMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – We highly recommend the tour for first time or repeat visitors. Glad you enjoyed the history we were curious to learn and share.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Carol – So glad you enjoyed it. We couldn’t get it out of our minds and had to know (and eat) more. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – I can so relate. We finally found a decent place to eat here in Fuerteventura. Barcelona and the rest of our exploits have set a high bar, haven’t they? I have Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia queued up next on my iPad. Just finished For Whom the Bell Tolls. Lucky us, we’ll be in Barcelona for a quick night on Wednesday before we head north. I am sorry that my study of 20th century history never really covered this region except to lump Franco with Hitler.

  3. says

    If the Rojos top brass knew that an Apple store now occupies their old headquarters, they would have a fit! But that’s they way of the world, isn’t it? My grandfather fought in the Spanish Civil War and says, to this day, that it was a waste of human life and resources for nothing because nothing has changed.

    Now on to the bombas. I didn’t know the story behind the name but I think it’s such a typical Catalan thing to do, give them the finger in any way they can 🙂 BTW, I do really like bombas. I prefer bombas with Serrano ham. The addition of alioli is the perfect touch of flavour.
    Ana O has an awesome blog post here: Discovering London: Kensington and KnightsbridgeMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Ana – What fascinating stories your grandfather must have. Get them all before he is gone. And yes, thumbing a nose in the face of authority with a laugh seems so characteristic. The ham version must be delicious. 🙂

  4. says

    Excellent article! Good to see things from a different perspective than the usual la rambles and beach scene. Got to get myself back to Spain…& eat same tapas! Will need a few siestas 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Will – We never even saw the beach in Barcelona this trip, although we did walk through Las Ramblas. Now that we’ve done that once we don’t have to again. 🙂

  5. says

    OK, I’m ready to return to Barcelona! I absolutely love Spain and especially the tapas! I don’t believe I’ve had a La Bomba, it looks delicious! What an interesting bit of history too!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Heather – Glad you enjoyed it. Now for you to return and enjoy La Bomba with fork and plate. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sophie – Yes, we were fascinated. Now I’m reading even more history from that time.

  6. says

    Fantastic post – one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Both the history and the food are equally tantalizing and it makes me want to got Barcelona even more than before.

  7. says

    I’ve been to Barcelona three times but never had an occasion to taste something really traditional (maybe because it was a hitchhiking budget trip? :)) Now, when I have direct flights to Barcelona from Poland, the city is so close and probably will be a target for one of future trips. Barcelona is in my TOP3 best cities in Europe 😉
    Pawel has an awesome blog post here: Extreme outdoor first aid courseMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Pawel – It’s one of our top 3 favorites, too, along with Budapest and Prague. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kate – We love the history and traditions, too. Barcelona has to be one of the most lively, yet not overwhelming, cities in the world. So much positive energy.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lieurene – Don’t wait! We’re sure you’ll love it and when you go, we’d love to hear about it. 🙂

  8. says

    Very interesting post. I love Barcelona and enjoyed the bit of history you provided. The history shapes the city and attitudes today. I never came across La Bomba tapas when I visited. Now I have one more reason to return.
    Donna Janke has an awesome blog post here: Bella Vista de TucsonMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – You’re right, the history is very much alive in the city today. Hope you can return soon.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Susan – Renee delivered the story so entertainingly, yet so casually, I reacted: “Wait, what?” and had to sleuth it out more.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – It’s a story that deserves more notoriety. Happy to share and glad you enjoyed it!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Yasha – Happy to tempt you, but as I’m sure you’ve read above, there are vegetarian versions of this yummy tapa. Glad you enjoyed the history, too.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – We’ll have to compare notes. When we return for a longer stay next time, we’re heading straight to Gràcia. 🙂

  9. says

    Hi Betsy! Love your anarchist parody 🙂 Thanks for history primer. The story behind those delicious looking LaBombas definitely has a hint of romance in a weird sort of way. I can’t wait to get back to Spain to try one 🙂
    Nancie has an awesome blog post here: Buddha’s Birthday in SeoulMy Profile

  10. says

    I have just met so locals from Barcelona on my travels in Austria, we talked about this exactly. I am planning my visit to see them and the beautiful city of Barcelona once again, where I will immerse myself into the food and history all over again.
    Carissa @ Start Wandering has an awesome blog post here: Arriving at AuschwitzMy Profile

  11. Helena says

    Hi, I’m one of your email subscribers, and I happen to be an anarchist from Barcelona. I was expecting to read yet another horrible article about vandalism and how terrible people we are (we do have all the media against us you know), but instead found a quite decent one, so thanks for that! 🙂

    I would only add a bit more information about nowadays anarchism and social movements in BCN as we don’t only do food and bikes stuff 😉 We basically try to change the world for a better equal place, even though it’s basically a lost battle, we are always fighting for the people who have nobody to defend them, like old and poor people being kicked out of their houses for the sake of bank’s profit and tourism business growing up in the center of the city and so many other poignant matters, inmigrant people, etc. All kind of social movements (not only anarchist) are still very active in Barcelona, even though we have a lot of police repression and so many forces against all of us… The city used to be called “La rosa de foc” (“the rose of fire”) for that..

    Thanks for the article anyway 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed so much Barcelona 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Helena – Thank you so much for your comment. When I was researching this article, I found myself sympathizing very much with the reasoning behind your movement. And I can understand why you feel the illegal tactics are necessary. Like you, I believe society has an obligation to care for its vulnerable members. While I may not agree with everything your colleagues are doing, I applaud the social ideals and the fact that you are acting on your beliefs. We really do love your city and wish it the best.

  12. says

    This was really interesting and beautifully written! I love the whole Catalan mentality and mood. For some reason I have ended up in Barcelona 3 times on their National Day which is in September and they are always trying to secede from Spain. I don’t think it can happen but if it does I’ll still go see them so I can try some of these tapas!
    Kay Dougherty has an awesome blog post here: Art and asphalt in LAMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kay – We agree with you on the Catalán spirit! I think Americans love to see independence occur. Whether it does or not for Catalunya, we’ve vowed to return.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lisa – I know, right? When we heard the “legend,” we thought it was just begging for a detailed look. And it’s a tasty tapa!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anne – It’s a story not easily forgotten once you’ve learned it, for sure! We’ll have to try the fried artichokes when we return to Barcelona. Something tells me they’ve been served for decades, too. 🙂

  13. says

    I also loved Las Bombas in Barcelona but had no idea of the history behind their creation. Like you, I have to say that period of Spanish history was entirely missing from my schoolbooks. A book I think you would enjoy: Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Zafon, a novel set in Republican Barcelona. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I am already wanting to go back to Barcelona. Nice post!
    Donna has an awesome blog post here: Remembering Joy in San Miguel de Allende: The Conchero DancersMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – I am reading Shadow of the Wind right now!! Another good one: Cathedral of the Sea, set in the Gothic Quarter during medieval times. I also just finished George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. 🙂

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