Just a quick train ride out of Barcelona and up the Maresme coast is the beautiful seaside town of Vilassar de Mar. This is a popular beach getaway for vacationers in the summertime but it is also home to Espinaler, a restaurant and bodega that is famous in Barcelona and in Catalonia. This restaurant has been a Catalan tradition for generations and is still a bar today where you can feel like a real Catalan and a great sense of the history and culture.
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Espinaler dates all the way back to 1896 when Miquel Riera i Prat opened up a small family tavern in Vilassar, offering a warm and friendly atmosphere along with good food and drink. The restaurant became a family business, passed down throughout the years and remained to be a simple place to get something to eat. Fast forward to the 1940s when Miquel’s grandson, Joan Tapias, took over Espinaler and started serving vermouth, a drink which is a huge part of Catalan culture still to this day. From that point, Espinaler started serving vermouth and expanding the menu to something familiar that we see today at many bars: small snacks served with vermouth like olives, canned cockles, preserved tuna, and potato chips. These little changes revolutionized Espinaler and started the beginning of how we know it today.
In the 1950s, the Tapias family developed a recipe for the now-famous Espinaler sauce which is a blend of vinegar and spices and pairs wonderfully with canned fish, potatoes, and olives. This sauce is highly popular and can be found in most supermarkets to sprinkle on top of potato chips for some kick, sandwiches for some extra flavor, or any other of your favorite snacks. This sauce is tangy, offering a lot of flavor and hits of pepper but isn’t too spicy. Today there are a few different varieties of Espinaler sauce with varying degrees of heat, depending on your preferences. Most other restaurants and bars in Catalonia keep the sauce on hand to serve with chips or canned fish, and the sauce can be found in most Catalan homes as well.
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Vermouth and food
Espinaler specializes in canned and preserved products of their, as the Tapias family has been producing and preserving fish such as cockles, clams, tuna, and mussels for generations. You can find these in the restaurant as well as other tapas such as fried squid, patatas bravas, and sandwiches with Iberian cheeses and meats like jamón and chorizo. Everything is served with a big bottle of sauce on the side for you to sprinkle liberally over your food. Vermouth is the most popular drink at Espinaler but you can also get a taste of Catalan wines and beer as well to wash everything down.
Espinaler has expanded to two locations in Vilassar: one next to the beach surrounded by other restaurants, shops, and vacation homes, and another a little bit farther away from the coast which also hosts the Espinaler store and bodega. In the store, you will find all of the Espinaler products like sauces, canned fish, chips, and vermouth in addition to other Catalan products and brands. There is an extensive wine collection as well as tasty treats like chocolate and cookies to finish off a nice meal. The Espinaler store lets you bring home the flavors and traditions that have been making this family-run business a success and Catalan treasure for generations.