That’s a lot of beautiful Bs in the title right there. What is the story behind this explosively delicious food called la bomba that is served at the La Bombeta tapas bar and restaurant in Barcelona?
Bombas are a deep-fried mix of mashed potato and minced meat in the shape of a bomb (those round ones you know from cartoons), topped with alioli (a Mediterranean garlic and olive oil mayonnaise) and a spicy sauce, which may include cayenne as well as tabasco. They are a little like croquetas but bigger and fatter, with a crisp outer shell of deliciousness and a soft, flavour-explosive interior, filling every little gap in your mouth for a heavenly warm and mushy experience.
Bombas as they are known today have been around for about fifty or sixty years. It was one of the more satisfying tapas made at home, as they were filling and so intense in flavour, with the “spiciness of a demon.” Lucky then for us non-Barcelonetas, that tapas bars such as La Cova Fumada and La Bombeta decided to sell their own fresh homemade version. (You can read more about Spanish tapas culture here.)
La Cova Fumada is said to have invented it, the owners (two brothers) using mum’s recipe and spicing it up with alioli and a hot sauce. At first it was simply called a croqueta, until two years after its appearance on the menu a customer came and upon trying this spicy concoction exclaimed “¡Que picante, es una bomba!” – “This is so spicy, it’s like a bomb!” The brothers then decided to offer three versions of bombas: de hembra (female – not spicy at all), marica (sissy – half the amount of garlic and chilli), and de macho (male – the spiciest version). A lovely story for the development not just of a food but also of its name.
Just like at La Cova Fumada, the bombas at La Bombeta are all handmade fresh on the day. In fact, they are one of the few restaurants still serving them fresh rather than defrozen. In a wonderful documentary I came across by Jordi Busquets, featured on a website called cultibar.es which publishes articles on bars and restaurants in Barcelona, the owner of La Bombeta explains how for most restaurants and bars it becomes unviable to serve bombas fresh every day, since they offer many different types of tapas and end up selling only a few of la bomba. La Bombeta on the other hand makes more than a thousand homemade bombas a day that are served in their fresh, crispy yet fluffy glory to customers. Where there’s reputation, there is demand, and where there’s demand, there is supply – of the best kind.
When bombas at the tapas bar had just been introduced to the menu, guests even asked for bombetas rather than for bombas. Evidence to the fact that they must have strongly associated these tapas with the Bombeta restaurant they were served in (given the name, this is hardly surprising), rather than with a different, perhaps less well-known claim that la bomba makes reference to the anarchist history of Spain, in particular Barcelona.
Assassinations and bombings began in the 1870s and continued until the 1930s as a number of workers’ movements rose and fell. Violence was frequent as different groups within society frequently clashed for control. The now gentrified Barceloneta was then a pretty shady waterfront neighbourhood, with revolutionaries and anarchists seeding plans in taverns and bars. Coincidence or intention that la bomba would resemble their favourite weapon of choice: a round iron ball (la bomba) stuffed with explosives (chilli) ignited with a string fuse (alioli sauce)?
Whatever the answer may be, the food has made us look for a truth, led us to find stories, and, most importantly, has enriched us with its existence as a hearty and mouth-watering Barceloneta speciality. And not only has this search for la bomba (a tip by a friend) led me to a bomb of a bomba, but has also allowed me to discover and share with you La Bombeta’s other regional specialties and little food devils of yumminess. Don’t miss out on the traditional Catalan dish Esqueixada de Bacalao, a cold salad of shredded salt cod with pickled tomatoes, onions and olives. If cold fish sounds off-putting at first, you’ll be surprised to find just how refreshing and flavoursome it can be.
We also tried the amazingly rich Albóndigas con Sepia (stewed meatballs with cuttlefish). This would make a wonderfully hearty meal all on its own. As for the Almejas al Vino Blanco (clams in white dry wine)? They did not disappoint: fresh, of high quality, and succulent as we had by now come to expect of the food at this special bar and restaurant.
Whether you begin your Barcelona stay with a full-on in-your-mouth bomba explosion, decide to spice things up halfway through your visit, or whether you are determined to go out with a bang, La Bombeta is a must-visit on anyone’s itinerary. They are open throughout the day without a siesta break, so if you’d rather avoid the queues (like we did), go between lunch and dinner time. They may not speak very much English, as they wittingly advertise: “No hablamos ingles pero hacemos unas bombas cojonudas” – “We do not speak English, but we make awesome bombas.” And they also don’t offer wifi, since they prefer to speak to each other instead: “No tenemos wifi, hablen entre ustedes.”
But who needs wifi or even English when there’s bombastic food that can be explained without words, that brings people together from all walks of life. We certainly didn’t and we’d go back in a heartbeat. ¡Que aproveche!
Area: Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
Closest metro: Barceloneta (L4)
Address: La Bombeta
Calle de la Maquinista, 3
08003 Barcelona, Spain