The last time I visited Catalonia my taste-buds were seduced by culinary creations from some of the best chefs and restaurants on the planet (official – this isn’t just one of those wild statements).
This time my Catalan experience took me on a gastronomic journey that allowed me to savour the flavours of the grass roots of traditional Catalan cuisine.
From tapas in cool chic Barcelona to hearty hill-town fare in the Pyrenees to scintillating seafood straight from the briny on the Costa Dorada, it was one taste-bud treat of a trip.
Day1 – Traditional Tapas in a Classic Barcelona Bar
There’s no better way to ease into the sociable Catalan groove than chilling in a tapas bar in Barcelona in the company of a couple of Moritz cervezas and a few simple dishes of jamón ibérico, wafer thin chorizos and plump olives. Bar El Velódromo supplied the perfect surroundings – polished wooden surfaces, an immaculate steel bar bordering on art deco with rows of tapas dishes that teased and taunted until the gastric juices were running at full speed. A smile inducing touch of imaginative whimsy came courtesy of a menu featuring a retro stripper and 3D glasses. All in all a combination that warmly announced ‘benvingut a Barcelona’.
Day 2: Coca on the Seafront
After not so much a life on the ocean wave but a morning at least, La Mar Salada, a stylish harbour-side restaurant in Port Vell, Barcelona seemed the appropriate setting to be introduced to a Catalan dish that was completely new to me, coca. Coca is a sort of Catalan version of pizza and consists of a thin, crispy pastry base decorated with either savoury or sweet toppings. Usually cut into bite-sized squares, it’s not as overwhelming as pizza and makes for a nice tapas dish. My introductory slice was topped with roasted vegetables, onion confit and foie shavings which I originally mistook for flakes of tuna.
Day 3: Secallona Sausages and Epic Scenery
A visit to the Castell d’Encus vineyard, located in a peach of a position above Tremp, brought an overdose of fine wines, lusty liqueurs and plate loads of local artisan goodies; all of which deserve a mention so require a separate blog. I’ve singled out the Xolís secallona (dried cured pork sausage) because… well you can’t have a blog about Catalan cuisine and not include cured sausage. Secallona is made with the best pork meat and has a distinctive figure of eight shape caused by being pressed by the artisan’s fingers. Its strong flavours are unlocked and complimented by a wine with an assertive character so Castell d’Encus was an ideal place to munch on a few slices whilst absorbing an artist’s dream of a landscape.
Day 4: Pig’s Trotters in the Pyrenees
I had no idea that pig’s trotters had become fashionable in London and New York when I opted to give them a try at El Llupia restaurant in Espot in the Pyrenees. I’d never eaten them before so picked them because they were there (it seemed an appropriate explanation for a mountainous setting). Unsurprisingly they do actually look like pig’s trotters and have a taste and texture like soft, juicy crackling. My Catalan amigos confidently assured me that there wasn’t a bit of fat on them and in fact they were good for the joints.
Day 5: Calçots – Green Onions on an Open Fire
Large green onions cooked on a fire built with vines, calçots are super delicious and great fun to eat, especially with a group of friends who don’t mind looking like they’ve been napalmed. Thankfully I’d watched a video about how to eat calçots not so long ago and therefore survived the experience relatively mess free. If you get the opportunity don’t hesitate to try them, especially the ones at Mas Trucafort.
Day 6: Sweet and Salty Oysters from the Delta del Ebro
A unique place and an equally unique present from the sea, the oysters from Alfacs Bay in the Delta del Ebro are flavoured by the salty Mediterranean and the sweet freshwaters of the Ebro. Swirled around the mouth so that their flavours can escape and enchant, they are a revelation. Help them on their way with a river of cava and you don’t need an expert to explain why they’re considered a potent aphrodisiac.
Day 7: Eels, Eels and More Eels at Restaurant L’Estany
Hands up, I’m cheating; I’ve picked two dishes from day six. Truth is I could have picked more as the Delta del Ebro offers a treasure chest of unusual Catalan culinary experiences that would have foodies salivating embarrassingly. Many people find eels a gastronomic turn-off, probably because of the whole slithering business, so they tend to get a bad deal (if you consider not being eaten as much as cod or tuna a bad deal). At Restaurant L’Estany I was faced with three very different eel concoctions (minced with onion, tomato, garlic and olive oil and served on bread; crispy fried fillets and whole young eels in a wine, tomato and onion sauce). All were tasty and would have been lapped up by most fish fans… as long as the fact they were eels was kept quiet.
There were many, many more gastronomic delights in Catalonia, many of these will be featured on Buzz Trips in the near future.
I tasted my way across Catalonia as a hungry guest of the Catalunya Tourist Board.