FOOD YOU NEED TO FEAST ON
Wherever you go, you’ll find they have traditional dishes and regional specialities. Barcelona is no exception! Who else loves sampling all the local delicacies when they’re away from home?
Cuisine in Catalonia can best be described as surf and turf or mar i muntanya as they say in Barcelona. No menu here is complete without typical dishes starring meat, sausages, beans and so on. And then there’s all the specialities made using ingredients that come from the sea or grow near water (rice).
But we’re not going to talk about every single dish going. Instead, we’ve put together a little tasting menu of delicious treats you’ll have no problem finding in Barcelona. Bon profit!
TOP TIP 1
PA AMB TOMÀQUET
Is any meal in Barcelona complete without a slice or two of bread with tomato? Most restaurants will ask you if you’d like some to keep you going until your meal arrives.
Pa amb tomàquet is basically sliced baguette topped with a tomato mixture, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with a pinch of salt. Garlic is sometimes rubbed into the bread before the tomato mixture goes on top.
If you dine in a restaurant serving traditional Catalan dishes, you’ll find the tomatoes and garlic cloves waiting for you in a basket on your table next to the oil and salt. The freshly toasted bread will be served warm. However, the dish usually comes prepared for you in Barcelona, where they also skip the garlic as a rule.
Here, it’s usually eaten as a snack or starter, but some people even serve it up for breakfast…! It can be topped with ham, sausage, cheese, anchovies or grilled vegetables known as escalivada.
Pa amb tomàquet is a Mediterranean dish inspired by the classic pairing of bread and oil. It’s very similar to Italian bruschetta. And it’s not the only way of eating bread in Catalonia by a long shot. Try topping it with wine and sugar or melted chocolate, salt and oil instead. OK, those combinations might sound like an acquired taste but trust us when we say they’re delicious!
If you fancy whipping up some bread with tomatoes for yourself, make sure you use hanging tomatoes or tomàquets per penjar. They taste divine in this dish!
In Catalonia, they tend to use pa amb tomàquet as the base for their sandwiches (“bocadillos”) rather than the classic combination of bread and butter. That insider info should stop you getting a shock when you bite into your first sandwich in the city!
Top Tip 2
Spanish croquettes (croquetes in Catalan) aren’t made from potatoes as you might expect. No, they’re filled with a thick and creamy béchamel sauce instead. And other ingredients depending on which flavour you order. Ham, chicken, fish, prawn, spinach, mushroom and cheese are all popular fillings.
Croquettes are normally served as starters or tapas dishes rather than a side accompanying a main meal.
They’ve been a firm foodie favourite in Catalonia for a very long time and were originally seen as a way of using up leftovers.
Once you’ve sampled a good few croquettes, you’ll start to notice the difference between the home-made and mass-produced varieties. The best thing you can do is order them whenever you can to test out the quality and try as many flavours as possible!
Top Tip 3
As a type of spring onion with a length of between 15 and 25 cm, calçots are milder and less bulbous than onions.
The origin of the calçot is disputed, but the most popular story traces them back to a farmer in Valls, a Spanish city north of Tarragona. He is said to have put a few calçots in the fire at the end of the 19th century and accidentally created a dish that was a household favourite in Valls by the start of the 20th century.
Nowadays, calçots are eaten all across Catalonia but usually only during January, February and March. They’re often enjoyed in style at a traditional calçotada winter barbecue, which could be a simple family meal or a fantastic feast for a crowd.
Either way, the calçots are grilled over an open flame, before being wrapped up in newspaper and served up on terracotta tiles. They’re peeled by hand and dipped straight into a special sauce. You can expect your hands (and probably your clothes) to be completely black afterwards, which explains why plastic gloves (and bibs) are sometimes provided!
But that’s just for starters at a calçotada. The main dish of roasted lamb, sausages and white beans will follow. And for dessert? Usually oranges and a glass or two of cava (Catalan sparkling wine).
You can actually enjoy the calçotada experience at some restaurants in Barcelona. Make sure you check it out if you’re ever in Barcelona during the winter and are in the market for delicious food and all kinds of fun.
We often grill calçots at home and they’re even a hit with the kids! 🙂
Top Tip 4
Orxata de xufa is a refreshing drink made with tiger nuts that’s originally from Valencia, where the main ingredient is grown in abundance. The tubers are washed, ground, softened and pressed several times over. The extract is mixed with sugar and water to create orxata. This nutritious drink may be dairy-free, but it looks just like milk. It’s packed with starch, unsaturated fats, sugar and protein. And it’s a rich source of nutrients such as Vitamin C and E and minerals like phosphorous and potassium.
Orxateries (kind of like ice-cream parlours) serve up ice-cold orxata while it’s nice and fresh because it goes off very quickly. It’s often served with warm fartons, long sweet buns that are perfect for dipping and dunking.
Freshly made orxata is what you want – try to avoid the mass-produced equivalents you can buy in the supermarket because they’ve usually been watered down with other, cheaper ingredients.
Luckily, there are a few traditional orxateries around in Barcelona that have perfected the art of preparing this delicious drink.
TOP Tip 5
Crema catalana – known as crema cremada or simply crema by the locals – is similar to the French crème brûlée. It’s a classic dessert in Catalonia that appears on pretty much every menu around here.
This pudding has been traced back to cookbooks from the Middle Ages, when the ingredients were the same as they are now: milk, egg yolks, cornflour, cinnamon and lemon or orange zest. A caramel layer is formed on top by sprinkling sugar over the cream and heating it up with a blowtorch. Traditionally, a hot iron would have been used to caramelise the sugar at the end.
You’re going to want to try this dessert for sure!
Text and image rights: © Céline Mülich, 2021 – 2023
With the support of Jacqueline Glarner