Traveling to the place without trying its food is making the trip lack of something very important. Coming to Barcelona You are probably wondering what to try, but do not get misled that Catalan cuisine is the same as Spanish. It is not. What is more, it is one of world's best cuisines with several restaurants with Michelin stars and worldwide known chefs.
Catalunya - the paradise for food lovers
In Catalunya there are 22 restaurants with Michelin stars including 3 locals with 3 of them. Catalan restaurants several times were placed in the rank of the best restaurants in the world, many times winning the contest. Let’s have a look on best restaurants and best chefs of Catalunya, to get the hint how important this place is on “gastronomical” map of the world.
Carme Ruscalleda is a worldwide known chef having her restaurant - Sant Pau - 30 kilometres north from Barcelona in the the town Sant Pol de Mar. The restaurant is surrounded with outstanding Mediterranean views. Ruscalleda is famous for her unique technique of cooking and combining Mediterranean ingredients with others from the Maresme region. She is known for shrimp dishes like soupy rice with shrimp. Worth mentioning fact is that she is the only one five-Michelin-starred female chef (three stars of her restaurant in Catalunya and two for a local in Tokio).
Ferran Adrià, called “Culinary Alchemist” or “Salvador Dalí of the kitchen” is probably the most famous Catalan chef. El Bulli - 3 Michelin star restaurant of Adrià - got ranked the best restaurant in the World in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, which is a world record. In 2010 the restaurant was closed and in 2014 is going to reborn as a “creative studio”. Adrià is thought to be the part of molecular school of cooking, but he thinks about himself as deconstructivist - experimenting with techniques of cooking, structure and form of food. Time magazine put him in a rank of 100 most innovative people in the world. His inventions were for example paella ice cream, hot gelatins or indescribable forms that must be eaten or drank in a certain way. The main goal of eating in his restaurant was to get an unusual experience. Because of such experimenting with cooking Adrià was accused of using threatening to health chemicals while creating dishes. Lots of commentators were agreeing with this statement, another ones were calling it jealousy.
Santi Santamaria was the first Catalan to get 3 Michelins stars. He got the award for his restaurant Can Fabes. Oppositely to many contemporary chefs, he was faithful to traditional Catalan cuisine giving it a modern interpretation. His cooking — in traditional Catalan style — was simple, but sophisticated and full of seasonal products. The chef was not a fan of molecular cuisine and was criticizing described above Ferran Adrià for using unhealthy chemicals just to create and extraordinary meal. Santi Santamaria’s one of favourite combinations was a typical sea and mountain way of cooking, which will be described below. His famous dishes were for example cauliflower yogurt with smoked cod caviar, melon with ox hocks or roma tomatoes with apricot and smoked eel. The chef died in 2011 for the heart attack.
Catalunya is one of world food centers with the best restaurants and famous chefs. So instead of eating tapas every day, read more about dishes and drinks You must try in Barcelona and Catalunya in general.
Catalunya - the land of unexpected connections
Catalan gastronomy is thought to be a western Mediterranean cuisine with influences of Balearic, Valencian, Southern French, Aragonese and Murcian cuisine. Let’s take a look on the most commonly used ingredients in Catalunya. It must be mentioned here that Catalan cuisine is diverse within itself. The inland part is influenced more by meat, mostly pork, turkey, goose and duck. Game is also very popular, especially rabbit, hare and partridge. Fish and seafood are eaten more along the coast.
Either vegetable or meat lovers will find dishes for themselves and the quality of them will not disappoint. The most popular ingredients used in Catalan cuisine are variety of vegetables (tomato, garlic, pepper, eggplant, artichoke, onion, olives), meat (poultry, lamb, pork - sausage, ham, occasionally beef), seafood (fish - sardine, anchovy, tuna, cod, prawns, squid), legumes (beans, chickpeas), cheese, bread, pasta, mushrooms, olive oil, cherry vinegar, rice, pine nuts, almonds, wines and many others. Doesn't it sound like heaven?
Something very typical for Catalan cuisine is mixing products that usually do not go together. The best and most famous example are Mar and Muntanya dishes, so connecting ingredients from sea and mountains. Usually it is seafood and meat like shrimp with chicken, chicken and crayfish or pork with lobster. For example, born in Valencia paella, usually prepared with chicken, in Catalunya also consists of seafood.
Another very unique ingredient used in Catalan cuisine are wild mushrooms called bolets. Lots of Catalan people are passionate about picking them in surrounding forests. Such mushrooms are being roasted with sweet spring onions - calçots (or separately) over hot coals and dipped in romesco sauce.
Sauces are a very important part of Catalan cuisine, much more than in Spanish one. The most commonly used is called sofregit and consists of fried onion, tomato, green peppers and garlic. Another popular one is samfaina made similarly to ratatouille (or spanish pisto), but containing also pepper, aubergine and zucchini. Worth mentioning is also allioli - a little similar to mayonnaise, made of egg yolk, oil and garlic (good for grilled meats and vegetables). The one with very unique taste is picada made of almonds, garlic, parsley, nuts and breadcrumbs (it is used both for meat and fish). Very tasty is salvitxada made of almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, bread, vinegar, tomatoes, olive oil and dried red peppers. Xato is very similar, but without tomatoes.
In Catalan cuisine there are used also ingredients and foods common for the rest of Spain. Let´s mention the most popular of them.
Olive oil, olive oil everywhere. Lovers of sandwiches with butter can change their mind after eating a grilled bread sprinkled with olive oil (and then with salt, tomatoes, garlic added etc). It is addictive.
Like everywhere in Spain the very popular foods are ham (pernil) and cheese (formatge) produced for example in La Seu d’Urgell, the Cerdanya district and the Pallars area in the northwestern part of Catalunya. Very popular ones are goat cheeses like containing olive oil - formatge de tupí and with penicillium mould - gorritxa. Amazing pork sausages cannot be forgotten like botifarra, fuet and llonganissa.
Catalunya - the place of hard choice
Hard choice. This what You experience looking at menu in the Catalan restaurant. Hard will be also writing only about few dishes that Catalunya offers.
There is a variety of main dishes worth mentioning. The fans of fish and seafood should try:
- Catalan-style cod (with raisins and pine nuts)
- Tonyina en escabetx (tuna with vegetables)
- Bacalao (cod preserved in salt and soaked before serving)
- Suquet de peix (seafood casserole)
- Fideuas (kind of seafood paella, but served with short noodles, not with rice)
- Suquet de Peix (seafood stew with potatoes, garlic and tomato)
- Sarsuela (different types of fish with sauce)
- Esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion)
- Arròs negre (black rice that contains squid and its ink)
- Suquet de peix (potato fish soup).
The most popular Catalan meat dishes are:
- Escudella (stew that may be served as soup with pasta, minced meats and vegetables - beans, potatoes, cabbage. The other possibility is to serve Escudella as the soup first and then the rest)
- Ollada (meat and vegetable stew)
- Cargols a la llauna (cooked snails)
- Xai Rostit Amb 12 Cabeçes d'All (translated this means "Lamb Roasted with 12 Heads of Garlic")
- Embutidos (platter of cured meats, including fuet and parnil)
- Conill amb cargols (rabbit with snails)
- Pollastre farcit amb prunes i pinyons (stuffed chicken with sweet plums and pine nuts - typical Christmas meal)
- Mandonguilles amb sèpia (meatballs with sauce and pieces of cuttlefish)
- Faves a la Catalana (broad beans stew cooked with pork, black sausage - botifarra negra, garlic, mint)
- Sausages mentioned before
Catalunya is also known as a kingdom of amazing desserts:
- Crema catalana (yellow cream made with egg yolk, milk and sugar. Used to stuff pastries - for example Xuixos or as a dessert itself, covered with crystal, burned sugar)
- Mató de Pedralbes or mató de monja (similar to crema catalana but originated in Barcelona)
- Menjablanc or menjar blanc (white cream made with almonds)
- Peres de Lleida (peeled pears cooked in a cream similar to catalana, served cold with meringue and cherries)
- Mel i mató (made of goose cheese with honey and walnuts)
- Pastissets or casquetes (sweet half-circle shaped pastries stuffed with jam) and covered with sugar)
- Carquinyolis (crunchy almond biscuits)
- Catànies (almonds covered with white chocolate, powdered with black chocolate)
- Pets de monja (small biscuits eaten often with coffee)
- Coques (biscuits with candied fruits and pine nuts)
- Orelletes (thin fried pastries covered with sugar,eaten during Carnival)
- Torró (christmas sweet made with almonds or chocolate)...
...and many other sweet delights like bunyols de vent, mona de pasqua (eaten during Easter), panellets (popular during November 1st), tortell, neules…
If You already got a headache trying to answer the questions “how will I be able to remember these names”? and “how can I try this everything?” Do not worry. In Barcelona and Catalunya in general the places where You can buy pastries You can find literally everywhere. It is possible to try one of each, but be prepared to get so full that You will not be able to walk.
Fans of wine should try:
- Cava (sparkling wine, Catalan equivalent to champagne)
- Moscatell, Empordà (sweet wine drunk after meals)
- Priorato (Tarragona wine, very high quality).
Catalunya - nightmare for vegetarians?
It is not that easy to find vegetarian dishes in Catalunya and Spain in general. If You are vegetarian, be prepared for very little choice of non-meat tapas (mostly with cheese and Spanish omlet), while others will be able to choose hundreds of them. Do not worry though.
Vegetarians can choose for example pan con tomate - baguette (often toasted) sprinkled with olive oil, rubbed with tomato and garlic, with a pinch of salt. Often served with cheese. For meat-eaters we recommend the version with parnil (ham) and xoriço (sausage).
Worth trying is also escalivada - roasted vegetables with olive oil eaten mostly in summer as a side dish or empedrat - salad that contains haricot beans with tomatoes, onions, olive oil and wine vinegar. Spinach eaten with raisins and pine nuts is a heaven for vegetarians but not only. The good idea for vegetarian people can be also dishes with mushrooms described above.
Catalunya - fresh and local
Fresh fruit, best quality meat and seafood. These are treasures of Catalunya that can be found in food markets. The biggest (at the same time one of the biggest in Europe) and most famous one is La Boqueria (Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria). It is placed in Ciutat Vella district (entrance from La Rambla). There you can fulfill all of your senses - taste the highest quality food, look at amazing colours of fruits, hear the sellers trying to gain attention of customers and feel the smell of the most fresh and unprocessed food.The first mention about the market is dated on 1217, so the market has really a long history. On its beginning it was mostly a meat market, now there can be found broad variety of goods, still mostly food - seafood, all fruit you can think of, vegetables, wines and of course meat. The market is surrounded by restaurants where You can try the freshest and the most delicious seafood. One of the most famous places to eat is El Pinotxo. In general the plate of seafood in these restaurants cost around 18 euros. The popular delight of La Boqueria are fresh 100% made of fruit smoothies. They taste just incredible and cost is just 1 euro.
Writing this article was not easy without getting hungry all the time, probably reading it as well. Come to Barcelona and forget about Your diet for a while.
Restaurants in Barcelona within different price range you can find under the link http://www.apartime.com/barcelona-guide/restaurants