Som Gastronomia: On Catalan Cuisine

No matter which way you slice it, one thing is certain: Spain’s food and drinks are cultural icons. On top of that, every autonomous community is a microcosm …

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No matter which way you slice it, one thing is certain: Spain’s food and drinks are cultural icons. On top of that, every autonomous community is a microcosm of different, delectable delicacies. That’s why this year, the Spanish region of Catalonia has been named the European Region of Gastronomy. That’s right—a whole year, dedicated to the celebration of Catalonia’s finest cuisine. As the Generalitat of Catalonia would like to boost the tourism revenue brought into the country through the region’s stellar food and wine industries, the government is drawing special attention to cuisine, and allocating two million euros to its promotion. Next June, for instance, the government will call together over 150 international tourism operators for a workshop, during which Catalonian restaurants, wineries, and tourism companies will show off their products to experts from markets everywhere.

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When you think of Spanish specialties, there are a few easy answers: tapas, paella, or wine. While it’s true that Spanish wine is drunk all over Spain, tapas and paella are not originally from Catalonia. Instead, Catalonia boasts unique food that is fundamentally different from anything dreamed up an Andulucían (or Galician) kitchen. Want proof? Later this year, you can see the exhibition dedicated to the chef from El Celler de Can Roca, a world-famous restaurant that has three Michelin stars and has twice received Restaurant magazine’s title of Best Restaurant of the year. The exhibit dedicated to the restaurant will be featured at Palau Robert in Barcelona, and then will move from city to city around Spain.

Of course, gourmet restaurants aren’t the only places to find exquisite food. Cities like Barcelona already showcase their incredible local delicacies in places like El Mercado de La Boqueria. Situated in Las Ramblas, this enormous market is a hub for fans of food and more. Dozens of stalls stand in rows, making a labyrinth of exciting treats. From there, it’s easy to sample some of the typical Catalonian treats, from savory pinxtos to fresh-made fruit smoothies. But there’s so much variety that a quick stroll through the market isn’t enough to make sense of all of it. Here is a list of our top ten favorite Catalan dishes.

1. Pa amb tomàquet
Often eaten as a midmorning snack, this is toasted bread rubbed with garlic, olive oil, tomato, and salt. The result is a simple, amazing flavor explosion best enjoyed with coffee and conversation.

2. Mandonguilles amb sepia
As Catalonia is a coastal area, the seafood is incredible, and this recipe is no exception. Meatballs and cuttlefish drizzled in rich sauce make for a perfect seaside lunch.

3. Fricandó
In Catalonia, mushrooms are no joke. As there are many different varieties, you may be able to find variations on this recipe at different times of the year. Fricandó makes the best of seasonal mushrooms by pairing them with tender slices of veal cooked in sauce.

Mushrooms assortment in a wooden table.
Mushrooms assortment in a wooden table.

4. Bocadillo
While “bocadillos” are enjoyed throughout Spain, they are nevertheless a staple of your average Catalan citizen’s diet. “Bocadillos” are sandwiches made with baguettes, tomato, and meat or cheese. “Jamón serrano,” or “cured ham,” is one of the most popular fillings.

5. Escudella
This enticing, savory recipe is hundreds of years old, and is perfect for fish-lovers and carnivores alike. While it contains a meatball made with garlic and parsley, it also seasonal vegetables, pasta, and rice. Traditionally, this dish is served over two courses. As a bonus, the Christmas escudella (known as “Escudella de Nadal”) includes snails.

6. Coca
Like the bocadillo, coca is immensely popular. Sold at nearly every grocery store, this treat is most similar to a flatbread pizza. Usually, the toppings range from ham and spinach to chopped peppers, but during the fall and winter months, some sweet versions are made with almonds.

7. Mongetes amb botifarra
Spain’s pork is renowned, and nothing makes it clearer than a dish like this one. A tasty combination of beans and sausage, the garlic and other spices make the whole recipe stand out from the rest.

8. Mar i Muntanya
This combination of shrimp and chicken combines two of Catalonia’s biggest and most distinctive features: the Mediterranean Sea and the many mountain ranges scattered throughout the region. With butter, almonds, and garlic, it’s sure to be a hit, whether you prefer the beach or the mountains.

a plate with raw shrimps on a white background
a plate with raw shrimps on a white background

9. Crema Catalana
We can’t put together a must-have list without including the region’s most famous dessert, and Crema Catalana is certainly that. “Crema Catalana,” or Catalan cream, is a sweet yellow cream made with milk, egg yolk, and sugar. It’s often used to stuff pastries. Sometimes, however, this tasty cream is poured into a dish, covered with a layer of sugar, and intentionally burned, so that the top layer achieves a crème-brulee-style texture and must be broken with a spoon. “Decadent” doesn’t even come close to covering it.

10. Bunyols
These treats are everything you never knew doughnuts should be. A fried pastry that resembles a homemade doughnut, bunyols are actually made from a combination of sugar, flour, and lemon zest, which gives the treat a savory twist most doughnuts lack—and they’re rolled in enough sugar to make you lick your fingers.

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