Spanish food  -   Catalan Food
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Spanish food  -   Catalan Food

Spanish food - Catalanonia

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Catalonia is one of the few areas in Spain where the climatic conditions favour the growth of truffles. The black fungus, more expensive than gold, grows from December to March in oak forests and is found in loose soil just below the surface. Truffle hunters traditionally used pigs to sniff out the precious delicacy, but today dogs are preferred. Most of the produce is exported to France, but local markets are also held. The truffle has so far resisted attempts to cultivate it, which keeps prices high. They are used (sparingly) in both meat and fish dishes. At the other end of the price spectrum we find cannelloni, the popularity of which can no doubt be traced back to the arrival of Italian cooks to Catalonia. The cannelloni are similar to their Italian counterparts the are found especially around Barcelona. Canalones a la Catalana is made from ground beef and chicken pieces in a creamy sauce. Barbecued meats are also popular, especially when cooked over a fire of vine prunings which generates an intense heat. Towards the Pyrenees game dishes are found, like arros amb conill (rice with rabbit) or perdices con coles (partridge with cabbage). To wash it all down what better than the local vintage, the highly regarded red wine from Penedes.

Pan a la Catalana

Enter any bar in Catalonia and you will be hard pressed not to find the 'national dish' pan a la Catalana (Catalan bread) on the menu. This rather grand sounding name comprises at its most basic bread, usually a firm rustic loaf, on to which ripe tomatoes are squeezed, and is finished off by drizzling on some oil with a sprinkling of salt. From these simple beginnings, the pan a la catalana can be adorned with serrano ham, one of the many local goats cheeses or salchichon de Vic. Good quality olive oil is essential , and while Catalonia produces only a small proportion of Spain's total production, nevertheless it accounts for some of the best quality olive oils. To give the meal a tangy flavour often the bread is lightly toasted and rubbed with garlic. The tapa is often simply called pan con tomate (bread and tomato), and while tomato is one of the core ingredients in Spanish cooking surprisingly enough it only arrived in Spain with the discovery by Columbus of the Americas.


Another dish held in great esteem in Catalonia is the calçotada. This calçotada, which originates in Tarragona is made by cooking spring calocats (a local variety of spring onions) over an open flame. When cooked, the spring onions char on the outside but inside are tender. They are eaten by brushing off the outer layer of ash and dipping the vegetable into salbitxada, a spicy sauce made from peppers, crushed almonds, olive oil and tomato. The calçotada symbolises the coming of Spring and every year a large festival celebrating the calcotada is held in Valls in the province of Tarragona. Calçotada is very popular in restaurants and often the spring onions are served on a traditional terracota roof tile, which helps keep the vegetables warm.

Zarzuela de marisco

Zarzuela de marisco is a term used to describe a seafood stew containing both fish and shellfish. Often it will contain hake or monkfish, cuttlefish, shrimp and muscles. Adding saffron gives the broth a beautiful yellow appearance. A popular tapa in bars is gambas al ajillo, made by frying shrimp in oil and garlic. As in Valencia many of the seafood dishes are served with alioli sauce made from garlic and oil with the consistency of mayonnaise.


The is a strong tradition in the Costa Brava of combining seafood with poultry and meat, what the Catalan's term mar i muntanya (sea and mountain). Such combinations include pork and muscles, tuna soup with snails, rabbit with crayfish and chicken and lobster. Fish is also used in salads, like esqueixada which is made with salted cod, or escalivada amb anxoves, made with barbecued vegetables and anchovies.

Crema Catalana

If the sight of crema catalana looks familiar, it is because of its similarity to the French creme brulee. In fact, there are those that opinion that it was in Catalonia that the dessert originated, but then the French always had the better marketing men. Crema catalana is made from egg yolk, sugar, and milk and flavoured with cinnamon and lemon rind. The thin crispy surface is made by sprinkling on sugar, which is caramelised traditionally with a hot iron. Another popular way to round off a meal is postre de music (musical desert), an assortment of dried fruits and nuts. Alternatively meto, a local unsalted soft goat cheese, is served accompanied with honey.
Catalan bakeries are well regarded in Spain. Traditionally many cakes were baked to celebrate religious festivals. During lent, bunyols, deep fried doughnuts, are baked, while Easter Monday is traditionally celebrated with a mona de pasqua, made from dough and the eggs that have been accumulating over the Lenten period.

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