Do you know the worst thing about Catalonia? The food. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about bad food; in fact, the very opposite. Which is exactly the problem: everything there is so good that I always have terrible trouble choosing what I’m going to eat. And so, in order to save you some time, I’ve selected the five indispensable bites for you to get a taste of Catalonian food.
Barcelona was voted by National Geographic as the ‘World’s Top Beach City’ in 2011 and ‘the second best place to visit in the world’ by U.S. News Travel, Barcelona is the perfect luxury hub for the high net worth individual, and is very well known – among many others things, such as architecture and arts – for its amazing gastronomy. This particular Catalonian diet has achieved the perfect balance between traditional and healthy Mediterranean products, and the modern, innovative and avant-garde. The variety of local dishes is so large that you would need years to taste them all. Now, even if that sounds like an extremely attractive option, we want to show a bite of the flavors you can find in Barcelona if you’re only staying for a few days. Here is a list of five essential tapas that can be ordered in every city bar or restaurant.
There’s one thing you absolutely have to order, an unmissable experience in almost every bar in Barcelona; a classic among classics. We are talking about the famous patatas bravas: irregularly diced fried potatoes where the frying technique is everything. Every cook has his own recipe and won’t reveal his secret. They are called “brave potatoes” because the sauce that covers them is spicy and can even be extremely spicy. Nothing written in stone, so the intensity of flavour depends on the cook’s taste. Want to feel local? When ordering, forget the word patatas and just ask for una de bravas (meaning one tapa of bravas potatoes).
Every cook has his own croqueta recipe – and won’t reveal his secret.
The second hot proposal is another classic that somehow has come back into fashion, gastronomically speaking. The sky is the limit when talking about croquetas; there is almost no ingredient that hasn’t yet been put inside one – from cod or mushrooms to chicken or ham, without forgetting spinach, squid or cheese. If you want to liven up a quiet dinner table, just say: “I think the best croquetas ever are the ones from…” and insert your preferred restaurant. I assure you that it will only take a second for a response beginning with “You have no idea!” followed by a never-ending debate on the virtues of various croquettes. Forget about football arguments – croquetas is the real discussion.
Wait a second. Hot food? Isn’t Barcelona hot enough? Nothing to worry about, because there is a wide variety of cold, refreshing options – starting with olives. It’s not by chance that those tiny tasty fruits are the most common tapa; Spain is the biggest olive producer in the world! And the amount of different types is almost countless.
Although we could write an entire article just about olives, let me suggest a couple of them to try when in Catalonia. First, originating from the south of Tarragona, the robust Farga olive tree provides some hard to pick fruits whose oil is highly appreciated. And second, the Arbequina olive, cultivated in both Lleida and Tarragona, whose high concentration of olives makes it perfect for oil production.
Fourth, don’t miss the opportunity to try local cheeses. Cheese in olive oil, old cured or purely fresh as mató; our favorites are those made with raw milk, deep in complexity and with the unmistakable sense of uniqueness. Ask for recommendations – you might be offered a formatge blau (blue cheese), Montsec (from Lleida), La Selva (from Northern Girona), and Garrotxa goat’s cheese. Maybe we’ve just make it harder, so why not order a selection of them in a so-called tabla de quesos (cheese board)?
The authentic Catalan brand mark is pà amb tomaquet, literally bread with tomato. This simple Mediterranean recipe consists of a slice of bread, toasted or not (better when it is warm), rubbed with fresh tomato and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Watch, not any tomato! A regular salad and more acid tomato or a juicy one would easily ruin your toast; the bread will absorb all the liquid and get soggy. The responsible for the texture and sweet touch is the tomàquet de penjar (hanging tomatoes). These no genetically modified tomatoes are collected in the summer and remain hanging till March or April (without refrigeration) to lose all their water and concentrate the flavor. The result is a natural rich puree of tomato pulp. It’s true pà amb tomàquet usually comes accompanied by some jamón, fuet (Catalan sausage) or any other kind of embutido (cold meat) but it is also served as a side in almost every restaurant. Something locals we love is rubbing the toast with a garlic clove to give that savory and spicy touch. If you want to take it to the next level and, again, feel local, make sure to use pan de pagès (rustic bread). Bread is definitively the differential factor. Depending on the quality of the crust and the crumb the experience can get you to heaven. Barcelona bread’s fever is something will deal with soon.