Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain, with its own language, own history, and own historic food culture. It is very important never to forget that fact- but just in case you needed reminding (or an excuse to gorge yourself silly on some of the best food in the world), here is a guide to all the most famous morsels of food to hail from this beautiful part of the world.
This guide was helped out by two of Manchester’s Catalonian restaurants Lunya and Tast, and a range of other Spanish restaurants serving Catalonian dishes to help pad things out. Enjoy!
One ingredient that has the Catalans going coo-coo is the Calçot. This vegetable is a giant spring onion type thing which is grown over the winter in Catalonia. They are at their best between January and March where they are harvested and cooked over hot coals which gives them a gorgeous charred texture and flavor.
The Calçots are typically served with Romesco Sauce which consists of a mixture of toasted almonds, roasted red peppers, vinegar, garlic and smoked paprika. To put it bluntly, it is BANGING, and it is perfectly sided with the sweet Calçot onions. I have heard that Levanter up in Ramsbottom had a traditional ‘calcotada’ cookout back in January where they cooked them over coals just like they would in Tarragona. So, keep your eyes peeled and fingers crossed for a repeat next year.
Other than that, you can get your paws on a stunning rendition of Romesco sauce with some Smoky, Tenderstem Broccoli at Volta in Didsbury. It is a stand out star on their menu and a proper nod to Catalonian cuisine.
Another sauce from Catalonia would be Aioli. Now, we know that Aioli (which could be considered garlic mayonnaise- but not like the one from the kebab shop) is loved across the whole of Spain and all its territories. However, it hails from Catalonia, and the name literally means ‘garlic and oil’ which is all it is in its purest form.
To make it, garlic is mashed into a paste in a pestle and mortar. Salt is added, and oil is slowly dripped in which slowly emulsifies into a sauce. Aioli is used as a garnish or for dipping fried fish like Calamari. In Catalonia however, people will just eat it with bread at the beginning of a meal- so if you want to go down the traditional route, you can order it like this at La Bandera.
When it comes to Catalonian nibbles, I think the thing that I take away the most is their simplicity. Another example of this is a typical Catalan dish called Pa amb Tomàquet. This consists of sliced bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with finely chopped tomatoes. Doesn’t sound like much does it? You would be wrong.
The trick is the tomatoes- they have to be the best of the best, and when combined with olive oil, salt and pepper- that is all they need. It is best if you let the wet mixture absorb into the bread just a little too. You should always judge a Catalan restaurant on how good their tomato bread is. I recently tried the one at Tast, and it put a massive smile on my face that I couldn’t seem to shake.
From the Sea
Like a lot of the Mediterranean, the Catalans like their seafood. Think fresh sardines, hearty fish soups and fried fish sided with aioli. One thing about Catalonia that is particularly unique when it comes to fish is their penchant for Bacallà or salt cod.
You don’t have to be a genius to work out what this ingredient is all about. Cod fillets are preserved and dried out in salt. The flesh is then soaked in water before it is used in a variety of dishes. One of these traditional dishes would be Esqueixada– a salad made up from shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions and plenty of olive oil.
Lunya Catalan Restaurant and Deli – which you should know I am probably going to talk about quite a lot in this guide – pays homage to this dish. They grill their salt cod and serve it with a garlic mousseline– as we know, those Catalans love their garlic.
Honestly, there is nothing like the texture of Bacalla- and trying this dish should be on your foodie bucket list.
Another fish dish that comes from Catalonia which is worth remembering is Arròs Negre (Black Rice). In simple terms, this is like a seafood paella which gets its characteristic black hue from the inclusion of squid or cuttlefish ink.
Any seafood can be added- but I think it is best with just squid like that at La Bandera. The texture of this dish is just fantastic, and the strong fish flavour from the ink makes this a must for all seafood lovers.
From the Land
But it isn’t all about fish over in Catalonia. A lot of this area is very mountainous, and where there are mountains in Europe (and indeed the rest of the world), there is a cuisine that is rustic and heavy on the meat. Away from the coast, Catalans like to eat a lot of pork based products, and it is safe to say they like their sausage.
One of these is known as Fuet which is of the cured variety. It is comparable to salami and is heavily spiced and fragrant – the perfect addition to any board of meats. Another is Morcilla. This is a dark black blood sausage which is made with pigs blood and is comparable to black pudding.
This is entirely characteristic of the area, as very little is wasted when an animal is slaughtered. Sustainability is key in Catalonia – something which harks back to the historic, provincial food culture of this area.
Morcilla is an acquired taste, but it is very very diverse when it comes to cooking. It is cooked up in stews, grilled over hot coals or used in a variety of more elaborate dishes. One of my favorites which I have enjoyed right here in Manchester is the Morcilla Scotch Eggs from El Gato Negro. They are adorable little morsels of food that marry a British classic with a twist of Catalonia which I just cannot get enough of. They come highly recommended.
Another Morcilla delight that I cannot stop thinking about is the Hanger Steak from Pot Kettle Black which comes with a delectable Potato and Morcilla hash, salsa and two poached eggs. The potato dish sort of reminds me of a meaty Patatas Bravas while the blood sausage, meat, and poached egg combo makes me think of breakfast time in Barcelona. It is just delightful.
Sticking with sausage, one dish that is incredibly famous in Catalonia is Botifarra amb mongetas. This dish takes a grilled or fried pork sausage and serves it alongside a delicious stew of beans cooked in meat stock with vegetables, garlic and sometimes bacon.
This is one of the most important dishes in Catalonia as it is thought to represent the cuisine of the whole area in one- it is the areas most famous dish, and it is celebrated all over.
There is nothing about sausage and beans that we, as humans, do not love. It is comforting and the sort of thing your mum would make you as a kid. Imagine that nostalgia of being a child and then back it with some serious, punchy, meaty, grown-up flavor and you have this dish.
Honestly, it is the kind of dish you could eat every day for the rest of your life. They serve it on the meat tapas menu at Lunya, and it is divine- so if you cannot make it to Girona- it is the next best thing.
No meal is complete without dessert- so I am going to keep this one short and extremely sweet. Crema Catalana is a delicious creamy dessert which is made with sugar, egg yolk, and milk that is mixed together to form a set custard.
Its consistency sits somewhere between crème patisserie and a set flan. Sometimes it is eaten in a pot which a burnt sugar top like a crème bruleee, and other times it is served with fruit or used to stuff various pastries and cakes.
Tapeo and Wine serve up a Crema Catalana with a gorgeous burnt sugar top. It makes the dish a tiny bit bitter which cuts through the sweetness of the dish and leaves you never wanting the bowl to empty. Ever. The Crema Catalana at El Gato Negro is also delicious with a subtle hint of orange zest running through.