If you ask a Catalan person which is the typical Catalan food or dish, the first thing that will come to his or her mind will be, undoubtedly, the pan tumaca, bread with tomato, which can also be referred to as “pa amb tomàquet” in Catalan. This is a simple recipe that consists on spreading a raw tomato on toasted bread until it is red and soft.
Pan tumaca’s origins
Most sources say that the pan tumaca is inspired by the bread with olive oil recipe, a preparation that has been part of the Mediterranean cuisine since the ancient times in Greece. In the seventeenth century, panbolibo (bread with oil) appeared for the first time in a cookbook of Jaume Oliver, but was only during the eighteenth century that people started eating juicy and delicious tomatoes coming from America. In 1884, the first written reference of the pan tumaca appeared, placing its origin in Catalan farmhouses, where they use to spread the tomato in the dried bread and season it with some oil and garlic so that it was soft enough to chew it. Other sources claim that the pan tumaca was actually brought by Murcians who came to work in the Barcelona’s metro construction back in the twenties. It is said that they planted tomato plants along the pathways and at lunchtime collected their tomatoes and spread them on the dry bread.
Writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban says in his book “The Prize” (1996) that pan tumaca, “materializes the encounter between European wheat culture, the American tomato, Mediterranean olive oil and devoted Christian culture salt”, which means that this recipe could be considered a union of different cultures. The Catalans have adopted it as their own and it has since become a symbol of Catalan identity. In the rest of Spain and other European countries, the pan tumaca is often eaten as a mixture of ground tomato, oil and salt spread on a bread slice, sometimes with garlic too.
Related article: Catalan recipes: tortilla española
The original pan tumaca’s recipe
To eat a genuine Catalan pan tumaca you must carefully choose the raw materials: a ripe tomato, a big bread slice (the best bread for this is some toasted “pa de pages” or rustic bread), olive oil and a little bit of salt.
Cut the tomato in half without removing the skin, take one half, face the juicy part toward the bread, and spread the content out by pressing hard on the bread until it is red in its entirety. Repeat the process on both sides of the bread if is “pa de payés”. Don’t worry if there are tomato seeds or pieces on the bread, they will make everything tastier. If you want, you can spread some garlic on the bread slice too. Finally, pour a little olive oil and add a dash of salt over the bread and voilá! You have the perfect accompaniment for some Spanish ham or your own vegetarian treat!
Related article: Traditional Catalan recipe: Fideuà
Where to have the best pan tumaca in Barcelona?
Located only a couple of steps away from the neighborhood of Barceloneta, Cal Pep is a very special tapas bar that serves authentic Mediterranean cuisine, prepared with seasonal ingredients. Besides their tapas, Cal Pep is also famous for serving an excellent pan tumaca.
Location: Plaça de les Olles, 8
Located in the most famous pintxos street in Barcelona, La Bodegueta del Poble Sec serves traditional Catalan food in a bodega-style establishment. There, you can find a variety of dishes that are adored by locals such as snails, tortillas, sausages, and the all mighty pan tumaca.
Location: Carrer de Blai, 47
Can Vallés is less traditional than the restaurants mentioned above. It serves a mix of traditional Catalan food and homemade food, all with a modern twist. The dishes are prepared by Chef Josep Alavaréz, who creates visually-stunning meals. Just wait until you try his version of pan tumaca – exquisite!
Location: Carrer d’Aragó, 95
For another great slice of pan tumaca, head on to the neighborhood of Poblenou. Can Recasens is a quaint little restaurant that sells a variety of cheeses, sausages, toasts, and wine. Enjoy the beautiful and inviting ambiance of the restaurant while delighting on a delicious serving of pan tumaca.
Location: Rambla del Poblenou, 102
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* Main photo by Javier Lastras via Wikimedia Commons