Coming to Spain, you might be expecting meals out to consist of paella, patatas bravas and tortilla, however they are not regional dishes and there is in fact much more on offer in Barcelona. Catalonia as a region has a rich culinary history with influences from France, Africa and Arabia. As a result, Catalan cuisine is distinctive, flavoursome and sophisticated with the use of seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables. Flavour combinations can be somewhat unusual with dishes mixing meat and seafood, pairing fruit with meat and even adding chocolate to savoury dishes. Fear not, the results are always exquisite!
Here as some of the most popular Catalan dishes which you are likely find on the menu of any local Catalan restaurant. Be sure to give them a try!
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Pa amb tomàquet
Arguably no dish is more typically Catalan than pa amb tomàquet. Essentially the Catalan version of the Italian bruschetta, it is the humblest of dishes, usually served as an appetiser or side dish. Consisting of just five ingredients; toasted bread, olive oil, salt, garlic and tomato, it’s a light and fresh dish. Unlike bruschetta, it is made using tomato pulp, instead of finely chopped tomatoes, which is rubbed on the bread. Although simple, made using the freshest and finest ingredients, pa amb tomàquet is bursting with flavour and can be very moreish. It is also delicious served alongside cured cold cuts, anchovies and manchego cheese.
Escalivada is the Catalan take on roasted vegetables; usually consisting of red peppers, onions, aubergine, tomatoes and garlic, generally seasoned and doused in olive oil. It can be served warm or cold. Given the high quality vegetables on offer in Barcelona, this simple combination is anything but ordinary. Escalivada makes for a great side dish and is the perfect accompaniment to fish and meat. Be warned if you are vegetarian, anchovies are often added in to the mix, so be sure to check before you order! The very popular tapas bar Ciutat Comtal (Rambla de Catalunya, 18) serves up the most exquisite ecalivada I have ever tasted – topped with a generous round of meltingly soft goats cheese dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil – it’s definitely worth a taste!
The less known but equally tasty version of seafood paella, made using short noodles instead of rice is a Catalan delicacy which originated in Valencia but is enjoyed widely throughout the region. This traditional dish has been feeding poor Catalan fisherman for decades as they prepared it on board with whatever seafood the were unable to sell that day and substituted the rice for fideus. Over the years, fideuà has become a much more sophisticated dish and lots of fancy ingredients are often added in to the mix. Regardless of the amount of upmarket ingredients included, fideuà is always bursting with flavour owing to the rich saffron stock, sweet sofregit, smooth noodles , garlicky aloili and of course, good quality seafood (which is in plentiful supply in Barcelona). What’s not to like?!
Crema Catalana is a classic Catalan dessert dating all the way back to the Fourteenth Century. Similar to the French crème brûlée but slightly smoother in consistency and flavoured with tangy lemon zest and lots of cinnamon – it makes for a truly tasty and relatively light end to a meal. Breaking in to the top crunchy layer of caramelised sugar to unearth the sweet and zesty creamy goodness is a real pleasure. You will see Crema Catalana on the menu in restaurants all over the city, it would be foolish not to order it!