4. Cuisine of Catalunya a Return Home
|Seafood at the market in Palamós.
If there is one aspect of Catalan lifestyle I miss daily, it is the food. The delicious cuina/cuisine of Catalunya which embraces and showcases the food of the sea and land. I found many dishes recognizable, while others were new creations inspired by centuries of multi-cultural interactions and humble living. I ate very well. And I want more. My sincerest thanks to all the Chefs. Bravo!
"Manel and I drank a bottle of Vino Verdejo the morning I arrived. We snacked on bread sticks, olives, cheese and tapanad. Then we headed out for lunch at el Coro."
William Pollard Jr 24 June 2016 Friday morning.
What is Catalan cuisine?
|El Celler de Can Roca, Girona.
As I have learned, Joan Roca is owner/chef at his world famous, El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona. El Celler de Can Roca, three Michelin stars, was rated the best restaurant in the world in 2015 and 2013. While it would have been a pleasure to eat at Joan Roca's restaurant, the wait list is many months long. We did not eat there.
Joan Roca learned how to cook from his mother, Montserrat, at her restaurant, Restaurant Can Roca down the road. I was told that the staff at Joan Roca's restaurant eat at mom's restaurant. That is where we had lunch in Girona. It was a wonderful lunch, the food was molt bo! I'll share more about lunch at Can Roca down the page.
|Restaurant Can Roca in Girona.
Traditional Catalan Ingredients
Before leaving for Catalunya, I again browsed through, "Roots. Essential Catalan Cuisine According to El Celler de Can Roca" by Joan Roca, 2004. This gave me some idea about the styles of food I expected to find. Obviously, I expected Paella and flan, which I did enjoy, but I was looking forward to pig cheeks, cannelloni and traditional Catalan fare like bacalao. I also knew that this part of the world is famous for inspired culinary cuisine. My mind trembled in anticipation and my mouth watered at the thought of the delicious meals I would encounter. I was not disappointed.
The Mediterranean was never far from my travels. From my sister-in-laws apartment, I could easily see the Mediterranean. Seafood was available at the market and often on the menu. Meat used to be a luxury item when times were difficult. Chicken was often reserved for Sunday dinner. Today meat is quite plentiful, though I don't recall chicken with any of my meals. I do recall rabbit, pork, lamb, beef, and seafood.
Calçot a Reason to Return
When discussing Catalan cuisine, one must mention the calçot. Calçot is a type of scallion or green onion known as calçot in the Catalan language. The calçot from Tarragona is a registered EU Protected Geographical Indication.
Calçots are milder and less bulbous than onions and have a length of between 6 and 10 inches (white part) and a diameter of .5 to 1 inch at the root. Planted in trenches like an onion, then successively adding more soil around the stems throughout autumn and winter. They sprout into shoots about the shape of small leeks.
* Note: The Calçotada is a festive, annual event in Tarragona, celebrating the harvest of calçots, January - February. The calçots are grilled over a hot fire, wrapped in newspaper, served on terra cotta tiles and eaten by dipping them one by one in salvitxada/romesco sauce, accompanied by red wine and bread. Then follows a course of roasted lamb and sausage and white beans. A true Catalan experience, to be shared with family and friends.
Yes, I want to go to the Calçotada. Another good reason for me to return. Reasons are mounting.
|Appetizers before lunch or in place of dinner.
What do you think of when you think of Catalan foods? Olives, olive oil, cheese, Jamón ibérico? I sure did and still do. They are classic items for appetizers, snacks and substitutes for dinner. I love the tiny Catalan olives, regional cheeses, that super thin Jamón ibérico and those bread sticks Crystal served. I've been able to duplicate almost everything at home, except for those bread sticks.
I also think of Bacalao, cannelloni stuffed with meat or gambas, baked tomato for dipping bread or tomatoes spread on bread with olive oil, and oh, those tender, tasty pig cheeks. When we went shopping at the market in Palamós, my sister-in-law Crystal bought more of those little olives I love and also a lot of salted, dried codfish for making the traditional Bacalao. Bacalao is a lovely dish when prepared properly.
|The real deal, Jamón ibérico at the Hypermarket.
We went shopping a couple of times at different hypermarkets for essentials. At the local hypermarket, Crystal bought Jamón ibérico, among may other ingredients, I only noticed the Jamón. The real deal, as you can see in the photo. Sigh.
"You know you have crossed a boundary and entered a new realm, when a dish you abhor, had abhorred, unexpectedly becomes a delight and a relished memory...An unknown line was crossed and I wish to remain on that side."
Menu of the Day/Menú Diari/Menú del Dia
The Menu of the Day is a staple of restaurant fare. With a fixed price and a selection of entrees to choose from (pick two), it always included house wine, salad, dessert and the optional cafe corto at the end of every meal.
* Please note: Manel cautioned me about over drinking the house wine. He said they will only refill it if we drank all of it. Be kind to your host and don't over-drink the wine included.
|Restaurant Can Roca.
Manel and Crystal chose well when taking me out to lunch. Meals were delicious and the house wine always pleased. At home I never eat dessert, in Catalunya I always did. A typical Menú diari costs about 11 euros ($12 US).
I'll break down what I enjoyed for lunch, and restaurant information below.
Have I mentioned that I ate well during my week in Catalunya? I was there for the wine, yes, but wine goes with food. So well. Following, in order, are the restaurants I was treated to for lunch and dinner. Editing the appetite inspiring photos of the tantalizing dishes I enjoyed drove me a little crazy. My sincerest thanks to Manel, Crystal, Raimon and DO Catalunya for sharing these special meals with me. I owe you many times over. Thank you.
|Walking through alleys of Arenys de Mar.
Restaurants and Meals - Here we Go!
On my first day in Catalunya, Crystal and Manel took me to one of their favorite restaurants for lunch. We drove to El Coro Bar Restaurant, in nearby Arenys De Mar. Arenys is a port town. It has an area of 6.5 square kilometers and 15,000 inhabitants. It is also the home of the Catalan poet Salvador Espriu, "...he took upon himself the task of saving Catalan for his people." (see Selected Poems of Salvador Espriu).
|El Coro Bar Restaurant in Arenys De Mar.
Fredric Mares, 2
Tel 93 792 03 27
08350 Arenys De Mar
Chef has a tiny kitchen and produces wonderful locally sourced food, from such a small space. Impressive. He speaks English and was very friendly. This restaurant is connected to the local community theater. You would have to be a local to find this place. It is nestled in a maze of narrow streets. Service was impeccable. I could get used to eating like this. Though driving would be challenging, parking even more so. That's a cultural constant. The challenges of parking. A small restaurant attached to the local theater in the back alleys. This place is full of happiness and light. Strongly Recommended.
|Chef of El Coro and his kitchen.
~Menu~1. Amanida - salad
|Amanida at El Coro.
- Paella - Manel and I had the Paella. Absolutely delicious.
|Paella at El Coro.
- Fideua - Crystal - Recipe - No photo.
3. Second Entree
- File de LLobarro al forn - Manel and I both ordered the Sea Bass. It has been years since I enjoyed Sea Bass. Not disappointed. Perfectly prepared.
|File de LLobarro al forn at El Coro.
- Conill a L'atillo - Crystal - Recipe video (rabbit). I should have tasted the rabbit Crystal ordered. She did offer me a taste. Next time.
|Conill a L'atillo at El Coro.
- Desserts were beautifully prepared and plated. I never passed on the dessert.
|Manel had the Flan at El Coro.
|Crystal had the strawberry and cream at El Coro.
|I had the ice cream at El Coro.
You know you have crossed a boundary and entered a new realm, when a dish you abhor, had abhorred, unexpectedly becomes a delight and a relished memory. This happened during lunch on my second day with Manel, Raimon and Crystal at El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant. An unknown line was crossed and I wish to remain on that side.
I have to thank Manel's brother Raimon for selecting this restaurant for our lunch. He found the restaurant recommended in the difficult to locate book, "De Vinos Por Europa. 20 Rutas Imprescindibles en Coche." Afterwards, Raimon gifted me his copy. Thank you Raimon.
My second day in Catalunya, we drove south to Priorat to explore wine country. We stopped in Falset for lunch. Falset is the capitol of Priorat and the heart of Priorat wine country. I had little idea where I was. It was also a national holiday, St. Johns Day, and very quiet. We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. It seemed they were only open for us.
The wine list and menu overwhelmed me. We correctly decided to trust the Chef with menu and wine selection. A wise choice as we learned. Owner Toni Bru has seasonal menus, with many seductive selections, compelling. I had no idea of the world renown talents of Toni Bru. I learned.
|Vichyssoise at El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant.
|2014 Blanc D'Orto, Garnaxta Blanca, DO Montsant, Orto Vins.
White Wine: 2014 Blanc D'Orto, Garnaxta Blanca, DO Montsant, Orto Vins. My first Garnaxta Blanca was a pleasure. Beautifully balanced, perfect with the Vichyssoise and Fig salad. We looked for this wine at a wine shop and hypermarket without success. Strongly Recommended.
|Fig Salad at El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant.
Starter - Fig Salad: Mixture of herbs of PÀMIES and flowers with figs and slivers of foie-gras. I had no idea a fig salad could be this pretty, tender and delicious.
|2012 Artigas, DOQ Priorat, Bodegas Mas Alta.
Red Wine: 2012 Artigas, DOQ Priorat, Bodegas Mas Alta. Blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon. Joint venture between Rhône négociant Michel Tardieu, winemaker Philippe Cambie, and importer Eric Solomon. Well done. Strongly Recommended.
|Silver Gilthead at El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant.
Silver Gilthead/Seabream Fillet with vegetables and carrot sauce: The fish course paired beautifully with the red wine. Flesh was perfectly prepared. Wonderful.
|Organic Pork Cheeks at El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant.
Organic Pork Cheeks: Another relished memory from El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant, and a nod to traditional Catalan cuisine, was the dish of braised pig cheeks, "Galtes de porc rostides." I've mentioned before that I am an Anthony Bourdain fan, he always raves about the cheeks, I had to have this. Wow. Toni Bru selected our wines for us, and he married the cheeks with the red wine we were drinking. It was a decadent reduction sauce. I can only dream of making food this good.
Artisanal Catalan Cheese: From local producers, cow, goat, goat and sheep. With two jams.
Dessert: Creamy and delicious with fruit.
One of the best meals I have ever enjoyed. A memorable ground breaking lunch which took me to places I did not know. Wish we had had more time to visit with the chef. Wish I had known more about Toni Bru before I met him. Another excellent reason to return.
|El Celler de l'Aspic is found in the same building as the Falset wine cooperative.
El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant
Tel 977 831 246
C/Miquel Barcelo, 31
Toni Bru is president of the Sommeliers of Tarragona and he knows the best from Priorat and its wines. He opened his first restaurant in 1987 in Amposta. In July 2003 Toni Bru opened his restaurant El Celler de l'Aspic in Falset. El Celler de l'Aspic is found in the same building as the Falset wine cooperative.
The cooking is Catalan, and Toni Bru has personalized each dish, adapting them to his tastes and ideas. The cooking has it’s roots in the Priorat with touches of the Ebro delta. The quality of the ingredients are priority. El Celler de l'Aspic Restaurant: Falset, Priorat: Modern gastronomic revelation. Fantastic chef with an excellent wine list. Premium food, premium price. Highly Recommended.
My third day in Catalunya, we drove north to visit wine country in DO Empordà. It was a fantastic tour and tasting at the Mas LLunes winery. Afterwards, we had lunch at Restaurant Battlle. A rustic setting, for traditional Catalan food.
|Restaurant Battlle Cuina Catalana, Garriguella, Girona.
Tel 972 53 05 98
Placa de Baix, 9
17780 Garriguella, Girona
Restaurant Battle is family owned, the food is traditional Catalan made by mom. Bring an appetite. It felt familiar and comfortable and reminded me of my Aunt Maria's kitchen. Everyone was friendly. Again, the menu overwhelmed me. Next time I'll choose better. I Strongly Recommend the cannelloni stuffed with gambas.
|Tramuntan, White Wine from Celler Gerisena.
White Wine, Tramuntan, Celler Gerisena: Produced by Coooperativa Agriocola de Garriguella. I like the label design. We would have visited this cooperative, but we ran out of time. Next time. The wine was light and refreshing. I enjoyed it and it helped with the heavy lunch I ordered.
|Restaurant Battlle, Cannelloni Stuffed with Gambas.
Entree 1 - Cannelloni Stuffed with Gambas. My oh my, a meal all by itself. This was one of the Catalan dishes on my list. It did not disappoint.The sauce and shrimp were in perfect proportion. A little fresh bread to absorb the last of the sauce. Hit all my buttons. This dish I want to learn how to make at home.
|Restaurant Battlle, Lamb Shoulder.
Entree 2 - Lamb Shoulder. I miss judged lunch. As in I was unsure what to order. Don't order shoulder of lamb on a hot June afternoon, especially after the filling Cannelloni. Duh. It was a well prepared dish, and very good. A shame I could not finish it.
|Restaurant Battlle, Lime Sorbet.
|Restaurant Battle, essential after meal cafe corto.
Dessert - The lime sorbet was welcome afterwards, as well as the cafe corto. A typical Catalan meal at a Catalan family restaurant.
|Interior Restaurant Battlle Cuina Catalana.
DO Catalunya Tour Begins
So far all of the meals I have shared with you, were enjoyed with Crystal and Manel. I had yet to meet with representatives of DO Catalunya, they were the organization which had flown me to Barcelona. After four days with my sister-in-law, I finally joined Anton Castellà, Secretary of DO Catalunya and another finalist, Manuel de Santiago from Madrid. We met in Tarragona. Our first stop was in Poblet at the famous 12th century Monastery.
|Entry to the Monestir de Poblet.
|My lunch companions, Anton Castellà and Manuel de Santiago.
Restaurant at Monestir de Poblet
There is an excellent restaurant located at the monastery. It offers a daily menu from Monday to Sunday. There is little detail about the restaurant on the website, but prices were reasonable and the food and wine were of excellent quality. We ate well. You can also stay at the Monstary to enjoy the peace, quite and views. Details follow below.
|Restaurant at Monestir de Poblet.
|2014 Vino Intramurs de Poblet Negre.
Red Wine - 2014 Vino Intramurs de Poblet Negre: D.O Conca Barberà, Monestir De Poblet. Blend of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Good match to lunch. In 1998, the Codorníu Group engaged in a winemaking project and began making the Abbey of Poblet wine, a 100% Pinot Noir wine, developing the 9 hectares located within the walls of the Monastery of Poblet while starting at same time a studied and careful restoration of the historic building to improve the farming activity of the estate.
|2015 Francoli Macabeu Vinas Viejas.
White Wine - 2015 Francoli Macabeu Vinas Viejas: D.O Conca Barberà. Blend: Parellada 20%, Macabeu 80%. Fresh and tasty. The cellar of l’Espluga de Francolí, is known as the ‘Cathedral of Wine’ due to its monumental style, designed by the architect Pere Domènech Roura in 1912, it is acknowledged as a perfect example of the purist modernist style.
*Note: If you would like to learn more about the 9 Cathedrals of Wine, read this excellent article by The Hedonista, "Wine Cathedrals – Catedrals del vi" Written by Sarah Walton, May 26, 2014. "Nearly all of the wine cathedrals are still viable functioning wineries..."
|Salad at Restaurant at Monestir de Poblet.
Starter - Salad with sliced sausage: An excellent place to start lunch.
|Tender slices of beef with tomato, potato and asparagus.
Entree - Tender sliced beef: Delicious meal. The tomato, as I learned, is for dipping your bread. Tomato and bread is a Catalan thing, one I have grown to appreciate.
*Note: In Catalunya they serve "Pa amb tomàquet". Which is a slice of toasted bread, with a clove of garlic rubbed over it, then half of a sliced tomato is rubbed on the bread (pulp and juice of the tomato is rubbed all over) and then garnished with drizzled olive oil and a little salt. I am now a fan. You will find Pa amb tomàquet is quite popular.
|Dessert at Restaurant at Monestir de Poblet.
Dessert - Fresh watermelon. Watermelon, I could think of no better way to end a delicious lunch at a monastery. I think I would enjoy staying at the Monastery guesthouse, if I am allowed to eat like this every day. And drink those wonderful local wines.
The guesthouse, Hostatgeria De Poblet, has 42 fully equipped simple but elegant rooms. They all have a complete bathroom and central heating. They are available for those seeking contemplation and a retreat from the city and noise.
Hostatgeria de Poblet
Plaça Corona d’Aragó, 11
43448 Vimbodí i Poblet
Tel (+34) 977 871201 Fax (+34) 977 870537
After a day of touring wine country, Anton dropped us off at our hotel in Barcelona to freshen up. He picked us up around 9 pm and we then had dinner with the President of DO Catalunya, Xavier Pié at Restaurant Senyor Parellada. The restaurant is located in the Hotel Banys Orientals.
Restaurant Senyor Parellada
Tel 933 105 094
|Abadall Picpoll our first wine with salad.
I sat next to Xavier Pié and relied on him to help me order. Xavier selected the wines for dinner and also encouraged me to order the Bacalao.
|Auzells 2015 Tomas Cuisiné white wine.
White wine - Auzells 2015 Tomas Cuisiné: DO Costers Del Segre, ABV 13%. Fresh, mineral, complex. This was one of the wildest white wine blends I have ever enjoyed. Unusual blend of Macabeu, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Albarino. Who blends grape varieties together like this? Tomàs Cusiné Barber, enologist and owner. I want to visit with this guy. The winery Tomàs Cusiné is located in the village of El Vilosell, at the southern end of the Designation of Origin Costers del Segre, within the sub-area of Les Garrigues, in the province of Lleida, growing zone of highest elevation in Catalunya, Spain.
|Bacalao at Restaurant Senyor Parellada.
Entree - Bacalao: The Bacalao was perfect. Firm and savory. Not salty, not fishy. I mentioned earlier, way at the top of this page, that one of the traditional Catalan foods I was interested in was Bacalao. Bacalao is made from salted, dried, codfish. A good first introduction to this traditional Catalan dish.
The evening was truly interesting. Eventually, I noticed a look in Xavier's eyes which I now associate with being Catalan. I discussed that intense look in part 3. Culture of Catalunya a Return Home. Xavier was indeed intense company. He's a Calçot farmer and was curious about my thoughts on Brexit and the effects on trade. We also discussed US politics. He does not speak English, and his Spanish was heavily accented. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my Spanish is not what it once was. We still managed to communicate. There was much conversation. Dinner ended after midnight.
The following day, Anton, Manuel and I had lunch at Bodegas Torres Mas Rabell Vineyard Farmhouse Restaurant.
|Torres Mas Rabell Vineyard Farmhouse Restaurant in the Penedès.
Mas Rabell Vineyard
Farmhouse Restaurant and Brandy Aging Cellar in the Penedès
Menu La Masia - (Advance Reservation Required)
* Named "The Best Winery Restaurant of the Year 2006" Wine and Spirits.
The Torres family's private restaurant, housed in a historical medieval farmhouse is situated in the midst of the vineyards. The restaurant is a 7 km drive away from the winery in Pacs del Penedès, in the direction of the village of Sant Martí Sarroca. The restaurant is housed in an old Catalan country house – masia – from the 14th Century. The Torres family has restored the building maintaining its style and adding a modern kitchen and a new dining hall.
|(l to r) Anton, Jose Candel, Christoph Kammüller (see the Pa amb tomàquet?).
Our host for the Bodegas Torres tour was Christoph Kammüller. As special guests, each menu item was paired with wine or spirits. Did I mention lunch was marvelous? It was.
|Ensalada de tomate con langostinos.
Paired with: Habitat Blanco 2015 and Vina Sol 2015
|Rape con setas y salsa de vino rancio.
Paired with: Sangre det Toro 2014 and Gran Sangre de Toro 2012
Paired with: Mas la plana 2011
|Flan de cerezas.
Paired with: Moscatel Oro Floralis
|Cafe express with 20 year old Torres Brandy.
Paired with: Brandy Torres 20 year old
Thank you to the Torres family, Christoph and Chef, Sergi Millet. Lovely lunch.
* Note: Miguel Torres S.A. announced March 19, 2014 that Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has been appointed the exclusive importer for their portfolio of Spanish and Chilean wines in the United States. I hope this means I can easily find the Moscatel Oro Floralis.
Last Day in Catalunya
My last full day in Catalunya was spent with Crystal, Manel, Raimon and Anna Maria. It was a perfect day of conversation, travel, food and walking on very old cobblestone streets. We visited Girona.
Ctra.de Talaia, 42,
Tel 972 205 119
Some chefs have taken traditional Catalan cuisine and spun it into modern gastronomic delights. I've only read about the incredible dishes made by Joan Roca, but I have eaten and relished the food at Chef Roca's mothers Restaurant Can Roca in Girona.
|Amanida verda at Can Roca.
Entrant - Amanida verda.
|Pisto amb ou ferrat, Restaurant Can Roca.
Primer Plat - Pisto amb ou ferrat. I went an entire week without one egg. This dish was superb and satisfied my craving for egg. Another dish I want to make at home.
|Galta de porc rostida at Can Roca, Girona.
Segon Plat - Galta de porc rostida. Of course I had to have the traditional serving of "Galtes de porc rostides." It was tender, delicious, and I worked for all the meat off the bone, both sides. A wonderful contrast to the modern version of this dish. Maybe I even learned a little. It would be wonderful to make this at home.
|Flan at Restaurant Can Roca.
Postre - Flan. Finally, I had flan. Worth the wait.
|Anna Maria's Dessert.
Postre - Anna Maria could not choose which dessert to order, so they gave her a profiterole, some gelata and a piece of cake.
|My obligatory cafe corto.
Cafe corto - Obligatory and can't do without at this point.
While her sons have a restaurant down the road with three Michellin stars, mom, Montserrat, has a home style, family friendly place you don't need to reserve a year in advance. Expect traditional Catalan food. It is not fancy, food is simple and delicious. Reasonable prices and the wine was included with the meal. The cafe corto was a little extra. Strongly Recommended.
Sometimes you have no clue where you were and how special the experience was, until much later. I am just beginning to understand and appreciate the Catalan culinary experiences I shared with family and new friends. I owe many personal thanks. Writing this section of part 4. Cuisine of Catalunya was tiring. It surprised me how many truly delicious meals I enjoyed. The talent of Catalan chefs is profound. Such passion deeply moves and I feel I must share as much, with as much detail as I can.
Literally drooled while working on this post and editing photos. Following are links to some Catalan food bloggers who have many drool worthy recipes to share.
Links to Catalan food bloggers
- Cuina Cinc - I met Cuina Cinc in Barcelona, on a rooftop overlooking the city.
- alacartemenus - un menú para cada ocasión.
- Food Barcelona - Get it doon ya in Catalunya.
- Spanish Sabores - Best Bites in Catalonia 14 September 2015.
Value eating can also be eating well, especially when shared with family and friends. Look for and bring home Catalan wine, make some of these traditional Catalan dishes. Even if it is a simple bowl of tiny olives, sliced cheese and bread. It does not need to be complex to be enjoyable and complimentary to place and fellowship.
I'm just beginning to understand, and yes, I must return. For many reasons.
My next posts should deal with terroir, history of Catalan wine and Catalan wine regions.