The first Spanish dish I have ever tried is seafood paella in a fair in England. I remember that it was good. Prawns, mussels in the shells, rings of squid shouldering fragrance-packed rice grains. Together with tapas, paella is a Spanish dish that you can find outside Spain at ease. It’s like Italian pizza.
I’ve had many versions of paella in England and the Netherlands. The ingredients and the taste varied, but it always has prawns and rice, my two of favourite things.
In Barcelona, I got to try paella with noodle, and it was eye-opening as well as tongue dancing.
Paella with short noodle was one of the many dishes that water my mouth and trigger the best memory of the region. I always knew that I wanted to see Spain but after our trip to Catalan, I yearn for the day we come back and eat some more 😛.
Here are the highlights of our three weeks in the Catalan region:
Pa amb tomàquet
It’s a simple dish: fresh tomato spread on lightly toasted bread. Little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Subtle and delicious.
I remember having this the first time after a long day at work. I went with Ian and his colleagues to grasp a drink before a tapas dinner. We sat outside where it’s warm and sunny. Our beer was a standard lager, and our snack was this common dish. It's the simplicity, causality and fresh taste knocked me over. (Well, also the beer but it's another story. )To say that I never tasted tomatoes that good wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all.
I had this salad many times in Viladrau, a village north of Barcelona. In the village, there’s a square where you find most of the few restaurants. We often went to the one right at one corner, sat outside when the sun started to set and order this together with some meat, which I will tell you more right below.
In Catalan, they make escalivada with ripe grilled vegetables. You often get tomato, pepper and aubergine. In our frequently visited restaurant, the lady added anchovy, which gave it an extra layer of oily and salty taste.
Escalivada goes very well with red meat, wine and the summer.
Ian loves botifarra. It’s the sausage made from pork, or pig’s blood, and spices. You can have Botifarra cured in slices or grilled whole. From my experience, they are both tasty. The one that stroke the most curiosity was the Botifarra Negra, the black version that contains pig’s blood.
If I say Fideua is paella with noodle, most of you would probably have a good idea about the dish: the umami taste from seafood and the tanginess from lemon juice. The noodle makes the Fideua a little bit less filling than Paella.
I tried this dish in a fancy restaurant in Barcelona that was often booked up. We passed by it early in the evening and went it to try our luck. They gave us two seats at the bar.
We ordered a bottle of wine, reasoning that we could always take it home. Unlike usual, we did have some left to bring back, and indeed to Sagrada Familia - The Church as it was our last day in Barcelona and we could only get a visiting slot after check-out time. Image how the guards looked at me when he saw a bottle of wine in my backpack at the entrance of a church 😈.
Back to Fideua. It's excellent. Try it. Savour it. Eat it as much as you can if you are in the Catalonia region. Have some wine also when you are at it. I don't know if this is my pregnancy craving talking, but I would most definitely enjoy a plate of Fideua more with a glass of wine.
Crema Catalana with lavender
We went to a hotel's restaurant with a great view of the mountain for Ian’s birthday. He ordered a game. I got a bird. And we both finished with Crema Catalana. At that point, we have spent more than a week in the region and had the famous dessert a few times. Creme Catalan is similar to the French’s Creme Brûlée: a creamy custard base dessert with a burnt caramelised layer on top.
The version we had at Ian’s birthday had a special ingredient, though: lavender. It was beautiful. The fragrance of lavender stayed with us for a long time.
Pintxo in Barcelona
Pintxos or Pinchos are small snacks eaten in bars. They are popular in northern Spain, including the Catalan region. These Catalan specials are typically petite portions of a couple of ingredients, held together by a cocktail stick on top of a piece of bread.
Eating Pintxos is a casual thing. You get inside a bar, pick a table or a seat at the food counter, and get whichever you like yourself. As it's a bar, you often order a beer or two as well. In the bar we have been to, we paid for the drinks and the food at the end, counting the amount and colour of the cocktail sticks that left.
In Barcelona, there’s a Pintxos street: Poble Sec. It’s pedestrianised. Walking along you will find, outside in the sun, many tables and people with beer and interesting looking sticks.
Though pintxo is not exclusively Catalonian, for me, it summarises my feeling while being in the region: casual, easy going and enjoyable.
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