10 reasons why you should take your taste buds to Catalonia Sarah Lyon, Writer | Posted: 05 August 2016
Self guided walking holidays in Spain
Self guided walking holidays in Spain
Self guided walking holidays in Spain

We love Catalonia... We love it for its mountains, its beaches and its all-round superb scenery. We love it for its biscuit-coloured, hill-top towns; for its fabulous walking and cycling; and for its proud culture and traditions.

We also love it for its energy: a forward-thinking people lend the region a sense of style and creativity; and there is a freshness and a vibrancy to much of Catalan art, architecture and craftsmanship that is impossible to resist. But if we were pushed to name the one single thing we love most about this fabulous corner of Europe, it would have to be the food. And here are ten reasons why...

If the world’s gastronomic adjudicators are to be believed, Catalonia is home to three of the best restaurants on the planet. Barcelona alone can boast a staggering 22 Michelin-starred eateries, and the Catalan capital regularly tops lists of the ten finest foodie cities in the world.

Owing something to the Moors’ legacy is many Catalan chefs’ ability to fuse the sweet and savoury with effortless aplomb, creating unlikely sounding combinations – think duck with prunes, or rabbit with pears – that tantalise the tongue.

There’s no two ways about it – Catalans love sausages. You’ll find them dangling from hooks, coiled into thick ropes, in the region’s markets; and if the locals aren’t making sausages, or eating them, they’re competing to see who has made the tastiest and the best. There are 17 officially recognised types of sausage here, and countless awards to be won by perfectionist salsitxa creators.

Long before American diner chains came up with the idea of selling the likes of steak and lobster side by side, Catalan cuisine had mar i muntanya – literally, ‘sea and mountain’. Try lobster with partridge or chicken with prawns.

No visit to Catalonia would be complete without sampling the traditional and ubiquitous dessert, crema catalana. A variation on the French classic crème brûlée, it’s made from sugar, egg yolks and a dash of cinnamon, and its distinctively crispy surface texture is achieved by a blast of the kitchen blow-torch.

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The Costa Brava and beyond

There's so much to enjoy in Catalonia, besides the rather excellent food. If you’re looking for varied landscapes, a rich culture, authentic medieval villages and relaxing sightseeing or scenic walking and cycling, this region is hard to beat – discover Romanesque churches, crumbling castles and secluded coves.

More about our holidays in Catalonia >

One of the appetisers you will find in virtually every Catalan eatery is pa amb tomaquet, and once tried, it’s very hard to resist. It couldn’t be simpler: lightly toasted bread is rubbed with fresh tomatoes and drizzled with oil and salt. It’s an excellent accompaniment to the local ham and cheese, or satisfying enough to munch on its own.

Escudella is a deeply traditional Catalan stew made from meat, beans, potatoes, cabbage and sometimes pasta. It’s perhaps the ultimate comfort food, and is served as three separate courses: first the broth, then the meat, and finally the vegetables.

When searching for an authentic restaurant, it’s worth heading down the back streets and looking out for Catalan-sounding names: lots of x's or the word can (meaning ‘home’) ‘can’ be a clue! Try Can Culleretes, one of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona (a little bird has told us it’s well worth seeking out).

Visitors to Catalonia are bound to be offered ratafia at some point. This local digestif – made from a pungent mix of Anisette, nuts, coffee, herbs, and spices – has time-honoured links with witchcraft. Locals claim that its production ought to be supervised by witches, and that the potent brew should be left outdoors for at least a fortnight to absorb the magical powers of both the sun and the moon. However it’s made, it’s something of an acquired taste…

Also unique to the Garrotxa, with its uniquely conical-shaped hills, is the concept of cuina volcànica (literally ‘volcanic cooking’). With recipes literally inspired by the landscape you can walk or cycle through on your holiday, this approach brings a new dimension to the notion of provenance, and to the nature of the local dishes. Much of this food emerges directly from the mineral-rich soil, which is said to produce some very distinctively flavoured natural produce – think beans, buckwheat, potatoes, black turnips, truffles, chestnuts and mushrooms. These core ingredients, in turn, form the basis of some strikingly innovative dishes. Ones we have enjoyed include patates d’Olot – deep-fried potatoes stuffed with savoury minced lamb; and empedrat, which are beans from Santa Pau served with salted cod and wild Chanterelle mushrooms. And when it comes to the local beer, you might even find some micro-brews that have been produced from buckwheat cultivated in the region’s fertile, volcanic soil. Much like the food, its reputation is growing far and wide.

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