The very mention of the name Costa Brava gets my tastebuds excited. Other people may dream of beaches, turquoise water, and idyllic coves when they conjure up images of Catalunya’s famous coastline. But for me, it’s visions of food that pop into my head; of sensational seafood lunches in fishermen’s huts, and artistically presented dishes in elegant restaurants – all delicious memories of getting to know the intoxicating flavours of the Costa Brava.
Following the curvaceous coastline from S’Agaró to the intimate embrace of Aiguablava on foot is a scenic treat, and the perfect way to familiarise yourself with an area whose gastronomy is renowned throughout Spain. Along the Costa Brava, exceptional cuisine is commonplace, whether served in a Michelin star restaurant or a xiringuito (simple beach bar), and memorable meals are all but guaranteed. But it also helps to know in advance what local and regional specialities to look out for.
Pa amb tomàquet
Also known as pan con tomate and pan tumaca, this tapas-sized dish is popular across Spain. But the Catalans claim it as their invention, believing it to be the best thing you can do with bread. It is rustic bread sprinkled with salt, rubbed with cut vine tomatoes, and drizzled with olive oil. Some versions involve rubbing the bread with garlic, and even topping with a slice of jamón serrano. Although eaten throughout the day, it's especially popular at breakfast. In some hotels you’ll spot the ingredients at the breakfast buffet, so guests can create pa amb tomàquet just the way they like it.
Are Palamós prawns the best prawns in the world? I don’t know, but they are the best prawns I’ve tasted anywhere. Known as the queens of the prawn world, gambas de Palamós have an intense red colour and are surprisingly sweet and succulent. Their flavour is so good, they’re best simply cooked and served in their shells on their own with no distractions – somewhere like a xiringuito in a lovely little setting such as Tamariu adds extra oomph. Local men particularly enjoy sucking the sweet and salty juices from the head, but you can skip that bit if it doesn’t appeal. Their regal reputation is reflected in their price, and they’re worth it.
Suquet de peix
They say there are as many ways to cook suquet de peix as there are fishermen in Catalonia. This hugely popular dish is like a cross between a thick fish soup and a stew. Various fish (scorpion, bream, rockfish, porgy, monkfish etc.) are cooked in a stock with garlic, salt, olive oil, ripe tomatoes, old potatoes, green pepper and allioli negat, a type of garlic mayonnaise that is deliberately curdled. The reason for using old potatoes is they have less water, so absorb the deep flavour of the suquet better. Suquet goes exceptionally well with a local wine, especially one that’s been aged below the sea.
Escalivada is a traditional Catalan dish involving vegetables (aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, onion) cooked over hot coals, giving them a chargrilled, smoky flavour. Although it is often served as an accompaniment to fish and meat, it also works well as a tapa, served on chunks of toasted bread. Whenever Inntravel’s Spain expert, Alison Garcia Hall, is in Catalonia, she seeks it out. Her top tip is the escalivada at Tragamar on the seafront in Calella de Palafrugell where they ramp up the taste sensation by topping the roasted vegetables with locally caught anchovies.
Butifarra de perol
Although fish and seafood dominate along the Costa Brava, there are meaty specialities as well. Butifarra de perol is a savoury and slightly sweet sausage that can be eaten raw, dried for a more intense flavour, or grilled and fried like a conventional sausage. It’s made from, well let’s just say a wide selection of pig parts that have been cooked in a perol (cauldron) before being stuffed into a pig’s small intestine to create a chubby pale sausage. Butifarra turns up on platters of cold meats or in dishes such as fesols amb botifarra de perol, a moreish blend of beans and sausage that works well as a brunch dish. It might not look very refined, but it tastes great.