Catalonian cooking represents the geography, history, and tradition of the region. Any traveler who wants to learn about the area should take every opportunity to try the local food.
Barcelona is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by mountains. This position means the cooking draws from the Mediterranean and uses products from the surrounding mountains.
The Mediterranean diet features olive oil as the main cooking medium and a variety of vegetables, notably eggplants and peppers. Seafood accounts for most of the protein sources in the Mediterranean diet. Popular options for food dishes include shrimp (Gambas), squid (Calamar) and sardines (Sardinas). The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world. Anyone who is fitness conscious or loves good food should appreciate this diet. The farther inland you go the more prevalent land ingredients become. Catalonia has wonderful jamón, lamb and sausages. You can find specialty shops all over the city such as Enrico Thomas who sells jamón and great sausages.
If you want to see more of what Catalonia has to offer food wise, you need only head to the markets. Two of the best are La Boqueria and Santa Caterina. La Boqueria is probably the most famous in the city. Inside this market, you can see great sections of meats, cheeses, and fish among other delicious things. One of the drawbacks of this market is that it can get very crowded.
Santa Caterina is a smaller market located in Catalunya. The selection is not as expansive as La Boqueria but the crowds are not as bad either. Barcelona SAE conducts a tour of this market as one of their cultural activities. They first introduce you to several dishes using a picture flipbook, then you get to tour the market. Your guide points out certain products and explains them. This tour is a good introduction to local food specialties and anyone with an interest in food should take the tour. Another fun food activity arranged by Barcelona SAE is the cooking class.
In this class, the group learns to make classic dishes: Pan con Tomate, Tortilla de Patatas, Paella and Crema Catalana. All these dishes are typical of the area. Pan con Tomate is rustic bread grilled with crushed tomatoes and garlic. Tortilla de Patatas is sautéed potatoes and onions set in beaten eggs. This dish can be eaten any time of day hot or cold. Paella is Spain’s national dish. Meat and vegetables are cooked in stock with simmered rice in a shallow pan. Crema Catalana is vanilla custard served with a caramelized sugar disk on top.
The best way to learn about local food is to taste and experience it on your own. However, these Barcelona SAE events can be a great supplement to your ever increasing food knowledge. These events also provide social opportunities, even if you are not interested in food.
By Jacob Renner, Ball State University