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7 Classic Catalan Dishes to Eat in Barcelona

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Spain harbors an enchanting northern region known as Catalonia, with its vibrant heart in Barcelona, the region’s largest city and capital. Fear not the language barrier, for Barcelona embraces both Spanish and Catalan, and yes, English too, speakers. Yet, delving into Catalan dishes and history will undoubtedly add layers of depth to your journey.

Nestled between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, the Catalan kitchen boasts an array of spectacular seafood, robust stews, and succulent meat preparations. While the region prides itself on a remarkable concentration of Michelin-starred dining experiences, the true essence of Catalan cuisine can be savored in the rustic charm of countryside eateries.

What exactly is traditional Catalan cuisine? If you’re traveling to Barcelona soon, prepare your palate for delightful legumes, chickpea concoctions, vibrant vegetables, and an abundance of pork and fish. For those yet to experience the simple pleasure of a fresh sardine, now’s your chance! Delve into these 7 quintessential Catalan foods you simply cannot overlook.

Pa Amb Tomaquet – one of the best Catalan dishes

Pa Amb Tomaquet, often hailed as one of the quintessential Catalan dishes, holds a revered place in the heart of Spain’s culinary landscape.

Known outside Barcelona as pan con tomate, or simply tomato bread, this dish embodies the simplicity and richness of Spanish cuisine and showcases the importance of fresh, quality ingredients.

The preparation begins with slicing day-old crusty bread, which is then vigorously rubbed with ripe, juicy tomatoes to infuse the bread with the tomato’s essence. A generous drizzle of locally sourced olive oil and a pinch of salt are all that’s needed to bring out the vibrant flavors, blending the robust taste of the olive oil with the fresh sweetness of the tomato.

Pa Amb Tomaquet is traditionally served as a complimentary tapa or side dish in many Spanish eateries and cafes; in fact, it’s a common sight at breakfast tables across Catalonia, often enjoyed as a hearty start to the day, but it also serves as a satisfying snack or appetizer at any time. For a truly indulgent experience, try adding jamon (cured ham) or anchovies.

Calçots – the most festive of traditional Catalan dishes

The Calçots, originally from  Tarragona, are a variety of scallion and a highly cherished Catalan delicacy. They are typically enjoyed from January to March during a traditional event known as a calçotada

During this celebration, calçots are charred on a charcoal grill, resulting in a sweet, tender interior beneath a charred outer layer. Then calçots are stripped of their charred layers and dipped in a special tomato sauce, often made with garlic, almonds, hazelnuts, and dried red peppers. 

Enjoying the traditional Catalan dish of calçots is a hands-on experience, often requiring a bib due to the juiciness of the onions and the richness of the sauce. It’s a communal event, bringing together friends and families. It’s recommended to pair this dish with a glass of local Catalan wine, enhancing the overall culinary experience.

Embotits – a classic of Catalan cuisine!

The French have charcuterie, the Italians call it salumi and in Catalonia cured sausages are embotits.

The process of curing meats in Catalonia is particularly influenced by the region’s climate, which is notably warmer and drier than that of Italy and France, providing an ideal environment for the curing process.

Among the variety of embotits available, the fuet, a type of thinly sliced, dry-cured salami, is a standout favorite. Renowned for its distinct flavor, fuet is a versatile delicacy that can be enjoyed in numerous ways, though it is most commonly savored as an afternoon snack or served as an appetizer preceding the main course. This tradition underscores the Catalan cuisine and approach to dining, which emphasizes the importance of shared meals and the enjoyment of food as a communal experience.

The vibrant markets of Barcelona offer a glimpse into the diversity and richness of the region’s embutits, where vendors proudly display an array of cured meats, inviting both locals and visitors for a tasting. This experience not only allows one to taste the exquisite flavors of Catalan cured meats but also provides an opportunity to engage with the artisans who preserve these time-honored culinary traditions.

Esqueixada – if you’re still wondering what is traditional Catalan food!

In coastal regions of Spain, the tradition of salted fish plays a pivotal role in culinary heritage, acting as a primary method of fish preservation long before the advent of modern refrigeration technologies. In Barcelona specifically but even all through Catalonia, this practice gave birth to a delicacy known as bacallà, or salt cod, which has transcended its practical origins to become a celebrated feature of contemporary cuisine.

One of the most beloved preparations of salt cod in Catalonia is esqueixada. The traditional catalan dish is actually a refreshing salad which consists of finely shredded salt cod that is artfully combined with ripe tomatoes, crisp white onions, and is dressed in a simple yet flavorful vinaigrette of olive oil and vinegar. Of course, the recipe allows for personalization, with variations reflecting familial recipes and the seasonal availability of produce. Indeed, while esqueixada is most commonly savored during the summertime, when the ingredients are at their peak of freshness, it can be eatent throughout the year with the addition of other locally sourced, in-season vegetables.

Anchovies – an iconic Barcelona food

Despite their controversial reputation on pizzas, anchovies are actually among the culinary highlights of Barcelona.

These small fish are subject to a common misconception, largely due to their association with the overly salty and pungent versions found in budget-friendly tinned versions abroad. However, Catalonia presents a different story. Here, they are frequently served fresh, whether grilled or pan-fried, with a simple seasoning to enhance their inherent flavors.

Moreover, Catalonia’s affection for anchovies extends to traditional preservation methods, such as salt curing. This process not only extends the shelf life of the anchovies but also intensifies their flavor, offering a more nuanced taste profile that varies with the size and preparation of the fish. Available in various sizes, salt-cured anchovies in Barcelona can cater to a range of palates, providing a rich, umami-packed ingredient that can elevate dishes or be savored on its own.

So, even if you’re not traditionally a fan of anchovies, giving them another try here might change your mind. And know that the Catalan word for anchovies is anxoves!

Fideuà – a top Catalan fish dish

Arros, a dish highly favored in Catalonia, serves as the region’s take on the classic paella originating from Valencia.

This dish, deeply ingrained in the fabric of Spanish cuisine due to its proximity to the Mediterranean sea, is meticulously prepared in a traditional paella pan, where it becomes a canvas for showcasing the rich bounty of local seafood, where each ingredient is carefully selected.

The Catalan version of Fideuà offers a delightful twist on this concept with a dish that boldly replaces the customary rice with short strands of vermicelli noodles. This substitution might initially bring to mind the simplicity of instant noodle soup, yet Fideuà is far superior in both complexity and taste due to the toasting of the noodles, a crucial step that imbues them with a nutty depth, setting the stage for their immersion in a rich, aromatic seafood broth.

This Catalonia dish is a bit harder to find in Barcelona, where tourist traps with multilingual menus and photos of paella abound. But dare to venture a bit off the beaten path and you’ll soon find your very own authentic fideuà.

Escalivada – one of the most typical Catalan dishes

The term Escalivar is a nod to an ancient cooking method meaning to cook in ashes, a practice that involves grilling an assortment of vegetables over an open fire until they achieve a beautifully charred exterior.

This traditional Catalan dish requires a technique that imparts an unmistakable smoky richness to a variety of vegetables, including garlic, onions, eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes, transforming them into the soul of this dish. After grilling, these vegetables are delicately seasoned with only the finest local olive oil and premium sea salt, elevating their natural flavors without overpowering them.

In and around Barcelona, it is most commonly enjoyed as a hearty topping for meats, a flavorful accompaniment to fish dishes, or as a robust spread on flatbread, offering a slice of Catalan tradition in every bite.

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