Catalunya is a region in the Northeast of Spain. It’s well known for its strong culture and the Catalan people’s incredibly fierce sense of pride in their heritage. The majority of people in the region don’t identify as Spanish, but rather as Catalan. There is also a strong independence movement there that aims for Catalunya to break away from Spain and form their own sovereign country.
5 Traditional Catalan Foods You Have To Try Next Time You’re In Catalunya
The political history of Catalunya is long and complicated, which is why I won’t go into it in detail in this article, but it’s this very history that makes traditional Catalan food and culture so unique and so special.
Much like the Catalan language, their food is indeed unique and not commonly found in other parts of Spain, however at the same time it shares many similarities and influences with its Spanish counterpart.
It’s these similarities that leads us nicely to present our first dish.
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Pa amb Tomaquet
Pa amb Tomaquet (or bread with tomato) is maybe one of the most famous traditional Catalan foods. It’s simply toasted bread that has been rubbed with garlic, a slice of tomato and had a little olive oil drizzled over it. It’s normally served as either an accompaniment to a main dish, or as the bread when making sandwiches.
Let’s go back to the similarities between Catalan food and Spanish food for a minute.
There is something very similar served in the rest of Spain, normally for breakfast. Pan con Tomate (again, bread with tomato) is very similar but the tomato is usually blended into a pulp and spread on the bread more generously rather that simple rubbing a slice of tomato on it. It also doesn’t feature garlic.
Another difference is the bread that is used. In Catalunya they typically use their local bread which has a slightly chewy crust and is fluffy inside.
Calçots are perhaps the most Catalan food ever. They are a type of onion that grow to be long and thin. They look a little bit like spring onions but much bigger and fatter.
They are typically cooked on a barbecue over flaming wood until they are completely charred and burnt on the outside.
At this point you might be thinking why would you cook them like that? Well the way to eat them is by pulling the centre out from the top, discarding the burnt outer part and dipping the sweet inside part in Salsa Romesco (Romesco Sauce). If they are cooked well, the centre part slides out with very little effort.
If you want to try them you have to be quick as you can only get them during Calçot Season which only lasts a couple of months per year, at the beginning of the year. There are plenty of Calçotadas around Catalunya during the season which are basically barbecues dedicated to this amazing onion. Calçots are actually legally protected and registered as an EU Protected Geographical Indication, so you won’t find them anywhere else in the world.
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You are probably familiar with a traditional Spanish Paella. Well a fideuà is a nod in that direction. It’s essentially the same thing but instead of rice they use short noodles, or fideos.
Traditionally a fideuà contains seafood and is cooked in the same large, shallow pan as a paella is. It’s cooked in just enough stock so that it doesn’t become dry but at the same time is cooked through to perfection. It’s also typically served with alioli which is like a garlic mayonnaise, and a squeeze of lemon.
The story behind fideuà, and how it came into existence, is that there was once a fishing boat captain who used to love rice so much that he ate more than his fair share of it. That would leave the crew without enough left to make their paella. They would then be left with no choice but to cook their seafood with fideos (noodles). The dish grew in popularity and today has become one of the most traditional Catalan foods.
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Crema Catalana, or Crème Brûlée? Now that’s the question. Ask any French person and they will tell you that it’s called Crème Brûlée and is very much a French dish.
Now ask a Catalan the same question and you’ll get a very different response. As far as they are concerned it’s called Crema Catalana and is of Catalan origin. It’s essentially the same dish, but it has to be included in this list of traditional Catalan food because no matter where you go in Catalunya you’ll find it on the menu. It is without a doubt the most popular dessert in the region.
Whoever invented it, one thing is for sure, the Catalans kept the dish alive throughout the 18th and 19th centuries while it disappeared from French cookbooks. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that it regained it’s popularity and became a restaurant favorite across the world once again.
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This is one of the most emblematic traditional Catalan foods and personally one of my favourites. It’s a type of sausage that is usually grilled on a barbecue and served with white beans, but it’s not uncommon to find it served with chips these days.
As you can see in the photo above, it typically comes in long rolls as opposed to smaller each sausage. It has a lot of herbs and spices, particularly pepper so it can taste almost spicy even though there isn’t actually any chili in it.
Final thoughts on traditional Catalan food
Traditional Catalan food is a result of the region’s rich history, the influences from both Spain and the rest of Europe are very obvious. There are plenty more great dishes they serve in Catalunya but this article would never end if I listed them all.
The best thing you can do is explore their markets and visit restaurants the locals eat in. Keep an eye out for the five dishes I’ve mentioned here and use them as your starting point but be adventurous, you never know what you might end up enjoying!
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AUTHOR BIO:Originally from the UK, Charlie is a travel photographer and writer over at World of Travel Photography where he helps others on their journey towards becoming successful travel photographers. He has been living the digital nomad lifestyle for the past couple of years and is currently based in Poland, but planning on soon following the sun to Portugal.