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Catalan dishes

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Special dishes:

These are not so much dishes as events! A whole meal is built around the core ingredient, usually coinciding with the relevant harvest time, but often as a general get together or party. The suffix ' ada' in Catalan means an event or happening, in English we have the words, 'parade' and 'cavalcade' with a similar Latin root, so dishes which end in ' ada' are really describing the party for which they are made, e.g. a romescada, or at the very least acknowledging the sumptuous-ness, and cost, of the dish!

Bolets (setas) - mushrooms: Catalans are fanatical about mushrooms, with hordes leaving the cities at weekends in autumn actually causing havoc to the locals. An enormous variety is collected, each one having its aficionados. There are numerous recipes for cooking mushrooms; the most common preparation is having them fried with the addition of garlic and parsley, often accompanied by grilled meats such as llangonissa . They are also used to enrich game dishes such as partridge and quail. The most common variety, seen in the shops from early September, is the rovellon , or in English, the bleeding milk cap. This mushroom is my favourite, not least because it is relatively foolproof to find in the forest! Some of the more squelchy varieties leave me a bit cold. It is said that pharmacists will identify one's hoard, but precaution is to be practised at all times as errors can be fatal!! As well as wild mushrooms, ordinary cultivated mushrooms, xampinyons , cooked with lots of garlic are a popular tapas .

Cargols - snails: dozens of small snails are washed and arranged open side up in special tin trays, olive oil is drizzled over them and the whole baked over an open fire and served with alioli or romesco or both as a dip. This dish is called cargols a la llauna and is a speciality of Lleida province, as indeed are many more snail dishes. As the snails are easy to collect after rain and are freebies, something close to the Catalan heart, the whole thing soon becomes a party with whooping children running amuck in a collecting frenzy and Hey Presto! You have a cargolada ! NB the snails don't have a chance to clean themselves, i.e. to empty their horrible little bowels, before their cremation, so there's a knack to nibbling the 'flesh' of from the 'gut' which is left on the end of your picking stick - personally I find the whole thing disgusting!

Calçots - barbecued spring onions: there's really no way to eat calçots without having a calçotada ! Calçots are giants among spring onions, as big as a small leek and grown specially for the purpose. They are barbecued whole in their dozens (they are sold in bunches of two dozen) over a slow fire so that they steam in their charred skin. One grasps the centre and pulls out the steaming soft centre and then dips the calçot into a specially nutty romesco sauce (this is so it sticks to the unctuous flesh) and, tipping one's head back, drops it whole into the upturned, waiting mouth. Bibs are essential but utterly useless, one gets covered in charred skin and sauce after the first one. It's almost impossible not to get through two dozen, with the expected consequences the next day. A calçotada is a winter thing. In the coastal districts of Tarragona, where the dish originartes, the calçots are ready in January and February, but in Lleida the calçots take all winter to grow due to the cold so they are eaten there late into the season.

Escudella - no translation: Escudella de carn d'olla is the full name of what is officially the national dish. It's a soupy stew or a stewy soup made with a chicken, bits of preserved goose, ham, black pudding, a pelota or fat boiling sausage, cabbage, potatoes, pot herbs, i.e. carrot, onion, leek and celery, plus chickpeas and noodles. The full feast is the traditional Christmas dinner (in Catalonia Christmas dinner is served at lunchtime on the 25th, like in Britain, whereas in the rest of Spain it's eaten on Christmas eve in the evening and whose main dish is grilled king prawns - the canny Catalans have both!). All the meats are boiled at intervals to generate a clear stock, the cabbage and the pelota going in last. When it's cooked, the meats, vegetables and chickpeas are removed and kept warm, the noodles are then cooked in the stock and the resulting soup eaten as a first course. The rest is then carved up and served piled high on a plate for a substantial main course. N.B. Escudella sometimes appears on daily 'menus', in which case it is a lesser dish altogether and served as a meaty soup with all the ingredients, including the noodles, served together.

Mariscada - seafood feast: a wide range of seafood is served cooked to perfection, one should only really eat this within sight of the sea - it will be very expensive: Sometimes you see parillada de pescado on menus, in which case it is a range of fish rather than seafood, you should ask what is included as this will be reflected in the price.

Romescada - sometimes called simply romesco de peix. Romescada is a wonderful hearty dish in which a range of fish, normally including monkfish. The dish, which is enriched with baby clams, mussels, etc. is made by the addition of romesco sauce as a picada . There should be plentiful rich sauce as in effect it is a casserole with an enticing warm yellowish colour, although there's no saffron in it. One can buy the special spice mix for romescada in Tarragona , where it is a native dish.

Sarsuela * (Zarzuela) fish fantasy: a wonderful dish for anyone wanting to write an A - Z of Spanish cookery! It's a rich fish dish made from the most excessive ingredients that come to hand cooked in the best stock coloured with saffron - the most expensive spice in the world. So if you're offered one at three Euros, be suspicious! The name originates from a type of comic opera, which in turn was named after the royal palace of the same name, where they were first performed, which was in turn named after its thorny location ( zarza , Sp. = bramble or thorn bush). This should remind you that the dish, in Catalonia at least, should contain spiny lobster!


Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.



Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.



Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.


See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice


A guide to food in Spain

A brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice owner of this restored Casa Rabassaire which he rents out on the summer.

Cooking styles
Sandwiches & tapas
Special dishes
Rice dishes
First Courses
Main courses
Catalan desserts

See also Francis Barret's guide to food in Catalonia



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