This article is adapted from a thread on the iberianature forum here .
Simon has a rather nice house for rent in the Catalan Pyrenees here or here
Catalonia has a fabulous range of charcuterie and is renowned for the mycology-mania and a whole load of other things that you won't see anywhere else, everybody! I love morcilla, and buy it often from 'foreign' specialist shops but you've go to try some Catalan butifarra negra with or without onions, rice and/or que pica ! Then move on to butifarra blanca , it's not so blanca when it's amb ous (eggs) and de llengua certainly puts hair on your chest! I don't buy any of these here in Tarragona, however, as, like Technopat, we escape from the city most weekends and head for the hills, in this case the Pyrenees. As well as the pork the lamb up there is to die for. There's even an embotit based on it; girella is a species of haggis but made with rice instead of barley. You can treat it like haggis (on Verdaguer night, perhaps!) but it's best cut in slices and done a la planxa . You can only find girella in three comarcas in the Lleida Pyrenees, however, even most Catalan foodies have only heard mysterious rumours of it, but it's all true I tell you!
Meanwhile, mycology mania has managed to mangle the mountains! Every weekend during the autumn tens of thousands of Quemacooooos (cat. maco = pretty) and pinxapins from Barcelona descend on the hillsides in flashy 4X4s, destroying everything in their paths like so many locusts. The real problem isn't that they're so indiscriminate about collecting every living fungus, edible or not, but that they rip up the leaf litter and delicate soil surface, foraging for mushrooms with garden forks rather than seeking them with skill. I'm compiling a list of names as most are charming. As well as being very onomatopoeic, many Catalan nouns share a certain 'fitness-for-purpose' that makes English such a rich language, and this is especially true for fungi. One day I'll finish this and put it up on my web site, honest.
Moving on to uniquely Catalan foods. I return home to Tarragona, more specifically the rather boring town of Valls, which is the very type of Catalan poble . If you see a letter of the 'Angry of Tunbridge Wells' variety in the local paper, ten to one it's from Valls. But the twin nature of the Catalan psyche, the famous seny and rauxa dichotomy, is exemplified to perfection by a real local mania - calçots!
Instructions for a calçotada : a) grow a few hundred spring onions in your horta , dig 'em up and hide them all summer, then re-plant them in ridges so that they grow to the size of small leeks. b) make a spicy sauce with lots of garlic, hot peppers (the variety is the nyora ) and thicken it to a sludgey constituency with ground almonds and/or hazelnuts. c) take and old bedstead and light a big fire under it and invite all your friends around. d) cover the bedstead/grill with calçots still in their skins and with bits of soil stuck to 'em, when they're charred enough and steam starts hissing out of them wrap batches of a dozen in newspapers stash them in old roof tiles near the fire to keep warm while you do the next batch e) when all the calçots are ready shout, "Go!"
Instructions for being a calçotador /a (my invention): a) wear your very best Sunday clothes. b) grab a calçot , take a grip of the outer leaves in your left hand, hold the central stalk in you right thumb and forefinger and gently pull apart. c) dunk the naked calçot into a big bowl of sauce, tip you head right back and drop the calçot down the gullet whole, burning you lips with heat and pepper and covering you face/make-up/attire in sticky, smelly debris. d) get stuck in to another couple of dozen before they all go - bets should be taken for champion. e) don't be the guest who is 'volunteered' to buy half a sheep for the second course! More on calçots here
I was really shocked to learn that the ridiculous cava boycott is still in force in Madrid. Here in Catalonia itself we had a fabulous Christmas when it first happened, as the cava houses dumped the product on the local market at rock bottom prices - they had to shift the stuff out of storage for the next year's vintage as well as ensure cash flow. A good quality/price/availability recommendation is any of the cavas, or indeed wines, from the Raimat bodega in Lleida (D.O. Costers de Segre). As they are away from the traditional Catalan wine growing regions - they even had to change the local soil chemistry by growing pine trees for twenty odd years before planting the first vineyard! - Raimat wines are very good at the price and are even available at Sainsburys!
Read the forum thread on this article here