Eat your way through Barcelona

Car­les Gaig show­cases the di­verse Cata­lan cui­sine and where to get started in Barcelona for a full-on gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Cat­alo­nia has four provinces Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tar­rag­ona. Each of them boasts their own ter­rain, high qual­ity pro­duce and unique dishes, thanks to the re­gion’s di­verse moun­tain­sides and coast­lines. Tapas are ubiq­ui­tous in the south, pin­chos are fa­mous in the north, and prac­ti­cally ev­ery re­gion has its own ver­sion of the clas­sic stew. In ad­di­tion to Barcelona be­ing Cat­alo­nia’s largest city and cap­i­tal, Cat­alo­nia is a din­ing par­adise that runs the gamut from un­der­rated fam­ily-run neigh­bour­hood joints and ca­sual eater­ies to an im­pres­sive lineup of Miche­lin-starred restau­rants.

Part-french, part-span­ish and part-mediter­ranean, some of the re­gion’s most pop­u­lar tra­di­tional foods in­clude gam­bas de Palamos, red prawns from the vil­lage of Palamós in Cat­alo­nia’s north coast; ar­roz bomba, short-grain Bomba rice from el Delta del Ebre in the south coast that is used pri­mar­ily for paella; ba­calao a la Cata­lan, Cata­lan-style cod with raisins and pine nuts; es­cali­vada, colour­ful as­sorted grilled veg­eta­bles; ol­lada, a sta­ple meat and veg­etable stew; and es­queix­ada, the salted cod salad with tomato and onions, to name a few.

Cat­alo­nia’s food scene is about slow food. Peo­ple are more con­scious about whole foods that are lo­cally and or­gan­i­cally grown, and dishes are made keep­ing health, body and soul in mind. At the be­gin­ning of last year, the din­ing trend re­volved largely around molec­u­lar cui­sine. Now there is a move­ment in Barcelona to re­vive our her­itage, go back to our roots and give tra­di­tional dishes a mod­ern twist. Many lo­cal chefs, in­clud­ing my­self, are go­ing back to the ba­sics us­ing fam­ily recipes handed down by our grand­moth­ers, be­cause fam­ily and tra­di­tions lie at the core of the Span­ish cul­ture.

Cata­lan’s di­verse pro­duce

The city’s largest and most fa­mous farmer’s and food mar­ket is Mer­cat de Sant Josep de la Bo­que­ria or sim­ply, La Bo­que­ria, sit­u­ated on the bustling La Ram­bla boule­vard in the Ci­u­dad Vieja district. Fondly dubbed as the heart of Barcelona since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1836, the mar­ket has hun­dreds of stores sell­ing every­thing from meats and jamón, to or­ganic veg­eta­bles, fruits, flow­ers and dry in­gre­di­ents, along­side dozens of tapas bars, cafés and restau­rants. Try snag­ging a spot at ei­ther El Quim de la Bo­que­ria or Bar Pinotxo for lunch, and go with the sea­sonal rec­om­men­da­tions.

La Bo­que­ria is the best way to see every­thing that makes each of Cat­alo­nia’s provinces fa­mous. For ex­am­ple, cen­tral Maresme on the Mediter­ranean coast is known for its peas and straw­ber­ries; Girona, a beau­ti­ful me­dieval prov­ince with nar­row wind­ing city streets, beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and one of Europe’s best pre­served Jewish Quar­ters, pro­vides the best beef in the coun­try; while Gar­rotxa, one of Girona’s larger co­mar­cas, has the best white kid­ney beans.

Lleida, Cat­alo­nia west­ern­most prov­ince cap­i­tal and main city of the farm­ing re­gion, is na­tion­ally known as the Land of Snails. Lleida hosts the pop­u­lar three-day snail fes­ti­val L’aplec del Caragol ev­ery year at the end of May, where an av­er­age of 12 tonnes of snails are con­sumed dur­ing the fes­ti­val as caragols a la llauna - shelled gas­tropods cooked in a tin pan and eaten with aioli.

Trinxat de la Cer­danya, sim­i­lar to bub­ble and squeak, is a tra­di­tional Cata­lan com­fort food from Cer­danya, a moun­tain­ous county in the western area of the Pyre­nees. In ad­di­tion to the lo­cal win­ter cab­bage, Cer­danya’s high al­ti­tude and cooler grow­ing con­di­tions are great for grow­ing the highly pop­u­lar Puigcerdà pears and Tall­tendre parsnips.

Equally fa­mous are the sea­sonal calçots from Valls in the area sur­round­ing south Barcelona and Tar­rag­ona, which are best de­scribed as a spe­cial leek-spring onion veg­etable served char­grilled with romesco sauce.

A her­itage foodie trail

El Xam­pa­nyet, in the neigh­bour­hood of the fa­mous Pi­casso Mu­seum, is one of Barcelona’s most pop­u­lar tapas bode­gas, run by the Esteve fam­ily for three gen­er­a­tions since the 1920s. Dec­o­rated with tra­di­tional azulejo tiles, din­ers stop by the old tav­ern for a vi­brant va­ri­ety of tra­di­tional tapas, pin­chos, cava, house-cured salted an­chovies, and as­sorted con­ser­vas or pre­served foods. It’s

so pop­u­lar, there’s only stand­ing room on most nights.

If you missed the chance to dine at El Bulli, then head to multi-awarded and one Miche­lin-starred Dis­fru­tar in Barcelona, which is helmed by vet­er­ans of El Bulli, chef-own­ers Oriol Cas­tro, Ed­uard Xa­truch and Ma­teu Casañas. Of­fer­ing a choice of only three reg­u­larly changing tast­ing menus, the re­fined, avant-garde cui­sine has a marked Mediter­ranean em­pha­sis.

Re­serve a seat at Enigma by Al­bert Adrià for the tast­ing menu which serves 40 dishes (220€/S$351/per­son). The 7,534 sq ft space seats only 24 din­ers at a time in groups of six or fewer in each of the restau­rant’s seven whim­si­cally themed rooms, where each room serves a dif­fer­ent course. Helmed by head chef Oliver Peña, the menu draws on global in­flu­ences in­clud­ing Ja­pan, Spain, Korea, and Brazil. Ex­pect cloud-like ceil­ings made from wire mesh that changes colour and translu­cent resin walls that mimic wa­ter­falls.

Un­der the same el­barri group, a visit to the 90-seater tapas bar Tick­ets is also a must. Closer to a culi­nary amuse­ment park than a restau­rant, un­par­al­leled de­con­structed tapas bites are cre­ated at

five small-plate bars and spe­cial open kitchens spe­cial­is­ing in dif­fer­ent prepa­ra­tion meth­ods. Al­bert Adrià’s sig­na­ture liq­uid olive is a must-try, as juice from hand­picked olives is trans­ferred into a solid olive through a spe­cial spher­i­fi­ca­tion process.

Another Miche­lin-starred restau­rant that started out with hum­ble be­gin­nings is Restau­rant Can Bosch, a ca­sual fish­er­man’s bar opened in 1969 near the port of Cam­brils. The restau­rant skil­fully mar­ries the daily bounty off Cam­brils’ fish­ing boats with the fruits and veg­eta­bles grown in nearby vil­lages. Choose à la carte dishes such as sea bass and cray­fish tar­tar, lentils pa­padum and black truffle; or a se­lec­tion of set menus, in­clud­ing a spe­cial Menu of the Seas.

Rafa Zafra, an An­dalu­sian chef helm­ing fifth-gen­er­a­tion Es­ti­mar, uses his ex­pe­ri­ence as head chef at La Ha­cienda Be­nazuza, the An­dalu­sian out­post of el­bullí, to woo seafood afi­ciona­dos with his in­no­va­tive oceanic cre­ations. Get the very pop­u­lar ra­zor clams stewed in cit­rus and the fried baby squid in ink-tinted aioli, but also take the chance to en­joy rare del­i­ca­cies such as an­gu­las (baby eels) and percebes (goose­neck bar­na­cles). 70-year-old Car­les Gaig hails from the Horta neigh­bor­hood in Barcelona, where his fam­ily owned the pop­u­lar Taberna d’en Gaig since 1869. Cook­ing at the fam­ily restau­rant while grow­ing up, it wasn’t un­til 1979 that his mother’s blind­ness forced him to take over the reins of the Taberna. The restau­rant was re­named Restau­rant Gaig in 1989, and he re­ceived his first Miche­lin star in 1993. Gaig also opened his epony­mous out­post in Singapore last year.

Car­les Gaig La Bo­que­ria

La Gilda de Dis­fru­tar Dis­fru­tar Dis­fru­tar

Enigma Cubo de nori con caviar (nori cube caviar) at Enigma Can Bosch

Tick­ets

Mor­ralets acari­ci­a­dos con mole ne­gro y tinta (bob­tail squid with black mole and ink) at Tick­ets

Tarta de re­mo­lacha y yuzu (beetroot and yuzu cake) at Tick­ets

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