One of the universal things we all have to do in the world no matter what religion, sex, age, or culture is eat and drink. And some places just do it better than others. Sure – there’s countries and regions that make great food and have plenty of famous chefs, like America, but then there are countries and cultures that take it to another level where it’s not simply about the food, but it’s about the social aspect of food and drink. It’s not about what it looks like on the plate or even about taste – it’s about people and the time, care, and love that is part of the recipe that makes some cultures and destinations a meca for food. Catalonia Spain, specifically Costa Brava/ Pyrenees, is one of them.
Yet Costa Brava/Pyrenees is quiet and humble about their food. In fact I think that’s what makes me love the food in Catalonia Spain even more. Humility is sexy…and tasty. Catalan chefs don’t take the ‘look at me’ approach; they simply do what they’ve always been doing, quietly putting love, tradition, and quality into their most basic of meals.
Home to the best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, Chefs are certainly doing some innovative things around the region. However, as I traveled through the Pyrenees what I found was beautifully made basic dishes made out of respect and tradition; dishes and chefs that won my heart and taste buds.
On of the most astonishing things that struck me is that no matter how small and remote the village or restaurant is, they will wow you with a feast that is beautifully plated and equally delicious.
I visited villages where there were only one or two restaurants in the whole village and the level of service and preparation was at a level of any large city.
Bread is a part of every meal and comes in all forms always baked fresh daily. Often you’ll find bread for dessert too. Make sure you stop at the small town bakeries, but get there early as all the work happens in the morning. Just follow your nose to the smell of freshly baked bread.
The region is best known for the bread concoction – pa amb tomàquet. Be sure to try making your own at the table for breakfast, lunch or dinner; toasted/crunchy bread scrubbed with ripe fresh tomato, garlic, salt, and olive oil.
And for something different and traditional try succamulla – a slice of day old bread, pour red wine over the top until it soaks into the dry bread, then sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the top. Surprisingly this is a treat for kids and a great way to use of old bread!
Cal Colfa Restaurant in the little Spanish enclave of Llivia was probably my most memorable meal. A classic 2+ hour lunch with dish after dish of amazing food. But my favorite meat dish I had during my entire stay was the mustard beef at this simple little restaurant. I’ve never had anything like it before.
Chef Eva of Can Jordi was excited to serve us a Pyrenees specialty – horse…yes…horse. She grilled up horse fillets for us in the tiny little town of Espinavelle with a population of 24 people.
We had pate at many meals, a staple dish in Catalonia and at Can Borrell.
Meat is best cooked slow, and the ultimate slow cook was made by Chef Pep in Garrotxa. He slow cooked beef cheek for 24 hours in a mold – exquisite, tender, and flavorful
Duck at La Barretina – Ok, so this wasn’t in the Pyrenees per se – but it’s on your way to the Pyrenees, and I loved this restaurant so much (and Chef Albert), that I went out of my way to stop there again and have the same exact meal that made me fall in love with it the first time 3 years ago! Getting back to see Chef Albert was a highlight for me, he was still creating great, local, comfort food – but the one thing that was different was that he knew much more English this time around!
Even though you are in the Pyrenees, that doesn’t mean you can’t find seafood and fish! Can Jepet in the tiny mountain town of Setcases was the restaurant where my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Each dish was so wonderful that I ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. But the fish was the dish that impressed me the most. How do they make such great fish in a mountain town?!
“Vegetables grown in volcanic soil taste better,” Chef Pep Nogue announced with a smile. We had to work for our greens in the Pyrenees! During our hike we spotted and picked dandelion chicories. The leaves are sharp and fresh and you can find them in abundance while hiking in the Pyrenees if you just look down at your feet.
Pizza in Spain? Yes, Catalan pizza so good and innovative it beat out Italy in the Naples Pizza World Championship in 2009! Fabian Pizzeria Puigcerdà is not your typical pizza place, it will change your definition of pizza. Fabio, a retired professional boxer, deconstructs pizza in so many different ways it’s mind boggling. His World Championship pizza…is served in a glass. In addition to drinking your pizza, if you are lucky you’ll get to see Fabio put on a dough spinning show!
I was at dinner and counted 5 glasses in front of me at one time. This is totally normal in Catalonia! If you are going to have a long 2 hour lunch, then you better have a lot to drink!
And after dinner wash it all down with the local Ratafía. Ratafia is a Spanish liqueur which is made by the mashing of different fruits (such as lemon peel, morello cherries, red carnations and green nuts), herbs (like mint) and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, bramble branch) in an alcohol of some sort
High in the mountains of the Pyrenees near Llivia, a group of locals are growing grapes for ice wine. They are just in the beginning stages, in fact they made us roll up our sleeves and help them plant! In a few years I’m going back to stake my claim to my vine!
The variety of soils in Costa Brava/Pyrenees , limestone, sandy, volcanic and clayey, means that many grape varieties are able to thrive. The Emporda region has amazing new wineries popping up all over where you can tour and taste, like Terra Remota.
These delicious desserts need no words…
Map of Restaurants to visit in the Pyrenees:
Find the restaurants I’ve mentioned in the article and have your own food holiday! Bon appétit!
I was a guest of Costa Brava/Pyrenees tourism during my time in Spain, however all opinions here are my own.