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Many people judge the food of Catalunya to be the best in Spain. The region certainly has one of the oldest culinary traditions: the first Spanish cookery book was published in Barcelona in 1477 and, although Catalunya shares some of its dishes and methods with parts of southern France (like Roussillon), it's possible to identify within its borders a distinct cuisine. Fish, as you might expect, plays a major part in Catalan cookery, but there's also an emphasis on mixed flavours which you won't find anywhere else in Spain - some common examples are rabbit with snails, chicken with shellfish, meat or poultry with fruit, and vegetables with raisins and nuts.

We've given a comprehensive glossary of Catalan food and dishes, which should help you find your way around a menu while you're there. The recipes we've listed will point you in the right direction if you want to cook a Catalan meal yourself. You don't need any special equipment, except perhaps a large, shallow casserole dish, but you will need to be insistent on fresh ingredients , especially if you're cooking fish or shellfish. Most recipes require tomatoes, which in Catalunya would be fresh plum tomatoes: these are increasingly widely available but, if you can't get them, use any fresh tomatoes ( not canned plum tomatoes) and accept the fact that you won't get the same taste. Good olive oil is important, too, the best you can afford - bring some back from Catalunya.

Some of the recipes described here have been adapted from two fine cookery books -cum-works of reference: The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas and Mediterranean Seafood by Alan Davidson. For specifically Catalan cooking, consult Catalan Cuisine by Colman Andrews.

All the recipes are for four people unless otherwise stated

Salads and vegetables are usually served as starters in Catalunya; they're often extremely hearty.

Amanida Catalana

One of the most common of dishes, you can improvise to your heart's content with this salad. Use as few or as many as you like of the ingredients listed below.

2 or 3 large tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

12 green olives

1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced

1 large green pepper, sliced in rings

Crunchy lettuce, as much as you require

1 200g tin tuna/2 125g tins sardines in oil

Share out and arrange the ingredients on separate plates, placing the egg and tuna/sardines on the top. For a more elaborate salad still, you could add slices of cured ham or pork, salami or spiced sausage around the edges - or use these instead of the fish. Dress salad with salt, ground black pepper, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Espinacs a la Catalana

A dish which is just as good as a starter as it is as an accompaniment to a main dish. If you're unable to find fresh spinach, you can use greens, but you must remember to remove the stems before cooking.

450g fresh spinach

2-3 tablespoons raisins, soaked in hot water

2-3 tablespoons pine nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

Put the spinach in boiling water, cook for five minutes and then drain. Add more water to cover the spinach, plus one tablespoon of the olive oil and salt to taste. Cook for a few more minutes until tender, drain and chop. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and onion and cook until soft. Add the spinach, drained raisins, pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste, and heat through before serving. Using greens instead of spinach, you may have to cook the dish a little longer.

Pa amb Tomàquet

Eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or to go with either (or instead) of the above starters, this "bread and tomato" combination is a classic taste of Catalunya.

Good continental bread

Ripe, tasty fresh tomatoes, plum tomatoes if you can get them

Olive oil


Cut large slices from a loaf of good continental bread, preferably the dense, heavy variety. Cut the tomatoes in two and rub well over the bread. Dribble generous amounts of olive oil over the slice and add salt to taste. You can also lightly toast the bread first if you wish

Main courses
If you're having a starter and dessert, one of the three main courses below is sufficient on its own without accompanying vegetables, unless it be a few thin-cut French-fried potatoes. Otherwise, you can serve any of them with reduced quantities of one or more of the starters we've described.


This wonderful fish stew is served in most coastal towns, using whatever fish and shellfish is available. You'll have to buy what you can, though in most fishmongers and large supermarkets these days you should generally be able to find large prawns (shrimp) in their shells, different kinds of white fish (cod and hake are fine), squid and - depending on the season - fresh mussels or clams. In Catalunya, you'll notice that crayfish or lobster are often added, too. The point is to aim for a variety of fish: the word sarsuela refers to a comic musical variety show.

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 large tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped finely

1 tablespoon Spanish brandy

1 teaspoon paprika

1 bay leaf

1 cup/quarter-pint dry white wine

Ground black pepper


2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 lemons, cut into wedges

Assorted white fish, enough for a couple of fair-sized chunks each

8 large prawns/shrimp in their shells

4 small squid

16 mussels/32 clams

Clean the fish and cut into chunks; slice the squid into rings; leave the large prawns/shrimp as they are. Scrub and clean the mussels or clams. Boil the fishy leftovers (skin and heads etc; if you've bought fillets, use a couple of chunks and a few small prawns/shrimp) in a pot of water, adding salt and pepper, some fresh herbs and a sliced onion, to give a fish stock - which, when reduced a little, should be strained and put aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot or casserole, add the garlic, onion and chopped tomatoes and cook slowly for ten minutes. Turn up the heat and add the brandy, then turn it back down and add the paprika, fish stock, white wine, pepper and bay leaf. Stir the mixture, and then put in the fish: the largest chunks of white fish first with the squid, followed by the whole prawns/shrimp and then the mussels or clams. Cover and cook for ten to fifteen minutes or so, until the fish is ready and the mussels or clams opened, taking care not to break up the fish by stirring too often. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedges before serving.

Grilled fish with Romesco sauce

There are many different varieties of Romesco sauce, which originates from Tarragona province, and you can experiment with the quantities of the ingredients below until you find the taste that suits you. Made with small chilli peppers, fresh or dried, it can be a very hot sauce, though you can substitute cayenne pepper or even paprika for these, if you want to control the heat.

4 fish steaks, marinated in olive oil, chopped garlic and lemon juice

2 lemons, quartered

The sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

10-15 almonds (toasted under the grill/broiler)

2 tablespoons dry white wine

Chilli peppers/cayenne pepper/paprika to taste

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar


Fry the onion and the garlic in the olive oil until soft, add the tomatoes, white wine and chilli peppers and cook over a low heat for twenty minutes. Crush or grind the almonds and add to the mixture, adding enough extra olive oil to achieve the consistency of a purée. Add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Either put the whole lot through a blender or food processor, or pass through a sieve - you're aiming for a smooth, rather thick sauce. Leave to cool at room temperature. Take the fish out of the marinade, grill/broil, and serve with lemon wedges. Serve the sauce separately, to be dipped in or spooned over.

Pollastre amb Gambes

This combination of chicken and shellfish is an exciting discovery, adding a touch of extravagance to your dinner.

8 chicken pieces

12-16 medium prawns/shrimp in their shells, washed and cleaned


Ground pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

Quarter-cup Spanish brandy

Half-cup dry white wine

Quarter-cup beef stock (you can use a stock cube)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, heat the oil in a large pan, and then add the chicken pieces and prawns/shrimp. Take the prawns/shrimp out after a minute or so, put to one side, and cook the chicken until golden-brown on all sides. Add the onion, garlic and carrot, and cook until soft (about 15min). Turn up the heat, add the brandy and flame (stand well back), then - when the flames have died down - turn the heat back down and add the wine, stock, half of the parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for another twenty minutes, then add the prawns/shrimp and cook for another ten minutes. Take out the chicken and prawns/shrimp, put them on a warm serving dish and strain the sauce over them, sprinkling with the rest of the parsley

The one dessert you'll be offered everywhere in Catalunya is Crema Catalana . It rounds off a meal impressively if you make it at home; the only tricky part is caramelizing the sugar topping.

Crema Catalana

2 cups milk

Peel of half a lemon

1 cinnamon stick

4 egg yolks

7 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch

Simmer the milk with the lemon peel and cinnamon stick for a few minutes, then take out the lemon and cinnamon from the pot. Beat the egg yolks and half the sugar together, beat in the cornflour/cornstarch, too, and then add the beaten egg mixture slowly into the milk and continue to simmer. Stir constantly until thick and smooth, taking care not to let the mixture boil, and then pour into a wide, shallow serving dish. Let the mixture cool and then put in the fridge.

When you want to serve it, sprinkle the rest of the sugar evenly over the custard so that it forms a thick layer on the top. To caramelize the sugar topping, heat a wide knife or metal spatula and press down on the sugar until it goes brown and crunchy. Repeat this over the whole top of the dessert, wiping the knife/spatula clean and reheating it every time.


Orxata ( horchata in Castilian) is a typical Catalan/Valencian drink that you might like to serve with dessert if you can find tiger nuts. Incidentally, they're not nuts at all, but tubers.

Cover the tiger nuts in hot water and soak overnight. Liquidize the nuts and the liquid in a food processor. Chill, and serve with ice cubes and sugar

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