Whether you love seafood or meat, or both, Catalonia is a destination for the world’s gourmands. Its culinary traditions are a mixture of influences – for example, paella from Valencia, or meat dishes from Provence – but always interpreted with a Catalan spin and served with the Mediterranean mania for the freshest foods.
The dishes combine the best ingredients found in sea and mountains, as well as sweet and savoury flavours, for a style of cuisine called mar i muntanya. Typical ingredients include almonds, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, rice, olives, olive oil, calamari, many other kinds of seafood and pork done in a variety of ways, since Catalonia is one of the main producers of swine products in Spain. Xoriço paprika salami, produced from the black Iberian Cerdo pig, is often used in cooking.
The city of Girona is where mar i mutanya cuisine reaches its greatest perfection. With the Pyrenees close at hand, its traditional dishes add turkey, duck, rabbit and partridge to the seafood bounty. In his Nomadic Matt travel blog, the Boston-bred traveller, says of his visit there, “Eating is one of the greatest activities in all of Spain but in Girona eating is truly an art form. I went overboard on the tapas, cured ham and ice cream.”
The city is home to El Celler de Can Roca, the world’s best restaurant, as determined by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Run by the three Roca brothers, it produces traditional Catalan cuisine with a “creative twist.” Signature dishes include Iberian suckling pig and a beautifully presented beetroot salad with blueberries. There are also dishes based on perfumes and ones given unusual presentations, such as carmelized onions served on a bonsai tree.
Nomadic Matt also gives the inside scoop on an ice cream store, Rocambolesc, opened by the youngest Roca brother. “Jordi Roca runs this ice cream shop with a sort of Willy Wonka décor to it. You can enjoy interesting flavors such as apple, strawberry, various sherbets that can be topped with berries, cotton candy, popping candy, fruits, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, fudge, and so much more. I went two days in a row, and I regret not gong more.”
For a modern take on traditional tapas dishes, go to the ancient Iberian town of Ullastret, home to the locally loved restaurant Iberic. Dishes include local calcots (spring onions) in a fine tempura batter, and croquetas of botifarra pork sausage and Girona apple purée.
If you want to have a chef to yourself, consider staying at a luxury Spanish villa like Mas Mateu, a grand estate nestled within 173 acres amid the undulating Gavarran Mountains. The in-house chef embraces mar i muntanya in dishes featuring local ingredients, including beef bred in the Pyrenees and freshly caught cod. Bacalao pil-pil (salt cod in a light garlic sauce) might be served with black potatoes, succulent spring onions and chicharron pork, accompanied of course by a vintage cava from the villa cellars. To finish how about one of the local almond-based desserts, turrón and polvorones?
Whether you search high or low, you’ll be hard pressed to treat your palette to a more exquisite experience than one found in mar i muntanya.
Written for the LaCure Villas Worldwise Magazine blog.