The variety and originality of Catalan cuisine will be a pleasant surprise to most visitors. I am Catalan and although not a great exponent of the culinary arts, I do love to EAT! In the past I have been suprised by the reaction of foreign friends to dishes which I thought were universal, such as "pan con tomate", which is the way we serve bread here, rubbed with tomato, rather than spread with butter as elsewhere. Here are some of the main items which characterise Catalan and Spanish cuisine:
Anchoas de L'Escala: I remember the suprise of a French friend seeing us eat a big sandwich of these anchovies in Cadaqués, in place of the coffee and croissant which she was expecting.
Arros negre (arroz negro): The most famous dish of the Costa Brava, which combines rice, squid, fish, onions, tomatoes, olive oil and the ink from the squid.
El allioli: Garlic and oil paste to accompany grilled meat.
El cava: A sparkling wine made in the same way as French champagne, produced in the Penedés region close to Barcelona. It is the traditional accompaniment to the special cocas (cakes) eaten on the night of San Juan. But you don't need to wait 'till then try try a glass of cava!
El chocolate suizo: Super-thick chocolate with cream. It is served in a cup but you'll need a spoon! The specialty of the Carrer Peritxol and the "Granjas Catalanas", milk-bars of Barcelona.
Fideua: A type of paella made with noodles, it originates from Gandia near Valencia.
La butifarra: Grilled sausages served with white beans.
La coca: A cake made with dried fruit or pine nuts, there are many varieties available all year. Perfect for lunch, afternoon tea and for special festivals.
La crema catalana: Served in an earthenware dish with caramelised sugar on top, like a creme brulée. The British go mad for this Catalan custard.
La ensaimada: A pastry for breakfast or afternoon tea. The specialty of Mallorca, don't leave the island without one.
La escalibada: Made from roasted peppers, aubergines, onions and tomato. The best is my mother's which she makes in winter in the fireplace of the family house at Moià.
La escudella: Thick soup with meat, ideal at Christmas.
Las espinacas a la catalana: Spinach cooked with pine nuts and sultanas.
Las habas a la catalana: Beans cooked with black-pudding (blood sausage), the specialty of my French friend Muriel.
Los bunuelos: Profiteroles which seem to be full of air but beware...
Los canelones: Home-made canneloni, the best are from guest-houses in villages.
Los embutidos: Charcuterie, especially fuet, butifarra blanca, butifarra catalana and el bull (a type of sausage which my Scottish friend saw in the fridge and mistook for a haggis).
Los rovellons: (Autumn), grilled mushrooms with chopped garlic and parsley. The best are those we gather near my friend Isabel's farm-house at Lluçà.
Mel i mato: Young fresh cheese (the best is from Montserrat) with honey. One of my favourite desserts.
Pa de pages: Round loaf of bread cooked in a wood-fired oven, ideal for making pan con tomate.
Postre de músico: A selection of nuts (normally served with a glass of sweet muscatel). Why "music", well the musicians in the band never had enough time in their meal break to have dessert, so they would put a handful of nuts in their pocket to eat while they were playing.
Sopa de galets: El caldo, consommé from la escudella (see above) with huge pasta shells.