Barcelona's Cuisine

Menus in Catalan are as musical as they are aromatic, with rare ingredients such as salicornia (seawort, or sea asparagus) with bacalao (cod), or fragrant wild mushrooms such as rossinyols (chanterelles) and moixernons (St. George's mushroom) accompanying dishes like mandonguilles amb sepia (meatballs with cuttlefish).

Four sauces grace the Catalan table: sofregit (fried onion, tomato, and garlic—a base for nearly everything); samfaina (a ratatouille-like sofregit with eggplant and sweet red peppers); picada (garlic, almonds, bread crumbs, olive oil, pine nuts, parsley, saffron, or chocolate); and allioli (pounded garlic and virgin olive oil).

The three e's deserve a place in any Catalan culinary anthology: escalibada (roasted red peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes served in garlic and olive oil); esqueixada (shredded salt-cod salad served raw with onions, peppers, olives, beans, olive oil, and vinegar); and escudella (a winter stew of meats and vegetables with noodles and beans).

Universal specialties are pa amb tomaquet (toasted bread with squeezed tomato and olive oil), espinaques a la catalana (spinach cooked with raisins, garlic, and pine nuts), and botifarra amb mongetes (pork sausage with white beans). The mar i muntanya (Catalan "surf 'n' turf") has been a standard since Roman times. Rice dishes are simply called arròs, and range from standard seafood paella to the arròs a banda (paella with shelled prawns, shrimp, and mussels), to arròs negre (paella cooked in cuttlefish ink) or arròs caldós (a brothy risotto-like dish often made with lobster). Fideuà is a paella made of vermicelli noodles, not rice.

Fresh fish such as llobarro (sea bass, lubina in Spanish) or dorada (gilthead bream) cooked a la sal (in a shell of salt) are standards, as are grilled llenguado (sole) and rodaballo (turbot). Duck, goose, chicken, and rabbit frequent Catalan menus, as do cabrit (kid or baby goat), xai (lamb), porc (pork), vedella (young beef), and bou (mature beef). Finally come the two Catalan classic desserts, mel i mató (honey and fresh cream cheese) and crema catalana (a crème brûlée–like custard with a caramelized glaze).

A typical session à table in Barcelona might begin with pica-pica (hors d'oeuvres), a variety of delicacies such as jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed ham), xipirones (baby squid), pimientos de Padrón (green peppers, some spicy), or bunyols de bacallà (cod fritters or croquettes), and pa amb tomaquet. From here you can order a starter such as canelones (cannelloni) or you can go straight to your main course.

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