I started this Catalan food guide to share some information about the best things to eat in Catalonia. You probably know all about Spanish food as it seems like tapas is fashionable all over the world. But do you know about the amazing dishes you can sample within Catalonia (in both Spain and Andorra)? The local cuisine is as varied as the stunning scenery, so you’ll want to walk to build up an appetite, then eat your way through everything in this post.
Catalan Food Guide – the basics
Catalonia has an amazing location to the North East of Spain, with access to the Mediterranean Sea, but also plenty of land up in the Pyrenees mountains. This means their food integrates mar y montaña, the sea and the mountains. You’ll find loads of meaty dishes reflecting the mountains as well as fish (and seafood dishes) fished from the Costa Brava. In addition to all that protein, there are some truly fantastic vegetables in this region of Spain, with plenty of tomatoes, red peppers, aubergines, calçots, asparagus and mushrooms.
These are two sauces that you will find all over Catalonia.
Allioli/ Aioli: Garlic and olive oil, whipped into a mayo-like paste.
Romesco sauce: Made with almonds, roasted garlic, olive oil and dried red peppers
Salads and vegetables in Catalonia
We didn’t always see a huge range of options for vegetarians or vegans, but the vegetables we tried were all incredible.
When it’s hot, it’s always nice to eat piles of salad. My favourite salad involved romesco sauce and had perfectly cooked bacallà/bacalao (salted cod) on top. You might also find, Esqueixada, which involves tomatoes, onions, olive oil and vinegar with shredded bacallà/bacalao.
Pa amb tomàquet – tomato bread
Tomatoes in Spain taste sooo much better than the ones I am used to in the UK and Canada! This simple dish of tomatoes rubbed into a crusty slice of bread with oil and salt is just perfect.
You will want to eat as many tomatoes as you can in Spain. I loved all the tomato salads as well as the pa amb tomàquet (above)
Escalivada – smokey grilled veg
This is one of the first things my husband cooked for me, so it always makes me smile. It involves aubergine (egg plant for my North American friends) and bell peppers grilled until they are squishy and soft, then covered in oil. The photo below was quite posh, so it involved anchovies and olives too. Escalivada is served on warm crusty bread, or just as a side dish.
Calçots, are a type of long stemmed green onion, that are unique to Catalonia. The dish below involved chopped up calçots in ravioli, but we saw them in quite a few different dishes.
These Pimientos de Padrón are more Castilian than Catalan, but we found them served a few times and they are sooo good that I had to include them.
We visited Catalonia in the autumn, so it was a great time to sample various mushroom and truffle dishes. The examples below were a deconstructed mushroom tart and a truffle risotto. My mouth is watering just remembering them!
We had quite a few fantastic soups while we were in Catalonia. The photos below were of squash (left) and mini leek soups (right).
Escudellla: I love this Catalan stew made with a piece of meat, beans, potatoes, cabbage and sometimes pasta. Marc’s mum makes a fantastic version of it, but I don’t have a photo.
Fish in Catalonia:
Despite being located within mountains, there is far more fresh fish available in Catalonia, than we can normally find in the UK.
We found versions served in tomato sauce, as well as bacallà gratinat which was salted cod covered in allioli then broiled.
Sardina – Sardines
We had quite a few fantastic sardines, mostly deep fried.
Again, I am not sure if this is typically Catalan, as you can find octopus dishes all over Spain. But we had several fantastic Catalan dishes with octopus. I loved this one that was flavoured with paprika and oodles of olive oil.
Meat in Catalonia
Marc and I don’t actually eat much meat normally, so I have to admit, it was a bit of a shock to eat so many tasty meaty dishes in Catalonia. Firstly, you’ll find cold cured meats everywhere, and they are incredible. Last time we also tried cargols a la llauna super garlicky snails served in a teeny tray. I couldn’t find my photo, but I may update this post later(!)
We saw some sheep and goats in the mountains with cute bells around their necks, so it’s not too surprising that we found plenty of lamb on Catalan menus. One of the famous dishes is lamb roasted with mounds of garlic “Xai Rostit Amb 12 Cabeçes d’All. This translates as lamb Roasted with 12 Heads of Garlic, so as you can imagine, it’s full of garlicky goodness.
I am not much of a steak-lover, so these photos are from my husband’s plate. Still, I had a few bites of these steak dishes and they were all fantastic.
I have no idea if this is normal in the mountains, but one of the tastiest stews we ate in the Pyrenees was venison stewed with red wine and mushrooms. On previous visits we had some really good rabbit dishes in Catalonia too, so keep an eye out for both.
There is quite a lot of pasta available in Catalan Cuisine. You’ll find canelons (cannelloni) everywhere. It normally has a stewed, meaty filling, and served with béchamel sauce (rather than tomato). You might also see Fideua. This is a traditional Catalan dish; It is basically like paella, but instead of rice, they use mini spaghetti-like noodles called fideos.
We tried some fantastic deserts in Catalonia as well. These are just a few of my highlights.
Unlike the French version, crema catalana uses a base of milk (rather than cream) and is thickened with eggs. It’s cooked in a water bath (inside the oven); once out, the tops are doused with sugar and torched.
This was a perfect almond cake. It was one of the highlights of my holiday (high praise as it was a brilliant holiday!)
As well as the traditional dishes, there were plenty of more international-style sweet treats. We tried some cheesecake, a lemon cake as well as the most incredible selection of sorbets and ice-creams.
I am a massive fan of Manchego (this is not Catalan, but you can find it everywhere!) So while we were hiking, we often took baguettes filled with cheese. But we didn’t hold back from trying lots of other cheeses. Watch out for Mató which is a soft, sweet cheese served as a desert. We also loved some of the goats cheeses.
I hope this Catalan Food Guide gives you some ideas about what you can eat. It wasn’t the most vegetarian friendly area I have visited, but they did have some fabulous vegetarian options. If you like meat and fish, you will LOVE Catalonia. Please note, I am not an expert on Catalan food by any stretch of the imagination, so I am just sharing what we ate. I would love to hear more about other dishes that we missed out on, so let me know if you can think of other dishes we should try next time we visit Catalonia and Spain.
I’ll leave you with the Catalan for bon appétit – Bon Profit!