It is a land that lives on the edge, a semi-autonomous region of Spain with its own culture, cuisine and language. Tucked into Spain’s northeast corner, with the Pyrenees on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, Catalonia can seem like a world apart. Here, residents maintain two separate cooking traditions, one based on the gifts from the sea, the other on the produce of the mountains. Occasionally they merge, in the dishes that Catalans know as mar i muntanya (“sea and mountain”), a tasty pairing of chicken or rabbit with shellfish, tomato and garlic.
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Catalonia: Cooking on the Edge of Spain
Catalonia’s perch on the edge isn’t just geographical. Many of the most avant-garde restaurants in Spain are found here, both in Barcelona, where chef Jordi Vilà operates the cutting-edge, Michelin-starred Alkimia, and in the countryside. Outside the town of Girona, an hour north of Barcelona, chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca displays boundless creativity, while at elBulli, in the nearby town of Roses, chef Ferran Adrià continues to astonish the world. Arguably, there is no more influential spot on the gastronomic map today than Catalonia.
Its core seasonings are bold ones: parsley, oregano, paprika, anchovies, saffron, garlic. The traditional Catalan cook would be at a loss without garlic. The aromatic bulb forms the foundation for ali-oli and romesco, the region’s two signature sauces. It invigorates picada, the pounded paste of garlic, nuts, fried bread and olive oil that Catalan cooks stir into dishes to thicken and flavor them. Pa amb tomàquet, toasted country bread topped with crushed tomato and olive oil, would be lifeless without its garlic rub.
Catalonia is blessed with enviable raw materials: pristine fish and shellfish; Mediterranean-climate produce such as artichokes, asparagus, almonds and hazelnuts; farmstead cheeses; and wines that range “from the finest fizz to the richest of syrups,” in the words of Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson in their authoritative World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, 2007).
You have to admire people who live life with such zest, who never need an excuse to enjoy a glass of cava or to invite a dozen friends over for paella. These are the people you will meet and the region you will explore in the following pages, as we travel to Catalonia via streaming video and experience one of the most mouthwatering places on earth.
Join journalist Xavier Mas de Xaxas in the region's capital, Barcelona, at the world famous Boqueria market. You’ll be welcomed first by Catalonia’s Minister of Food and Agriculture, and by the president of La Boquería. (Flash video, 4:35)