From Too Many Chefs -

August 31, 2004
Spoils of Sunny Spain


Above you can almost make out some of the many culinary spoils I brought back with me from Spain. I was greatly relieved when the Critic agreed that on the way back to Paris we would not need to put down the roof on the car, as it meant I had loads of space for gifts and spoils in the car! (On the way down to Spain, the car was scientifically packed by yours truly to use nearly every cubic centimeter of space, as the roof of the car folds into the trunk when you go topless.)

You will notice that there is not a single ham included in these goodies. Are you amazed? You would be if you have travelled at all in the rest of Spain. However, as we discovered on our trip, the region of Catalonia does not subsist on a diet made of 90% dried ham! Judging by the restaurants we frequented, Catalonians live on fish, fish and then some more fish, with a few side orders of vegetables. Also unlike the restaurants I remember from a famed tour of Madrid, Seville, Cordoba and Grenada in the company of Barrett, the fish was not fried. Frankly, Catalonia was full of happy surprises in terms of its cuisine!

So, now you know what food crimes Catalonia does not commit. Let me tell you what they DO cook. Grilled fish of every variety, swimming in garlic. A lovely pepper and almond sauce called romesco. Juicy botifarra sausages. (Okay, they may be pork-related but have absolutely nothing else in common with the dry ham I got so tired of in the rest of Spain!) Cold dishes such as escalivada (aubergine, onion and red pepper salad) and exqueixada (a salt cod and tomato salad). Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the anchovies, which were without a doubt the best anchovies I have ever tasted in my life.

It's funny to me (and sad) that I spent two weeks touring Spain with Barrett and another partner in crime, Charles, and we somehow managed to miss the best part of Spain for tapas, seafood, sausages, salads, anchovies, paella and gazpacho. Okay for the last two, maybe some would send you to Valencia or Andalusia. But they were pretty good where we were staying too!

So, in the next few weeks I'll be trying desperately to reproduce all these greate tastes here in Paris. I bought myself the best cookbook on Catalonian cuisine that I could find in tourist shops. I brought back with me dried sweet peppers (used for the romesco sauce), dried hot peppers (for the Critic's delight), two kinds of pre-made romesco sauce, two kinds of sardines, some garlic sauce that was mentioned in the guide books as being similar to the French aļoli and two jars of the hot peppers that I can sometimes find in our local Monoprix supermarket but not consistently. You'll also notice the box of tiny bottles of local alcohols and the large bottle of ratafia from Monserrat. I am sure they will make for interesting reviews as well.

In addition, I will be visiting the local Spanish speciality shop in our neighborhood (mentioned in connection with my paella post) to quiz the owner about fresh sausages and those lovely plump Catalonian anchovies. Now that I am a more informed consumer, I am hoping to find great things in our Spanish store!

One last note on items bought in Spain: I managed to find several rather spiffy prizes for our quiz winners. You were not as numerous as I had hoped in participating but perhaps once you see the great prizes you can win you'll start lining up for the next one! Watch this space...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at August 31, 2004 10:46 AM | TrackBack

We weren't such gourmands then, I don't think. If we'd run into the delicacies during that trip, I don't think we'd have appreciated them nearly as much as now.

That said, I'm completely envious and can't wait to see what recipes you pull out of your sombrero in the next few weeks.

Posted by barrett on August 31, 2004 at 11:45 AM

An update: last night after dinner we sampled the Montserrat ratafia, which would appear from the label to be a liqueur made with walnuts. It was...interesting...not something that we will be swilling down every night until it's gone but not so bad that it will sit in the back of the liquor cabinet for the next ten years. Actually, I think it has some interesting possibilities in the kitchen, especially in preparing desserts. This could be the basis of my next entry for the IMBB!

Barrett: you may be right, but even so I think this region really does have better food than the rest of Spain. It has a lot in common with the food of Southern France. In fact the local language (which you hear more than Spanish) is Catalan, which seems to be almost more similar to French than to Spanish! So much for the pocket Spanish/English dictionary I bought...!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 1, 2004 at 4:45 AM