Food & Drink

Ro’s Recipes: Catalan Culinary Entertainment

I first visited Spain was when I was a little slip-of-an-adult girl, stepping into the world of first job, first flat, first friends-with-friends-beyond-family, first earning and spending my own money, with such pride n’ joy, on mini-skirts and dangly crystal earrings.

A girlfriend, Hannah and I decided, in a frisson of why not, to take a week’s holiday in Lloret de Mar in Catalonia, just north of Barcelona on the Costa Brava. Living in London ordained  enviable sun tans, only so much French to speak with to the cute French boys on the beach, night dancing in the discos, a visit to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona — of course all on the cheap n’ cheerful.

This was the early 1970s, so neither cruise ships nor mega or luxury hotels had desecrated the Medieval charm of Lloret de Mar, an adorable, seaside town, with narrow three storey houses abutting each other along slender, winding lanes, graced by oleander and hibiscus. After dinner, clusters of local families and groups embedded in their culture, would clutter the doors and pavements. Others draped themselves over balconies to watch them play, sing and dance flamenco on the street — the dynamic, rhythmic clatter of heels on the stones, the resonant bravura of song, the children trilling and frilling their little hands with clapping and castanets. This was the glory I didn’t know I’d come to meet! 

Food too was a melee of meals spontaneously appearing, all at odds with the British tradition. For desayuna (breakfast), we opted for a local café where we could watch life greeting the day, eat pastries with café con leche or dense, flavor-punch coffee.

Instead of the midday meal, la comida, the most important and substantial meal of the day in Spain, we focused on tapas, little plates and la Cena, the last, light meal taken between 9:00 pm. and midnight.

Originally the term tapa “top” referenced the little piece of bread placed on a glass of wine sampled in a bodega (wine cellar). On the piece of bread might be a shrimp or piece of cheese. Then tapas developed into small plates eaten around a small high table between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner.

Eating tapas in Spain however is about the culture of inclusion and socializing with friends and neighbors outside the home. In this it bears a socio-functional similarity to British pub culture.

Apart from being culinarily fascinating, each area of Spain features its own traditional items, just as in any other small well-treasured regions of the world. Each bodega tweaks the recipes to make your journey a unique experience. Culinary entertainment indeed!

As a Brit, born, bred and badgered into finishing the last of my overcooked everything at boarding school, this unexpected foray into the foreign was a seduction rather than a force; more of a chimera challenging my sense of reality. This was learning with love rather than threat. What a joy and a blessing!

Travel broadens the mind — it is said. Now I understood the meaning: seeing, hearing, walking, tasting, sharing another culture. It opened insight into the self as well as the other. Both mind and heart are broadened. And that’s the glory and the good.

Today, tapas is still one of my very favorite ways to eat: several little dishes, each more interesting than the last that you share around a table or in a bar sipping wine.

Here is a Barcelona-style tapa we serve frequently.

Next Page: Recipe for Skewered Pimentón Shrimp and Potato with Honey-Paprika Glaze

Read More »

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.