My husband and I recently spent ten days exploring (and eating our way through) the beautiful region of Catalonia. The region has been getting much attention recently due to some extraordinary political issues that have come to a head over the past few months. Catalonia has existed as an autonomous and culturally distinct region of Spain for decades; it is in the northeast corner and borders the countries of France and Andorra. It has a distinct language and culture, and is the center of economic activity for the country as a whole.
While we were in Catalonia, we truly appreciated the warmth of the people, the beauty of the architecture in the city of Barcelona, and the spectacular grandeur of the Pyrenees mountain range. But even more so, we indulged in the delicious food! Every day, we discovered a new dish or ingredient, each one more delicious than the next. All of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we tried in Barcelona had the highest-quality ingredients, prepared in simple and elegant ways - resulting in some of the best meals that we have eaten.
The Catalan region is ripe with fresh seafood (especially coastal fish and octopus), incredible cheeses, and the most decadent cured meats. Often in the United States, you see Jamon Iberico in specialty food shops; it appears as a very bright red and fatty cured salami and typically costs quite a bit more than your standard salami. In Catalonia, this was everywhere. On every menu and in every supermarket, you could purchase this succulent meat that melts in your mouth. It comes from the black Iberian pig; these pigs are fed acorns exclusively for much of their life until the point of slaughter. For us, every lunch typically started with a plate of it!
I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of octopus available in Catalonia. It is one of my favorite seafood items and we had it grilled, sliced on top of a flatbread, and as part of paella. There is a huge variety of seafood that is fished off the coast of Spain. Many of the small villages that dot the Costa Brava started as small fishing outposts but have since blossomed into major tourist destinations (particularly during the summer.
We cannot wait to return to Spain to explore another region - but for now we are still dreaming of the delicious food that we had from Catalonia. If you decide to make the trip, please send me a message through the blog and I can give you some of our favorite restaurant recommendations.