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To eat and drink in Catalonia

With 7 years living in Catalonia, many friends refer to me as “local” in this region. And even though there is still a lot for me to discover and visit around here, I will gladly share the best gastronomic and wine experiences of my second home.

Catalan breakfast

Catalan breakfast

The day starts with…no, not eggs & toast, tea & coffee. Think cheese, jamón, seasonal fruits, pan con tomato, garlic and nuts. Depending on where you are, this could be accompanied whether with a caña (330 ml of draft beer) or a glass of let’s say dry Muscat that is served to you during the first meal at the local winery (Can Bas Domini Vinícola is a good example). After this, you are ready to dive into the vineyards or start a Barcelona tapas tour.

Барселона

Ruta de tapas with Cava 

Continue the fully-charged gastronomic day popping in the best tapas places around the capital. Accompany all the finger food with Cava and you won’t regret.

Here is my personal list with recommendations on what to order:

  1. Vinitus. Here tapas are being cooked in front of you non-stop and the array of smells is impressive. Don’t miss traditional local dish escalivada (smoky grilled vegetables) with goat cheese, grilled baby squids and croquetas with jamón
  2. Ciutat Condal. Try their hot montaditos (small sandwiches) – crunchy baguette bread filled with jamón, prawns or tortilla.
  3. Bar Ramon. A small hidden gem operating since 1939. Go for la bomba – the special type of tapas born in Barceloneta and now being of the Barcelona emblematic tapas. It is a deep-fried mashed-potatoes ball filled with meat and served with a spicy sauce.

Барселона

Seafood at the beach

Even though the traditional paella with rabbit is a privilege of Valencia, I could not exclude fantastic sea-food paella that you can find in some Barcelona spots. Local families still gather together on Sunday at the sea-view terraces and share a big pan of paella de marisco. Here is the list of places where you could savor both paella and fresh seasonal fish & seafood. Lunch on a sunny terrace or dinner under sunset sky – you choose!

  • El Cangrejo loco. I love that it’s located outside of the touristic walking path with an unwind top terrace featuring sea and Barcelona coast views. Paella Parellada is a delight. Pair it with a fresh Xarello (still wine), or Cava Rosé Brut.Barceloneta
  • Can Majó is located in front of the Barceloneta beach, so the outside terrace is less peaceful, but the environment around is very vibrant. The restaurant offers a range of fish and sea-food depending on the season. The classic choice includes zamburiñas a la plancha (grilled small scallops) rap al forn (baked monkfish). Albariño is the obvious wine choice, but if you want some local wine – go for Macabeo from Penedès or Costers del Segre.
  • Xiringuito Escribà is famous for all types of rice, especially black seafood rice- arròs negre. Gets crowded on the weekends, reservation is needed. Portions are generous, food is mouth-watering, no surprise many locals come here on Sundays.

Masias for meat lovers

Further inland, meat lovers will also find their favorite spots. Look for masias – rural, often old and historical houses. Nowadays, some of them boast restaurants with open fire and an ample yard for the use of the guests. The products are supplied directly from the farmers and garden. Open-air tables, fresh mountain air and delicious food are guaranteed.

Masia La Vinya Nova

Masia La Vinya Nova

One of the most picturesque is La Vinya Nova – located in the foothills of Montserrat mountain. It is not open every day and the table needs to be reserved for the weekend. Must order is lamb ribs (costelles de xai) or pork ribs (costellam de porc). Red dry wine from Monstant, Priorat or Terra Alta is a perfect pairing you will remember for a long time.

La Vinya Nova table

La Vinya Nova 

Calçotada

If you visit Catalonia between December and March, you can’t miss the calçotada. A winter barbeque where the main star is calçots – a local cross between onion and leek – sweet & delicate when grilled and should be dipped in salsa romesco, a tomato-based sauce with origin from Valls (Catalonia).

Calcots 2

 

For the full gastronomic experience and unique environment, it is advised to get to one of the rural restaurants outside of Barcelona. We liked El Mirador de Can Cases located in the natural park of Sierra de Collserola, offering splendid mountain views and a feeling of being on the backyard of someone’s home. Together with calçots you will be served a full menu: local meat, white beans and red wine of course!

village restaurant for calcots

Vermouth land

Had enough of vino?  Head out to the vermouth mecca of Catalonia, an inland town Reus that could be on your way to Priorat wine region.

vermouth

To go deep into it, visit a Museu del Vermut the ancient Vermuteria Rofes (founded in 1890). Alternatively, there are some nice vermuterias in Barcelona. To name a few: Puigmartí Bar, Vermuteria del Tano and Trencalòs.

Photo: Olga Verchenko

I will gladly share the best gastronomic and wine experiences of my second home, Catalonia.

Vardkes Arzumanyan about his collection of menus

Visit Centaur Cafe in Lviv and you will see that it is deservedly proud not only of its food and history, but also of unique menu collection of Prince Curnonsky, author of the Michelin guide. This collection is now owned by Vardkes Arzumanyan, one of Ukraine’s most prominent restaurateurs. This year his company Restaron released a book titled “Private collection of Prince Curnonsky’s restaurant menus dating back to the first half of the 20th century and owned by Vardkes Arzumanyan”

I have been collecting menus for a very long time. My collection currently contains approximately 1,500 copies that date back from the early 19th century to modern times. The largest part of the collection is represented by antique menus. For me as for a restaurateur, a menu is something that is much more than just a list of dishes: it is an art, a culture, a story that the restaurateur is telling to the guest.

The tradition to create menus and make them an important part of the restaurant has emerged a long time ago. Every epoch has its own fashion for specific food, dishes, accents and art preferences. Many artists have created paintings not only on canvas, but on sheets of menu books, too. No wonder that food has always be perceived as an art, and the pleasure it gives can be compared to erotic feelings.

Menu

Erotic context is seen in French menus that date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It felt like there was erotic in the air. Everywhere: in cabarets and theatres and on canvases. The aristocracy was obsessed with delicious food and seductive ladies on menu covers of famous restaurants. Fashion was changing, and with time pictures with a sophisticated message were replaced with more understandable, but equally interesting paintings. Black-andwhite or colored paintings, watercolors or graphic works all appeared on restaurant menus, because a nice meal should be, first of all, aesthetic. Artists and art trends might change, but gastronomic traditions remain the same.

People have always tried to stay as a community, and food has always and everywhere been the best reason for a get-together. Food brings people closer together and creates traditions, and these traditions give rise to culture. This is why calling menus an art separates business from the real restaurant culture which I develop in my restaurants. Food is also a kind of creative work, it should be properly enjoyed. When it comes to choosing a place to eat, I always recommend opting for places that have rich culture and traditions rather than places that just offer fast satisfaction of your natural needs.

menu2

In the beginning of the 20th century Curnonsky coined the name Bibendum for the character who was the symbol of the car company Michelin, and write a regular column “Mondays with Michelin” in Le Journal already by 1914. Curnonsky is regarded as the inventor of gastronomic motor-tourism, though he himself could not drive. He wanted to discover the cuisine of each French province and often called himself a “gastronomade”, a practitioner of gastronomic tourism.

In 1921, Cur (as nicknamed by his friends) together with Marcel Rouff started the publication of La France Gastronomique, a collection of 28 reference books. In the same year he co-founded the Academy of Gastronomes and the Academy of Regional Gastronomes. Gastronomy was represented at the Autumn Salon in Paris as the 9th art. In France of that epoch it was popular to elect “great princes” of practically anything, from humor, horror and news to chansonniers and poets. This land of gourmets and delicious food needed its own “prince of gastronomy”. Curnonsky was elected the prince of gastronomy in a poll held by Paris-Soir Newspaper in 1926. He was named a knight of the Legion d’Honneur in 1928, and was later promoted to officer.

menu3

On May 8, 1930, Curnonsky initiated the foundation of the Academie des Gastronomes, taking the French Academy as a prototype. He became the President of the Academy in 1947. Curnonsky spent the years of the World War II in Bretagne. He returned to Paris in 1947 together with Madeleine Decure, and founded a magazine named Revue Cuisine et Vins de France, and in 1950 co-founded the Chaine des Rotisseurs. The renowned restaurant critic celebrated his 80th birthday in 1952. There was legend that eighty best restaurants in Paris reserved a table for him every night in anticipation of his visit.

menu4

Life of the prince of gastronomy ended when he was 84. A memorial plaque is installed on the wall of the house in Paris where Curnonsky lived from 1904 to 1956 (14 Square Henri Bergson). The Association of Curnonsky’s Friends was founded in 1964. A gastronomic expo was opened in Angers to celebrate the 100th birthday of Maurice Sailland-Curnonsky in 1972, and next year the local Saint Jean Museum opened a permanent exposition devoted to him.

Curnonsky’s name was given to a street in Paris’ 17th district. There is Curnonsky Cafe in Cairo, and in Antwerp you can find an “organic food restaurant” named in his honor. In October 2000 Michel de Brie gave “Curnonsky’s archives” to Madame Jeanne Barondeau, who took the archives as a basis for a publication of three books, which were, in turn, used to reproduce a catalog of a part of menus from Curnonsky’s collection owned by Vardkes Arzamanyan.


Maurice Edmond Sailland, Prince Curnonsky (October 12, 1872, Angers – July 22, 1956, Paris)
A famous French restaurant critic of the 20th century, who wrote or ghost-wrote over 65 books and enormous number of journal and newspaper articles. He was born in a well-to-do family in the city of Angers in the Loire Valley, and discovered the joy of tasting various dishes when he was a kid – due to the family’s cook Marie who had “a God-given talent”. In the early 1890s, Maurice Sailland came to Paris and studied literature at the Sorbonne. Russian literature and ballet were in fashion in France those days, and the name “Curnonsky” comes from the Latin cur + non (“why not?”) plus the Russian suffix – sky.

Visit Centaur Cafe in Lviv and you will see that it is deservedly proud not only of its food and history, but also of unique menu collection of Prince Curnonsky, author of the Michelin guide.