SPANISH CATALAN CUISINES
Spain 's extensive history with many cultural influences has led to a unique cuisine with literally thousands of recipes and flavors. This international diversity in cuisine is perhaps most evident in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona, where one might find a shop selling ready-made falafel, an Asian food restaurant, and a tapas bar, all located close to one another.
The actual consumption of meats is more than the accepted optimum, while the consumption of fish does not reach the expected optimum, even in coastal areas. The use of olive oil is common; Spanish cuisine is perhaps closer today to the idealized Mediterrranean diet than before the start of the 20th century, when the use of animal fats (especially lard) was very common. The quantity of fruits and vegetables consumed, even though more than in non-Mediterranean cuisines, doesn't approach the recommended five servings per day.
Main components of Spanish cuisine
A significant portion of Spanish cuisine derives from the Jewish and Moorish traditions. The Moors were a strong influence in Spain for many centuries and some of their food is still eaten in Spain today. However, pork is popular and for centuries eating pork was also a statement of Christian ethnicity or limpieza de sangre, because it was not eaten by Jews or Muslims. Several native foods of the Americas were introduced to Europe through Spain , and a modern Spanish cook couldn't do without potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or beans. These are some of the primary influences that have differentiated Spanish cuisine from Mediterranean cuisine, of which Spanish cuisine shares many techniques and food items.
The essential ingredient for real Spanish cooking is olive oil; 44% of the global production of olives is in Spain .
Daily meals eaten by the Spanish in many areas of the country are still very often made traditionally by hand, from fresh ingredients bought daily from the local market. This practice is more common in the rural areas and less common in the large urban areas like Madrid , where supermarkets are beginning to displace the open air markets. However, even in Madrid food can be bought from the local shops, bread from the panadería, meat from the carnicería, etc.
Traditional Spanish cooking also often revolves around outdoor cooking over a fire, perhaps in a special clay or brick oven.
One popular custom when going out is to be served tapas with a drink (sherry, wine, beer, etc.). In some places, like Granada , tapas are given for free with a drink and have become very famous for that reason. It should be noted that almost every tapas bar serves something edible when a drink is ordered, without charge.
Another traditional favorite is the churro with a mug of thick hot chocolate to dip the churro in. Churrerías, or stores that serve churros, are quite common. The Chocolatería de San Ginés in Madrid is especially famous as a place to stop and have some chocolate with churros, often late into the night (even dawn) after being out on the town. Often traditional Spanish singers will entertain the guests.
As is true in many countries, the cuisines of Spain differ widely from one region to another, even though they all share certain common characteristics, among which are:
The use of olive oil as a cooking fat, as well as raw, like in fritters.
- The use of sofrito to start the preparation of many dishes.
- The use of garlic and onions as major seasonings.
- The custom of drinking wine during meals.
- Serving bread with the vast majority of meals.
- Consumption of salads, especially in the summer.
- The consumption of a piece of fruit or a dairy product as dessert. Such desserts as tarts and cakes are typically reserved for special occasions.
It is worthwhile to note that Spanish food is not spicy, and in fact many Spaniards find even common black pepper too hot for their palate.
The first introduction of a product then unknown to ancient Iberia was that of wheat, which was thought to be brought by Iberians from the south of the peninsula. It was brought from Aquitaine in the north of the peninsula, due to the difficulty of transporting from the south. In time, the wheat of Iberia came to be considered to be the best in the Roman Empire , and became one of the main articles of foreign trade.
There are two major diets in the peninsula. One was found in the northwest part of the peninsula, with more animal fats that correspond to the villages in the north. The other could be considered the precursor of the Mediterranean diet and was found in the Iberian part of the peninsula.
Foods found in archaeological excavations include diverse types of legumes, onions, and garlic. The olive was introduced by the Phoenicians.
As early as Roman times one can say that, with the exception of products later imported from the Americas , many modern foods were consumed, although mostly by the aristocracy, not the middle class. Cooking references from that era discuss the eating habits in Rome , where dishes from all of the Empire's provinces were brought. So, for example, it is known that thousands of amphoras of oil were sent to Rome from Spain . Nonetheless, and especially in the Celtic areas, consumption of animal products (from lamb, beef, etc.) was more common than consumption of vegetables.
Already in that era, cabbages were well known and appreciated, and considered a panacea for various ailments. Other popular vegetables of that time were thistles (such as artichokes) and onions.
In Roman Spain the hams of Pomeipolis ( Pamplona ) had great prestige. The export of pork products became the basis of a strong local economy.
It is almost certain that lentils were already consumed in Roman Spain, because they formed a staple food for the army and because they are easy to preserve and transport. Fava beans were known from antiquity and were considered sacred by the Romans. In the Saturnalia, the later December festival in honor of Saturn, fava beans were used to choose the king of the festival. This custom is believed to be the source of the present day custom of hiding an object in the Roscón de Reyes (similar to the sixpence traditional in a Christmas pudding); until quite recently, that object was a fava bean. Garbanzos were also popular, primarily among the poorer classes.
Mushrooms were common and popular in the northern part of the country.
They mastered the science of grafting. According to Pliny, Tibur saw a tree that produced a distinct fruit on each of its branches: nuts, apples, pomegranates, cherries, pears, but he added that they dried out quickly.
Viticulture already was known and practiced by the Romans, but it seemed as well the fact that it was the Greeks who extended the vine across the Mediterranean region. This includes those wines that were most popular in the Empire.
In this era (speaking now of the tables of the wealthy), they ate while lying in bed (a custom acquired from the Greeks) and using their hands, because forks were still unknown. Tablecloths were introduced in the 1st century. They came to use two plates, one flat (platina or patella) and the other deep (catinus), which they held with the left hand. That hand could not be used for many other things while eating, given that they ate with their left arms while reclining in bed, so that only the right hand was free. Knives were known, but not particularly needed at table because the dishes were cut up by slaves into bite-size pieces. They used spoons, which, like today, had different sizes, depending on what they were used for. The first spoons were made from clam shells (hence, the name cuchara), with silver handles.
The mode of flavoring and cooking was quite distinct from what is found in modern times. They were not used to using any harmony in the whole of their preparations, and they never arrived at a refined cuisine, like that of the Greeks.
Among the multitude of recipes that make up the varied cuisines of Spain , a few can be considered common to all or almost all of Spain 's regions, even though some of them have an origin known and associated with specific places. Examples include the potato omelette (tortilla de patata"), gazpacho, paella, stews, migas, sausages (such as embutidos, chorizo, and morcilla), jamón serrano, and cheeses. There are also many dishes based on beans (chickpeas, lentils, green beans); soups, with many regional variations; and bread, that has numerous forms, with distinct varieties in each region. The regional variations are less pronounced in Spanish desserts and cakes: flan, custard, rice pudding, torrijas, churros, and madeleines are some of the most representative examples. Others include:
- Arroz a la Cubana
- Cocido (a chickpea and meat stew of sorts)
- Chorizo (spicy sausage)
- Chuletillas (grilled chops of milk-fed lamb)
- Gazpacho (cold bread and tomato soup)
- Fabada Asturiana (bean stew)
- Jamón serrano (cured ham)
- Lechazo asado (roasted milk-fed lamb)
- Mariscos (shellfish)
- Paella (saffron rice)
- Pescaito Frito, marinated battered fried fish, typical from Seville and Western Andalusia
- Tortilla de patatas or tortilla española (egg omelette with potatoes)
- Turrón, a dessert with almonds and honey, typical of Christmas
- Tortas de Aceite from Seville , a sweet Olive Oil pastry
Cuisine in each region
- Extremadura: olla podrida (a rich stew of bacon, fowl, ham, meats, and vegetables), excellent embutidos of Iberian pork, cheeses (including the indispensable torta del casar, a close relative of the Portuguese queso da serra, one of the best of the world), pitarra wine.
- Navarra: vegetable stews, Tudela's lettuce hearts with anchovies, salmon, or a simple vinaigrette (oil, salt and vinegar); piquillo peppers, which are often stuffed with meat; trout a la Navarra (cooked stuffed with bacon and cheese), Roncal and Idiazabal cheeses, curd from Ultzama, claret wine, and the liquor pacharán.
- La Rioja: above all its international Rioja wines, as well as its vegetable soups, its pepper and its potato dishes (that dumbfounded even Paul Bocuse, so the story goes).
- Murcia : products of its rich gardens, such as zarangollo; fish and lamb stews; and the wines of Jumilla.
- Madrid : the cocido madrileño ( Madrid 's chickpea stew) and the tripe dish callos a la madrileña, strawberries from Aranjuez or melons from Villaconejos, the wines from Navalcarnero and the Anis del Toro of Chinchón.
SPANISH CATALAN CUISINE
Catalan cuisine refers to the cuisine of Catalonia , in Spain and French Roussillon. It relies heavily on ingredients found along the Mediterranean coast, including fresh vegetables (especially tomato, garlic, aubergine, red pepper, and artichoke), wheat products (bread, pasta), olive oils from Arbequina, wines, legumes (beans, chick peas), mushrooms, all sorts of pork preparations (sausages from Vic, ham), all sorts of cheese, poultry, lamb, and many types of fish like sardine, anchovy, tuna, and cod.
Traditional Catalan cuisine uses a lot of pasta (second only to the Italian cuisine) and cod (salted, dried, fresh, etc.). The cuisine includes many preparations that mix sweet and salty and stews with sauces based on botifarra (raw pork sausage) and the characteristic picada (ground almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, etc. sometimes with garlic, herbs, biscuits).
- Catalan-style cod (with raisins and pine nuts)
- Escalivada (various grilled vegetables)
- Escudella (a soup)
- Esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion)
- Fuet (a characteristic type of dried sausage)
- Mongetes amb botifarra (beans and pork sausage)
- Pa amb tomàquet (bread with olive oil, rubbed with garlic and tomato)
- Tonyina en escabetx (tuna escabeche)
- Suquet (a seafood casserole)
- Sea and mountain dishes (incredible marriages of meat and fish)
- Embotits (sausages often served at Christmas-time)
- Calçots (specially cultivated onions, grilled)
- Allioli, a thick sauce made of garlic and olive oil, used with grilled meats or vegetables, and some dishes like Valencian Fideua
Sweets and desserts
- Crema catalana (a crème brûlée-style custard with cinnamon)
- Mel i mató, a plain dessert of mató cheese with honey.
- Mona de Pasqua
- Coca de llardons
- Coca de Sant Joan
- Tortell, a typical O-shaped pastry stuffed with marzipan, that on some special occasions is topped with glazed fruit.
- Torró is a nougat-like traditional Christmas confectionery. Nowadays many variants and flavours exist, but the traditional ones are these kinds based on almonds and honey.