A look at what the Costa Brava has to offer food lovers beyond just paella.
Most people who visit the Costa Brava are exposed to the usual tourist favourites. Topping that list must be paella, the rice and seafood dish that originated in Valencia but is found in restaurants throughout Spain. But the Costa Brava has much more to offer than this tourist favourite.
More than just paella
Basics include pa amb tomàquet, which is simply bread or toast smeared with tomato, salted and drizzled with olive oil. It’s way better than it sounds and you’ll find it in almost all restaurants throughout Catalonia.
Obviously the region is fantastic for getting fresh fish. My absolute favourite is gilt-head sea bream, which you’ll see on menus as orada or dorada. The usual ways of cooking sea bream are either to simply grill it or to bake it in salt.
While you might think it will end up too salty cooked the latter way, the salt turns into a crust which attached to the skin and is removed before serving, leaving the succulent flesh below.
You’ll also find preserved anchovies in several towns, with L’Escala particularly well known for their product. Rather than preserve the anchovies in oil they are preserved in salt, a method that dates back to the Greeks.
You’ll notice much more of an emphasis on seasonal produce too. Mushroom hunting is popular in the autumn when hordes of locals flock to the forests to seek edible fungi. Unfortunately they don’t always get it right.
Some towns, such as Llagostera, hold annual mushroom fairs. This is a much safer way to pick your mushrooms although they are also a little pricey. Many local restaurants offer menus based around mushrooms during the the fairs.
Safer and more affordable are chestnuts, also found for a few weeks in the autumn. You can buy them to cook at home over an open fire using a special pan with holes, or buy them cooked on the street in larger towns. The smokey aroma is one of the great smells of winter approaching.
One popular winter food here is a type of onion called a calçot. Originating from Valls in Tarragona it has become popular throughout Catalonia. The onions are chargrilled over an open fire and dipped in sauce. I love them! They are usually served accompanied by pa amb tomàquet with grilled meats served as the main.
Home from home
One thing you’ll find in many restaurants is allioli, made from garlic and olive oil and used to accompany meat, dish and fideuà, a seafood dish made with short noodles. It’s pretty pungent as you might imagine.
For home-style cuina casolana a fantastic dish is escudella i carn d’olla, basically a one pot stew containing several meats, potatoes, various vegetables, chickpeas and potatoes. The liquid makes a very hearty soup too and it’s just what you need in the winter.
Although escudella isn’t on the menu (as far as I can remember), Mas Pou at Palau-Sator is excellent for local specialities. The town is quaint, the restaurant is an old farmhouse and both the food and staff are excellent.
If you’re from the UK and a permanent resident there will probably come a time when nothing but a curry will do. Difficult, but not impossible on the Costa Brava.
Wine and beer
All that mention of food needs something to wash it down with. The Costa Brava has its own DO (Denominació d’Origen), DO Empordà, formerly known as DO Empordà-Costa Brava.
3.5 million bottles are produced annually from vineyards located in the Alt and Baix Empordà (northern and central Costa Brava). The area also produces Cava, controlled and protected under a separate DO. Although traditionally the area produced rosé wines, today thing are a little different.
Around 60 percent of these wines are red, 19 percent white and 17 percent rosé. The remaining 4 percent are traditional wines such as Moscatell.
The local beer is usually considered to be Estrella Damm, which is brewed in Barcelona. Recently though there has been a craze in micro-breweries and artisan beers. There are also local gins such as Nut, which uses the London Dry distillation method.
Local mineral water bottler Vichy Catalan (from Caldes de Malavella) conveniently produces tonic water to go with that.