Occitan colours

 

This vineyard near Roquessels has turned the colours of the Occitan flag. These are also Catalan colours, on a day when people in the part of Catalunya that lies the other side of the border are voting in an important election which may lead to a referendum in which they can decide on the issue of independence from Spain. Believing as I do that political responsibility should be as locally devolved as possible, I’m following events with great interest.

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A Catalan break

I’ve been away all week in Catalunya, staying in Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Costa Brava near Girona. We like Sant Feliu because it’s a proper all-year-round town as well as a seaside resort in summer. Although some of the more touristy shops and restaurants were closed for the winter there were a lot open for the local people….and for us. The town is full of modernista (Catalan art nouveau) architecture dating from the end of the nineteenth century: the Casino, now a café that was expensive for coffee but more reasonable for a beer in the sun outside on the pavement tables.

The buildings in the two Ramblas, this one in the Rambla del Portalet:

some more contemporary buildings

and a renovated 1920s market hall with a daily fruit and vegetable market outside:

The next bay, Sant Pol, is where some of the more spectacular modernista houses were built by Sant Feliu people who had left to work in central and south America and returned, rich and wanting to show it. Sadly, this turreted building is now neglected, some of its shutters and windows open to the weather:

We ate some very good food in Sant Feliu de Guixols, following the local habit of having a menu del dia of three courses with wine and coffee at lunchtime and then eating tapas in a friendly bar in the evenings. The best lunches we had were at L’Infern (yes, it means Hell!) next door to our hotel. I don’t often review restaurants on this blog, but this one certainly deserves it. There’s no choice, you simply eat what is being cooked on the day and the menu del dia cost 12€ for tapas, paella marinera, dessert, a bottle of very good local rosat – rosé – wine and coffee. All served in a beautifully tiled dining room with Latin American jazz piano music on the CD player:

Each table’s paella was cooked individually to order and while we waited we were served a succession of delicious tapas including a wonderfully smooth tapenade

Anchovies and red peppers on toasted bread

and red peppers stuffed with salt cod

Then came the paella marinera, rice cooked in a rich fish stock with squid, small prawns, mussels, large gambas and langoustines:

And for dessert, crema catalana:

A very good small cup of cafe solo was a perfect end to our lunch. We intended to come back here during our stay. Next day we were walking back to our hotel and the patron of L’Infern stopped us in the street to tell us that he would be making arroz negre – black rice cooked with squid ink – the following day. We’ll be there, we said!  Friends were visiting us for the day and they came too. This time for the tapas course we had the tapenade and the anchovies with red peppers as before, but we were also served sautéed mixed mushrooms and steamed mussels. The arroz negre was a tasty mix of rice, squid, prawns and artichokes that we all enjoyed very much.

I didn’t take so many photos this time, but my dessert, a slice of pastel de santiago – almond tart – with a glass of the local herb-flavoured liqueur Ratafia, was the perfect ending to a wonderful lunch.

This restaurant was a real bonus for us in a quiet street and next door to our hotel, so not very far to go for that much-needed siesta! I can highly recommend it – Hotel del Mar – a very welcoming simple hotel just 100 metres from the sea with a friendly owner who speaks several languages including English, French and Spanish and provides the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten in a hotel. If you’re on the Costa Brava it’s a great place to stay!

A Catalan taster

Last night we returned home from a wonderful holiday in Valencia, Xativa and Barcelona. We had so many delicious food experiences, too many for a quick post on my return, so for now I’ll just give a taste of Barcelona where we stayed for our last couple of nights and went with friends to one of their favourite local restaurants – not a tourist place at all, just somewhere people who live there eat because we were lucky to have local guides. What I didn’t photograph but will remember for a long time was the best veal I have ever tasted, a piece of fillet lightly griddled and served simply with fried potatoes – it was wonderful. To start the meal all four of us shared this plate of embutidos y queso, mixed charcuterie and cheese, and a huge pile of toasted pan amb tomaquet, toasted bread rubbed with tomato.

 

And dessert was the Catalan speciality mel i mato, fresh cheese with honey.  There are many different versions of this dish, some of which we have here in the Languedoc as we’re next door to Catalunya. This is the individual style of presentation of the restaurant we went to that night, with very dark honey.

 

Next morning, just before we had to leave to catch the train home, we went to the local market hall – mercat in Catalan – filled with tempting fish, meat, cheese, vegetable and charcuterie stalls.

 

We were tempted to have one (or more) of everything, but we wouldn’t have been able to carry it all, so we restricted ourselves to some cured sausages and these colourful olives. They are green Sevillenca olives, stained red by the paprika added during the curing process. They’re very tasty, slightly peppery along with the flavour of the olives.

 

The green ones in the background here were a free extra given to us by the friendly woman on the stall who asked if we had olives at home and was interested when I said in my very broken Spanish that we had olive trees in our garden.

I’ll be posting more very soon about the amazing market in Valencia and some of the other delicacies we found while we were there.

To the centre of the world and back

The surrealist artist Salvador Dalí claimed that the railway centre at Perpinyà (Perpignan in French) was the centre of the world and his statement is now commemorated in Catalan, the language of his native Catalunya which stretches across the Pyrenees, from one side of the Spanish-French border to the other.

This is where I’ve been for a couple of days, to meet friends and listen to music on one of the jeudis de Perpignan when the streets of the old town are filled with theatre, music and café tables.  For Lo Jardinièr and me it was a long-delayed chance to explore this colourful Catalan town. Although I took no photos of food at all (my camera being too busy with street theatre and buildings most of the time) we did eat some excellent lunches.

 

In the bistro-style Casa Sansa we ate aumonières – paper thin pastry wrapped around goats’ cheese, baked with honey until the cheese was melting and then served on a bed of salad leaves, followed by three pieces of meat – pork, veal and steak – cooked quickly on a very hot plancha and served with frites. Dessert, of course, was crema catalana, the Catalan version of crème brulée. No wonder visitor say, in Catalan ‘Perpinya t’estimo’

or, since this is a bilingual country, ‘Perpignan je t’aime’, as the glass on the other side of the bar proclaimed. And the colours of Catalunya were everywhere, even reflected in the marble café tables.

 

And today, just before we went back to the ‘centre of the world’ to catch our train home, we had another delicious lunch in Le Divil – the 13€ menu du jour offered scallop terrine, ducks’ hearts grilled on a wood fire with deep fried cubes of potato dusted with paprika, and then gateau basque – a slice of delicious light creamy cake.

Over the weekend I’ll get back to posting dishes that we’ve cooked ourselves at home, but I wanted to record and share our Catalan experience.