When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do. Or I should say, “When in Catalonia, do as the Catalonians do.”
I have been in Barcelona for more than a week now, and it didn’t take long for the culture shock to kick in full force. The lifestyle here does not match the flamenco-dancing-siesta-taking-Spanish-speaking stereotypes of Spain. Cataluña is a region of Spain with its own history, language and traditions. The residents here take great pride in that.
This past weekend, our program had a mandatory study journey to Tarragona. We toured ancient Roman ruins nestled in present-day homes and modern structures, an impressive monastery and learned how to build human towers, lovingly known as castells to the locals of Valls. For Saturday’s lunch, some friends and I picked a random restaurant, but we became dumbfounded by a completely Catalan menu. We decided to blindly order, and our surprise meals turned out to be pretty good.
Speaking of food, IES mentioned Tarragona would be beautiful, but they should have said Tarragonna be delicious. Get it?
But really, if there was any meal – nay, experience – that is the epitome of the phrase “eat, drink and be merry,” it is the calçotada, also known as the Catalan barbeque.
As our bus drove past endless stretches of vineyards in this wine belt of Spain, we finally pulled up to a little restaurant for Sunday’s lunch. As soon as I stepped outside, I could smell it. Sweet and smoky, the aroma teased my palate as wafts of it entered my nostrils. That’s when I knew we were in for a real treat.
The hearty feast began with the famous calçots, cousins of spring onions but milder and caramelized to perfection under a tenderly charred skin. The calçots were complemented by romesco sauce, a savory blend of roasted red peppers, garlic, almonds and tomatoes, native to Tarragona. To eat one, you simply hold the scallion end, slide off the blackened top layer, dip it in the tangy sauce and dangle it over your mouth.
A bib is necessary for the consumption of this appetizer, but also for the red wine that accompanied it. We were shown how to drink from purrons, which are glass pitchers with long spouts. Wine was spilling everywhere, but it was a great deal of fun.
Next, the main course was a mix of lamb, seasoned potatoes, artichokes, sausages and white beans with a light creamy garlic sauce. Then, a very typical dessert of Northeast Spain, crema catalana, was served. It’s like a crème brulee, but infused with orange and has the scent of roasting marshmallows at a bonfire. A café con leche and sparkling glass of cava topped off the two-hour meal of good food and good company.
At the end of the meal, Spaniards were congratulating us as we caressed our protruding bellies.
“Yay, your first calçotada,” they cheered.
This Catalan tradition may have been my first, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last.
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<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marisa is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is an active writer and photographer for her school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, and a varsity rower on the UF crew team. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, volleyball, cooking, shopping and hanging out with friends. Traveling is Marisa’s biggest passion, and she has wanted to study abroad in Barcelona for some time now. She is most excited to master fluency in the language, immerse herself in the culture, sample exotic cuisines, and explore cities throughout Europe with new and old friends.</span></div>