It’s no secret that Spain is a top travel destination. The cities—especially Barcelona—are exciting. The chic hotels are second to none. The streets are a clash of gothic cathedrals and Gaudí modernism. Every spur and side alley is a gateway to a new and exciting angle on architecture and culture. And everywhere you look, there are great restaurants and tapas stands.
Tawny and I took our most recent trip to Spain this past spring. Our destination: the Costa Brava region, the northeast territory of Spain that clutches the coast and cuddles with France’s southern border. Costa Brava was the scene for our storybook adventure with fellow Expedia Viewfinder contributors, the NVR Guys. The region also represents an excellent cross-section of the foodie scene in Spain. Today, that scene is the stage for many new chefs to create avant-garde cooking styles that draw deeply from the country’s traditions.
We met with a local celebrity, Chef Jordi Costelló, who explained to us that Spain is undergoing a revolution for which the battleground is the kitchen. Young chefs are drawing on their nation’s strong food culture and exploring techniques such as flash-freezing and cooking with exotic flavors and fusions. The Costa Brava region in particular, he told us, is one of the best places to experience this movement every day.
“Costa Brava is a mountainous coastline, we explore flavors that come from the sea and try to blend them with flavors from the mountains,” said Costelló. “This is how we’ve always done it. The fishermen used to trade with the farmers rabbits, and sausage for fish. It is our way.”
We got to experience this union first-hand, with dishes that highlighted the traditional (cured rabbit sausage from the mountain) and the famous (Catalan prawns from the coast). We also were able to mix and match old and new at small tapas restaurants throughout our journey.
Tapas are an excellent way to taste the culture of Spain. You can find anything from duck paté on baguette to spicy cold-cured sausage. Some menus offer soft truffle cheese, salted prawns, and even delicate artichoke hearts on brie. All of these dishes come in bite sized portions. This approach allows you to taste more and fill up slowly.
During our time in Barcelona, Tawny and I explored the old-town district. This region is a tangled mess of narrow streets with massive stone walls. Behind these walls, we found a number of tapas restaurants in expansive courtyards. Many of the dining areas comprised nothing more than small aluminum tables.
We tasted a variety of different foods. Rich cheeses and cured meats are major staples of the Spanish diet and Barcelona is particularly famous for its fresh prawns, fish, and snails. Yes, I did just write SNAILS. I’ll be straight with you: the snails looked terrible but they are delicious. They were way better than I expected. I didn’t know the proper way to eat a snail until this trip, but I learned: Lick the salt off the shell, like a tequila shot, and then suck the meaty section out of the middle. For an extra kick you can try the snails in olive oil or marinara.
Viewfinder Tip: Especially when you’re dining on tapas, eat slowly. This gives you the opportunity to taste more. It also means you will fill up more slowly.
Snails pair nicely with a local favorite called sangria de cava (a light, citrus-forward sangria made with sparkling wine). The combo is a must-try for any serious foodie in the Barcelona region. Keep your eyes open for local sweet shops too. The best way to get into the “eat, drink, eat, repeat” culture of Spain is to pace yourself with dessert. My personal favorite, Bubó, is a dessert palace in old-town Barcelona. The raspberry tarts and chocolate truffles are as much poetry as confection.
If you like to eat, get to Spain. Michelin star restaurants are lighting up the night sky above Costa Brava and Barcelona. Now is the time to indulge your taste for food that pushes boundaries and looks to the future while honoring its cultural heritage and celebrating the past.
What are some of your favorite cultural dining experiences and why?