I was surprised at how well I ate in the Costa Brava. Ignoring the snack bars and the fast food restaurants, I set off to find some traditional Spanish food. It was all there: fresh fish and vegetables, excellent cheese and ham and, of course, tapas. Plus the local Catalan cuisine, which was completely new to me.
Fresh and Traditional Spanish Food
Food always tastes better when it is local and fresh. The grilled prawns I had in a restaurant in Lloret de Mar had a rich, full flavour that you’d never find in their frozen relatives. And the tomatoes from the market bore no resemblance to the greenhouse specimens we get at home. But Spain is also known for its dried meats, sausages and cheese; these were available everywhere, at the market and in the shops and restaurants.
I was lucky enough to be able to learn more about (and sample!) local food at a specially hosted event for bloggers at the Hotel Santa Marta. We had stalls showcasing local and artisan cheeses, fresh seafood, traditional desserts, and much more. We were even shown how to make Spanish tomato bread using day old toast with garlic, tomato and olive oil. (There seemed to be an extra stage involving chocolate but I couldn’t quite figure that one out…)
Eating Out in the Costa Brava
If you really want pizza or burgers you will have no trouble finding them. But you don’t have to go far to eat as the locals do, whether it is in a tapas bar or a small intimate restaurant. At the Can Garet tapas bar in Lloret the wine was stored in wooden barrels, and people were tucking into classic Spanish dishes of ham, manchego cheese and patatas bravas.
Don’t be put off if you don’t speak Spanish. We ventured into Ca l’amic, in a side street in Lloret, where the menu was written in Spanish and Catalan. We started to leaf through the dictionary, but the chef emerged from the kitchen to explain everything that was on offer! And it was all excellent: bread and cured meats to nibble on before the meal arrived, and then fresh fish boned at the table and king prawns in their shells.
When it comes to choosing drinks there are lots of good Spanish wines, and naturally there is sangria too. On this trip I also discovered champagne sangria (good enough to try more than once!). But Lloret de Mar is also famed for its cocktails, the heritage of the indianos who returned to Spain from the New World bearing their new found wealth and recipes for exotic drinks. The signature cocktail of Lloret is the Floridita Daiquiri, a mixture of white rum, maraschino and lime juice.
You can’t visit the Costa Brava without trying Catalan food. This is a tradition that goes back to Roman times, fusing a Mediterranean diet with traditional fishermen’s fare. As you might expect, fish features heavily in Catalan gastronomy. There is variety too: the same dish may be cooked in different ways, harking back to a time when families had to cook with whatever was available.
I enjoyed a typical Catalan meal in the Victòria Restaurant in Tossa de Mar. We started with lots of little plates of fish and seafood, including anchovies, cod balls and calamari. Then a magnificent cim i tomba, a dish of white fish, sea food, potatoes and a delicious garlicky sauce. Some of my fellow diners managed to get hold of the recipe. I’ve had this at home since, and it’s definitely recommended!
And one evening I watched two waiters pouring lots of alcohol into a big pan and setting fire to it. They kept stirring and ladling to produce a multi coloured stream of burning liquid until the mixture was ready. This was cremat, or Catalan coffee, a heady mixture of coffee, sugar, rum and spices that Catalan fishermen of old would drink to keep them going through long cold nights.
There was lots more that I didn’t have time to try. There seem to be so many culinary traditions in the Costa Brava that the region has a whole calendar of gastronomic events. Many of these are based on fish, but there are others featuring rice, mushrooms and even sea urchins. Just one more reason why I need to return!
Thanks to the Hotel Santa Marta for hosting the TBEX opening party, and to the Tossa Tourist Office and the Victoria Restaurant for providing an excellent Catalan meal.