Catalunya was a big part of our journeys in Spain and we are very blessed to be able to get our soup inspirations and stories through the friendly people we met.
From Barcelona, we continued our road trip to Pyrenees in Andorra. We decided to took the longer route via Perpignan, entering Andorra from France instead of Spain. The reason was to go to Figueres, home of the Dali Museum. Still in Catalunya, we stopped in Corca, L’escala and Girona en route. It was nice to be on the road again and to enjoy the countryside. Amazing people we met who told us stories about the area, comfort soups of the Catalan people, and even tips on where to eat!
Corçà is a medieval village in the province of Girona and autonomous community of Catalonia, Spain. It is in between Girona and the Costa Brava with a small population of less than 1500. We absolutely adore this place. Everything felt so peaceful and serene here. Staying at Casa Matilda stirred up my inner desires to one day uproot and run my very own Bed and Breakfast ! LOL! Maybe in the future when I retire.
Casa Matilda (Carrer Major 31, 17121 Corca, Spain)
On arrival, we were greeted warmly by Leo. We were welcomed into his home. Built of 15th Century stone and completely refurbished, the house kept its original architecture but has been retrofitted to include modern amenities. Leo and Helena were wonderfully friendly and hospitable. We exchanged travel stories, stories about our homeland, stories about our children. These personal stories are what makes our travels memorable.
We heard their urban love story. Leo was a bartender from Buenos Aires working in Barcelona. Helena, a Catalan girl working as a social worker in Barcelona. The song would probably go “You had me at Gin and Tonic”, paraphrasing the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Boy gets girl, starts a family. Leo and Helena felt that they did not want to bring up their child and future kids in a hectic city like Barcelona. They work long, irregular hours and Leo did not feel it was what he wanted. They gave up everything they had and moved to Corca. They spent a lot of money ( insane amount i figure!) on the bed and breakfast and named it after their beautiful daughter, Matilda. Matilda is a lovely 4 year old girl, confident, friendly and carefree. She is very privileged to be able to spend every day with her parents. They have never looked back since. We spoke in detail with Leo on this commitment and sacrifice of becoming an entrepreneur. This is increasingly so, many city dwellers feeling the stress and bottled up unhappiness, wanting to spend more time with their precious little ones, giving their children a better quality of life. Not all can afford or have the courage to do what Leo did.
After breakfast, we continued our conversations with Leo and Helena. Seeing that Helena is such a great cook, I had to ask her about what soups or stews they eat during winter and whether she has any recipe, What followed, was a two hour of detailed explanation on Catalan dishes and cooking of traditional Catalan dishes. Of course there was no written recipe. It was how her mother taught her and she would pass it on to Matilda in the future. Google Translate and Google images were of great help in translating the names of some ingredients. The chicken escudella featured as a souperinspiration for #tsstakemetospain series was inspired by Helena’s account of her mother’s recipe of escudella i carn d’olla. The traditional version uses pork feet, beef bones and botifarra negre (blood sausages). Using some of the tips she gave me, I made a healthier version, at the same staying as true as I can to her recipe. Thank you Helena for sharing your kitchen stories on Catalan cuisine.
We spoke at length regarding the types of spices and herbs that she would use in her cooking, about paella, fiduea and the influences of Roman culture on Spanish foods. This was when I fully understood why Spain is so diverse when it comes to food and methods of preparation. She shared that saffron, and pimenton is hardly used in her cooking as these were mainly used by the Galician. Paellas were mostly eaten on Sundays for family lunches and hardly on other days. One interesting fact was paella or some sort of rice dish is always featured in the set menu at restaurants on Thursdays only. Simple reason: no fish on Monday, fish comes in on Tuesday, and by Wednesdays, the restaurants can get them cheaper as they would not be as fresh. Seafood would tend to become expensive on the weekend, as most families would buy them for the Sunday lunches. Hence Thursday seems like the best day for everyone to serve and eat paella!
It was really nice to be able to be in someone’s home and learn from them. Food always has this power to bring people together.
Leo suggested that we head towards L’Escala where they have a really nice beach. It is about 22 km from Corca, and it was a real pleasant drive in the evening. L’escala is a municipality in the comarca of the Alt Empordà in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is situated on the Costa Brava, located between the southern end of the Gulf of Roses and Cala (bay) Montgó. It is an important fishing port and tourist centre, and even has a festival dedicated to its famous anchovies in the month of October. L’escala anchovies are known for being particularly aromatic and full of flavour, with a strong and intense taste.
Tourist season has not officially started. I have seen pictures of packed beaches online in the peak summer months. For now, a sleepy fishing town by the coast. We were the only ones on the beach. The town was quiet and the restaurants empty. The kids had fun playing in the sand and on the swings. It was 6pm and still bright. We just sat and watched the waves crashing onto the beach and enjoyed the sea breeze. Ah, bliss! Except when I had to keep getting up to push Eli on the swing as he still did not know how to propel his body forward.
Escalivada con anchoas
Escalivada is a traditional Catalan dish of smoky grilled vegetables. It typically consists of roasted eggplant and bell peppers with olive oil, and sometimes onion, tomato, minced garlic, and salt. The name comes from the Catalan verb escalivar, “to cook in ashes,” referencing the dish’s traditional preparation in the embers of a wood fire. The dish can be grilled outdoors on a grate until charred and soft, or may be cooked whole directly on glowing coals and then peeled. Commonly eaten here with anchoas as a tapa or an appetizer.
The salty oily big L’escala anchovies were a beautiful contrast to the earthy roasted vegetables. Although anchovies have traditionally been fished and salted at different spots along the Gulf of Roses, the town of L’escala is most internationally renowned for its traditional methods of preparation. The Phoenicians and Greeks (in the 6th and 5th centuries BC) were the first to introduce techniques for preserving anchovies through salting processes. Subsequently, the Romans continued with the same process. Today, this same technique is used to preserve L’escala anchovies. Traditionally, this whole process has been carried out by fishermen’s wives, and today most workers involved in the process continue to be women, who are considered to be more careful and diligent in their handling and treatment of this exquisite fish.
Girona-Can Roca (Carretera de Taialà, 42 – 17007 Girona )
On the subject of Spanish food, how it earned international recognition with the Rocas brothers taking top spot again and that the wait list to eat there is 1 year, Leo lamented how he could not understand what all the fuss was about. He told us, to go eat at the father’s restaurant, Can Roca instead. Helena recounted how Can Roca had always been a family restaurant in Girona and that no one in town would probably go eat at the sons’ place. Amazing isnt it, how our love language for food can be so vastly different! She would eat at Can Roca any day as it served good food at affordable prices. I was souper stoked on hearing this. After all, I certainly enjoyed good honest comfort foods better, something traditional: how mama makes it and truly good for the soul!
To eat at the restaurant where the brothers grew up, learnt the art of cooking from their first influence, the matriarch of the family was definitely a highlight for me. I could not wait to experience the foods that inspired the brothers without all the fanfare and no one year wait list. We arrived 20 minutes before the start of lunch service and saw a whole slew of staff in starched whites from El Celler de Can Roca, having their lunch before their own star-studded service for 40 guests. All 60 of them filled the dining hall enjoying home cooked meals by Can Roca. What a sight!
The lunch menu is one that was fixed at 11 euros per person and included a drink (beer included!). This was perhaps the cheapest 4 course meal I have eaten in Spain! Came with a mixed salad, followed by a first course with 3 choices of either arroz a la cassola, vegetables or homemade chicken croquettes which tasted like a healthier version of M’s nuggets. Second course was grilled chicken, sausage, grilled pork or fish. Dessert : traditional crema catalana, homemade chocolate ice cream or coffee flan. The following series of pictures were our lunches that day. As one can see, we tried not to repeat what we each ordered. This place is not about plating and how beautiful the food will look on the table. It was just good traditional comfort food cooked with heart, like how mama used to do it.
Service wise, this place was made to be productive to a T! Everything was clockwork precision. There was a table of 10 next to ours who possibly made a reservation. Before they arrived, the salads were already placed on the table! I suppose that is why having a small menu with few options drives productivity upwards.
Arroz la cassola, a kind of soupy rice with squid ink. This was really good. It was cooked with chicken and seafood. It reminded me of our Teochew porridge where the rice grains were still intact. This is the inspiration behind July’s vegan souperinspiration for #tsstakemetospain series, vegan rice casserole with ratatouille vegetables. I later made the first version prototype in Andorra.
Crema catalana dessert was something we enjoyed very much too. This cream is the most typical of Catalan cuisine and is associated with the festival of Saint Joseph. It is also known as Saint Joseph’s cream. Recipe will follow!
We would highly recommend this place if you are gonna be in this area for a day trip.
After a souper fulfilling lunch, we went for a walk in town. 200m away, sits the world’s best restaurant El Celler De Can Roca, with 3 Michelin stars and a wait list of at least 1 year. I have read that the restaurant sits 45 and has an army of 60 chefs for each service! Would love to perhaps go sometime in the future. But for now, the memory of dining at Can Roca suffix. As any tourists would do, we took pictures for memory sake to shout, been there, done that!
From Girona, we made our way up towards Figueres. Figueres is a small city in Catalonia, Spain with a population of 40,000. The name of the town means ‘fig trees’ as historically they grew with great abundance around the area. The town, much like Girona, is a relaxed alternative to Barcelona with relaxing cafés on side streets, and a compact Old Town core. The city’s main attraction is the world famous museum of native son, Salvador Dalí . After the Prado in Madrid, it is the most visited museum in all of Spain. This was precisely the reason for our pit stop. However, we came in pretty late in the afternoon and we still had to make our way to Perpignan, hence we only walked around the perimeters of the museum and the old town. A case of being over optimistic with our schedule.
The Dalí Theatre-Museum was designed by Salvador Dalí. He was a renowned surrealist painter born in Figueres in 1904. The museum was built from the ruins of a former theatre and converted into what can be seen today– a bizarre yet amazing mix of the weird and wonderful creations from the mind of Dalí. It is the second most visited museum in Spain, after the Prado in Madrid. Dali designed it in the last years of his life, designing every little detail. The outside walls have small sculptures of bread buns. On top of the museum you see golden mannequins and giant eggs. How quirky is that?
What intrigues me to want to visit was the opportunity to to observe, live and enjoy the work and thought of a genius. As Dalí himself explained: “It’s obvious that other worlds exist, that’s certain; but, as I’ve already said on many other occasions, these other worlds are inside ours, they reside in the earth and precisely at the centre of the dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspected and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”
This is definitely worthy of a day visit. I was told that in summer months, the queue snakes around the village square and be prepared to wait hours to get in. Tickets are not cheap at 12 euros each but definitely an extremely fun museum to explore for all the family and for all ages. I will be back for a visit!