You may recall last holiday season that we shared some of our favorite dishes from our culinary tour of Quebec, Canada. This holiday season we are taking you 3,500 miles across seas into the mild, coastal climate of northeastern Spain to show you some of the most classic and well-known dishes of the region.
Located about eight hours west of NYC by plane, Barcelona is a unique European city that is worth visiting. The summers are warm, or even hot, and the winters are mild and rarely cold. Colorful, unusual and fun, Barcelona's architecture by the most famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi will keep you mesmerized, and the delicious Mediterranean cuisine will keep you wanting more.
Only an hour plain-flight away from Barcelona, lay the scenic Balearic Islands that attract a lot of visitors. You can wake up to the most beautiful sunrise on the rocky island of Mallorca, and later, hop on a plane or catch a ferry to enjoy the fun nightlife at the nearby Island of Ibiza. But wherever you choose to travel in Spain, the memory of its cuisine will remain with you long after you return from your trip.
Even though there were a lot of healthy and delicious meals to choose from, the ones mentioned below left a lasting impression. Read on to learn about our dining experience in a faraway land...
Primary ingredients - rice, assorted shellfish, chicken, and mixed vegetables
What'd we think of it?
Paella is probably the first dish that comes to mind when anybody thinks of Spanish food. To be truthful, there are a lot of variations of paella, both in Barcelona and in the neighboring islands. The seafood ingredients are selected based upon the freshest fish native to the specific region, but the general composition of the dish remained the same. Of course, it is delicious, hearty, and satisfying if you are an ardent fan of shellfish. The rice and mixed vegetables add an important counterbalance to the brininess of the shrimp. The greatest pleasure for us would have to be the beautiful and grand presentation of the dish, which is carried right off the stove and portioned out in front of us at the table.
Mussels on Charcoal
Primary ingredients - muscles, garlic, and fresh basil
What's so great about it?
If you've had mussels before, you may be thinking that there's not too much you can do to make this basic mollusk taste remarkable. However, if you haven't tasted the local mussels of Ibiza cooked over hot coals and drizzled with garlic oil then you'd be missing out on a lot. Believe it or not, the most surprisingly enjoyable element of this appetizer would have to be the fresh basil that is infused into the sauce. It has a wonderful perfuming element that opens the senses and allows your palate to detect the delicate nuances of the muscles' true flavor.
Grilled Fish with Potatoes and Vegetables
Primary ingredients - sea bream with herbs, roasted potatoes, eggplant and tomato salad
Should you go for the whole fish?
If you've had branzino before and seeing the sight of a fish's head on your plate (eyes and teeth and all) doesn't turn you off, then we would strongly recommend you give this grilled fish a chance. Sea bream is one of the favorite staple fish of Ibiza cooking and does not require much manipulation to taste delicious. Here, simplicity is key. The grilled fish is treated with a little olive oil and rosemary herbs to enrich the delicate flavor of meat, which is very similar to sea bass. It's also kind of exciting to play chef and break down the whole fish right on your plate before eating it... if you're into that kind of thing.
Primary ingredients - green olives, anchovies
Is there any olive better than the seafood ones?
The answer is a resounding, "yes!" When you order a side of cocktails olives to nibble on while awaiting the arrival of your meal, be prepared for the gradual (yet pervasive) aroma of sardines to assault your tongue's senses. We were unaware that it is a common practice in Spain to stuff olives with their apparently favorite fish, the sardine. In fact, the menu does not even advertise it as containing seafood. That will be your "pleasant" surprise. If you've ordered a pizza with anchovies and decided to pass on it next time, then this probably won't be for you either. Surprisingly, given the ubiquitous nature of this dish, we kind of grew accustomed to the flavor of fishy olives and eventually became a little "tolerant" of it.
Passion Fruit Foam with Coconut and Lime
Primary ingredients - passion fruit, coconut, lime
When can you have warm ice cream for dessert?
The consistency of passion fruit foam most closely resembles the warm fluff of ice cream melting... and it tastes just as sinfully delicious. We are not sure how they were able to recreate that exact, decadent texture with passion fruit, coconut, and limes, but it was a sure winner. There is a slight acidity to the dessert that playfully pinches the backside of your tongue as you're sipping it that makes it pleasantly fun to eat. The pretty flower petals sprinkled across the top, along with the serene candle-lit decor of the small Barcelona cafe we were in, certainly aided in the aesthetic.
Primary ingredients - rum, lime juice, mint, soda water
When can a drink be considered a work of art as well?
As we sat on the rooftop of our hotel overlooking the architecture of La Pedrera, Gaudi's last place of dwelling, we marveled at the similar modernistic creativity of our evening cocktail. There are many ways of tweaking the sugary flavor profile of the classic mojito, but the real accomplishment here is in the artistic way that it looks. There is a definitive juxtaposition of textures, colors, and shapes that repeat in the drink itself, as well as the glass. Maybe we were just a little biased by the end of our trip, having soaked in all the avant garde buildings surrounding us, but there was something about this simple, classic cocktail that just made it seem extra special.
In conclusion, the key attraction to Spanish cooking for us was not in the complexity of its varied flavors but instead in the freshness and simplicity of its ingredients. We would definitely recommend a visit to Barcelona and the nearby Balearic Islands for an indulgent experience of delicious and satisfying dishes.
Bon Voyage and Happy Holidays!