A special series. Common Catalonian Cuisine – — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[One of the first meals I ate outside of the apartment was this super yummy burger from Blacklab Brewhouse, which is shockingly enough owned by a former Duluthian!]
One of the few things I love more than alliterations is food- or rather: eating it. Blessed with a job at what I would herald as one of – if not the – best restaurants in Duluth (shameless plug, but hey, I’m proud!) I have come to appreciate good food and where it comes from more and more over the past couple years. That being said, since having started working at said restaurant I’ve made it a personal goal to try everything that is put in front of me. Setting aside my “Minnesota taste” as my father always put it was difficult at first but has been a grand success. The world is now my oyster, and I’m ready to eat it!
In Spain there are culinary buzzwords that all tourists come prepared with: tapas, paella, sangria, churros, etc. Visit the more tourist-y spots and you will find signs hanging from every doorway advertising each and every one of the aforementioned. These things, I’ve been taught, are Culture with a capital ‘c’, the biggies that act as a reference to Spanish culture as a whole (despite their origins in very specific and very different localities). What tourists rarely get a chance to learn though, are what I’ve learned to be culture with a little ‘c’: the daily actions that make up every-day life in here in Barcelona and all over Spain. For example: Spanish Culture boasts tapas, paella, churros and everything else you’ve read in the Lonely Planet brochures/websites, but Spanish culture tells you that you should try one tapa in every bar you visit – not all at once and in only one place – and that paella is not a dinner dish (a common misunderstanding and an easy way to spot a non-local), but traditionally a Sunday midday meal prepared and enjoyed with family and loved ones.
[Typical breakfast: coffee with milk (and a LOT of sugar) and a croissant or other pastry.]
What I’ve enjoyed learning most is Spanish culture, with a little ‘c’. These less advertised tidbits are the kinds of things that make me proud to be a Duluthian back home, and the kind of knowledge I always seek when visiting a new place to try and blend in as best I can and really take advantage of my time. These are also the kinds of things I love to share, because unless you have the chance to visit Spain, they’re likely to escape you in the shadow of Culture big ‘c’.
[Bocadillos are the most common cafe option, with different cafes offering their own combinations. This bocadillo was called the Valencia: fried eggs, lettuce, ham, tomatoes, and mayo.]
Spanish restaurants typically offer “menus del día” during their busy lunch hours, featuring 2-3 “platos” and a drink for a ridiculously cheap price. When ordering, you have a choice of 3-4 dishes for each plato, and the last is usually a dessert with coffee. Typically, you order the first and second platos all at once, and then once finished the wait staff will ask you what you’d like for dessert. *Wherever you are, whatever you eat, there is almost always the assumption that you will want to stay a little while after you’ve finished to enjoy a coffee.* The Spanish live for relations, and this ‘sobremesa’ the time spent at the table after a meal has been finished, is an excellent example of how they value their relationships with others more so than their relationship with time.
[Tortellini de carne en salsa siciliana – or beef tortellini in a spicy vegetable sauce, one of my favorite dishes yet.]
Other differences include when meals are eaten and the portions. Typically the largest meal of the day is either lunch or dinner, and you’ll be hard pressed to find an ‘American’ breakfast anywhere. Coffee and a light meal (toast, plain cereals, fruit) is much more common. Lunch is served anytime between 1:00-4:00PM and this is typically when restaurants feature the daily menus, and then restaurants and businesses are wont to close for a bit during the siesta period until later in the evening when people return to the streets. Dinners are served anywhere between 9:00-11:00PM, and in my homestay it’s on the earlier side: we usually dine around 8:30-9:00.
[Salads are almost always offered on the ‘menú del día’, typically as an option in the first plate. The produce is always fresh and the vinaigrettes are a delicious light alternative to the ranch dressing I was raised on.]
Overall, the types of food vary but especially in bigger cities like Barcelona there are an incredible number of options. Depending on what you’re craving and how far you’re willing to go there’s a pretty good chance of finding anything you could want. I’ve tried all kinds of dishes since arriving, and I’m exciting to keep tasting!
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40 responses to “Common Catalonian Cuisine — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
I myself work in a restaurant, and I even work for my father who is an owner of the restaurant. Since i was a little kid my dad had my try everything on the menu just to see what kind of food I like and dislike. The funny thing is that when my father comes home he lets me and my siblings cook for him. My family dinners take tim at around 8-9 because of his work schedule so I have a similar dinner time as you when you are at home.
Thank your for sharing your experiences! Just reading this article made me hungry. I will use your advice to look for culture with a little ‘c’ in my future travels abroad!
Are these restaurants menus mostly words or mostly pictures? Not speaking Spanish or Catalonian, I was forced to only eat at establishments with pictured menus. Is that a touristy thing or a spanish thing?
Hi Katy! Menus can be offered in both Catalan or Spanish, depending on where you are in the city. Most ‘bares’ or cafe/bars in the smaller residential areas are going to have Catalan as the primary language on menus or signage, but once you venture into more public/touristy areas there are typically advertisements in either Spanish or English.
It’s interesting to see how our cultures can very so much just by the food we eat or the time of day we choose to eat our meals. I thought it was great to know that they take out time in their work schedules to have meals and socialize with one another. In America, we are always in a rush no matter where we go. In Spanish countries, they use this time to sit down, converse and relax, while having a meal with someone else.
I love that you’re getting to experience all kinds of Spanish food. One of the best parts about traveling is getting to experience new flavors and all types of new dishes. I find it very interesting that throughout the world eating times vary so greatly!
I love that you’re getting to enjoy all kinds of Spanish food! I think that when traveling that is one of the things I enjoy the most, getting to eat as many different things as I can and discovering new flavor and dishes. It’s also very interesting how meal times vary so greatly throughout the globe!
I am glad you are exploring and getting to try all these different kinds of foreign food. Thank you for sharing!!!
Thanks for showing these pictures of great looking food! It’s great that people take time to eat and enjoy their meal. Instead of having everyone concerned about time. I wish a lot more people would do this in America.
It’s so much fun reading about different cultures and how it compares to what I’m used to. Their meals are similar but also vastly different in many ways. You did a great job of explaining their culture in terms of meals and how they prepare, cook, and eat food.
I too have a “Minnesota taste”, which would be difficult for me to set aside. Bravo to your bravery, though! I’ve always loved the idea of having a lengthy meal time with family, but it’s pretty uncommon in the U.S. Most meals are a rush. I found the concept of the two different types of culture fascinating as well.
This article is not only interesting but also has amazing pictures. The contrast of cultures and also showing the tasty looking food can capture anyone’s attention. I hope to see more of your posts with your trips! What has been your favorite food so far? Was there any food you that surprised you with how it tasted?
Hmm, as far as my favorite food… I guess it would be Pan con Tomate, which is a super Catalonian dish, its essentially just as it translates: bread with tomato, but in it’s simplicity it is amazingly delicious! You toast a piece of bread and then rub the sliced end of a tomato on top, drizzling it with olive oil. (I added cheese, too, in typical Midwestern-style.) Maybe the dish whose flavor surprised me was one shown above, the tortellini with salsa Siciliana. The waitress asked me if I liked vegetables (yes) and spicy foods (yes!) and so while I knew it would have those two attributes I didn’t quite know what to expect in taste!
All of that food looks amazing! That’s truly one if my favorite parts about traveling. I love getting to try new foods like when I went to Germany.
It’s definitely a treat while traveling!
Awesome article and photos! Just seeing all of this delicious looking grub is making me salivate.. Also, it must be a small world to encounter a restaurant in Spain that is owned by a former Duluthian; Blacklab Brewhouse has Duluth written all over it!
Zach the owner of Blacklab is actually a really good friend of one of my coworkers back home at Lake Ave, so I was tipped off before leaving for Spain that I should look this place up. I’ve since met the couple who own it and they are sincerely wonderful people with a great vision!! I’ve been back twice so far and I plan on keeping it up!
Thank you for sharing about your culture. Living in Duluth doesn’t give me a wide variety of foods that I can try. I would really like to try new things and see what they are like. I went down to the cities and tried Mongolian the other weekend and it was very good. Having a wide variety of culture in your meal is always a good thing!
Absolutely! And Duluth may be small but just as you said, by traveling (no matter what the distance) we usually give ourselves the opportunity to try new dishes which is always a bit exciting! I’m glad to hear you tried Mongolian food, I’ve yet to have it!
I enjoyed reading your experiences with food in Spain! I think that it was a great way to say how people can overshadow true traditions with stereotypes of what you should definitely try or culture with a big “c.”
I love that you chose to write about the wide variety of food. It’s interesting to see how different their dining culture is from ours. I feel as though in America we are always focused on time. We don’t ever really stop to eat together unless it’s a special occasion. Very cool entry!
I feel like this is a common trend among Europeans to have long meals and lots of conversation. My neighbors are from Germany and dinner is never a short experience at their house. Also my uncle is Italian and they have four to six course meals fairly often when we visit. Its really nice to be able to converse around food with family and friends however I don’t think I would ever be able to adjust eating that late at night. Thanks for sharing your experience and now I feel famished after looking at all this food. Your article just reaffirms my desire to visit Spain one day as I have family still living there.
It seems as if you are enjoying your time there, and interesting connection to Duluth as well. It seems as if the way restaurants operate over there may be a representation of the sort of attitude the people have as to what pace they must move through life. Many restaurants here are open very late and have almost no break and food may try to be served quickly, and efficiently. and portion sizes are bigger to represent people will eat a lot now and will be to busy to eat later. A lot can be said about lifestyle in the way people eat, and are around eating, etc.
Agreed! I love the conclusions you’ve drawn!
Austin if you have family here you have no reason NOT to visit! Thanks for sharing about your personal experiences, I always love hearing about familial traditions and especially how they form us as human beings!
Looks like you are having a great time and trying all those delicious food. I was very shocked when you mentioned that dinner in Spain was considered around 8:30 and after. I usually have my dinner at 5 or 6 pm and can never image eating dinner any later. But it was very interesting to know how the culture in Spain about what time meals are is different from the culture in America.
It’s still a tough adjustment just because of the way schedules work, and I’m with you! At first, eating at 9 seemed like it would be perfect, as usually at home I will have breakfast, go to class, have a light snack, and then not eat until after work – which is usually around 9/10, but being here I get hungry around 3-4 when I’m between or done with classes for the day and since our host mom prepares elaborate, delicious, giant meals for all of us girls I’m always hesitant to eat so that I don’t fill up before dinner. It’s a constant learning experience, that’s for sure!
I’m glad that I’m not the only one who takes pictures of my food whenever I travel summer. Sometimes I take less attractive pictures of myself eating the food. One time in Europe, I bought a bratwurst and a beer from a street vendor. She was an older, stern, Austrian lady who could probably hurt me. I paid for the food and started walking when she yelled at me in German. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than being yelled at in German. She told me that in Europe, the people enjoy eating their meals and take their time unlike a “New Yorker” like myself. I’m not from New York though. I stayed and chatted and she ended up being really nice.
That is great! I love that you can relate, and I especially enjoyed your anecdote. These little stories are the ones we keep with us forever, aren’t they? Too funny!
Could you send back some of that food for all of us to try! I’m a very picky eater but after seeing those pictures, I am totally ready to try new things! Thank you for sharing and continue to have fun and learn more!
I think its really awesome that you are venturing out of the touristy spots and trying what Spain really has to offer. You never quite get what a culture is about when you only go to the main stream spots, you are truly getting a better appreciation for the Spanish culture by doing that, and that is a good way of thinking about any new culture that you encounter. Look at it from their point of view not your own.
This was definitely a eye opener I never really like trying different foods. This definitely makes me wanna travel and experience it. Some of the food pictures looked good!
Is very interesting how for every culture is very different the importance of food and how it reflects their culture. I think I would enjoy being in a culture where eating and being with friends and family is more important than time and money
Agreed! It leads to some pretty wacky stereotypes, but the Spanish way of prioritizing relations over time/other restraints is admirable! It makes you want to sit down and re-prioritize your own agenda!
I love how you distinguish between the big C culture and the little c culture. I can tell that food is a great way to bridge that gap between the big and little c especially in the ways that you talk about how food affects the culture and is not just a singular cultural aspect as one might think.
I think it’s really cool that you are taking your time to enjoy the food that you are eating while in another country. I would do the same thing as you which is to appreciate everything you can while in an exotic, new place. I hope you have a great time.
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I really liked the small and capital “c” analogy. And I agree, when people visit different places, what they get to learn are the very big open and obvious facts about that community, however, they do not get to zoom into the smaller activities that end up aggregating to make up the community. Thanks for sharing!