Category Archives: Food

A Cookbook Guide to Spain

Spain has one of the most fascinating and diverse culinary landscapes in Europe. Reading a few good cookbooks before traveling here will really enhance the experience of eating in restaurants and shopping in the local food markets. Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks — plus one book of unique Spanish food traditions — that I reach for  frequently when planning a meal or a trip around the peninsula.


The Food of Spain                                                                                                                                                            Claudia Roden                                                                                                                                            Publisher: Michael Joseph

The Food of Spain is a comprehensive and beautifully designed cookbook, featuring hundreds of recipes plus engaging essays on the history of Spain and its people, culture, and food. Claudia Roden writes about the rich heritage of Spanish cuisine, beginning with the influence of the Celts, Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians plus a guide to the food of the autonomous regions, including Galicia, Andalucía, Catalonia and Valencia. The recipes are easy to follow and Roden gives the Spanish names of dishes, making menus easier to understand when visiting Spain.

Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain                                                                                        Penelope Casas                                                                                                                                        Publisher: Henry Holt and Co

This is a favorite! The book offers sixty different  recipes, some traditional, some contemporary — all delicious. If you have always wanted to learn to cook paella, or are looking for some new rice dishes,  this is the perfect book .

A note about the author: beginning in the 1980s, Penelope Casas wrote a number of cookbooks (all of them excellent) focused on Spanish cuisine, including Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain. She is credited with introducing Americans to Spain’s culinary heritage.

The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito                                     Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, Rebecca Flint Marx                                                                   Publisher: Ten Speed Press

The Basque Country (Euskadi in Basque and el Pais Vasco in Spanish) is located in northern Spain, bordering France and the Cantabric Sea. The Basque people are an ancient culture, pre-dating the Roman Empire, unrelated to other Europeans — and their cuisine is considered as one of the best in the world, with recipes being passed down generation to generation with great respect. The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito, with a collection of 116 Basque recipes plus photos and stories of Basque cooking and culture, is a wonderful introduction to a rich and unique culinary heritage.

Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret                                                               Colman Andrews                                                                                                                                           Publisher: Grub Street

One of the best cookbooks I have ever purchased — my copy is well-worn from much use in my kitchen!  More than a cookbook, this is a guide to the history, culture, and cuisine of the Catalan Lands — autonomous provinces that until Spanish conquest in the18th century formed the Kingdom of Aragon. Discover the basics of Catalan cooking from its French, Roman and Moorish roots thorough many traditional recipes. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Murcia, Aragon, the region of France known as Roussillon, and a single city, Alghero, on the island of Sardinia — Colman Andrews explores the Catalan culinary culture that links them all.

The Desserts of Jordi Roca: Over 80 Dessert Recipes Conceived in El Celler de Can Roca    Jordi Roca                                                                                                                                                            Peter Pauper Press, Inc.

Jordi Roca is the pastry chef of the award-winning restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Catalonia, and this cookbook is an attempt to bring his imagination into the home kitchen. His dessert recipes are truly amazing — and there are more than 80 in the book to try, with gorgeously tempting photos. Highly recommended!

Here is a short video (with English subtitles) that gives an introduction to what makes El Celler de Can Roca a unique experience. Joan Roca, the head chief is seen preparing Pálamos prawns and Jordi Roca prepares his version of  a roast apple dessert:

Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture                                                          Matt Goulding                                                                                                                                          Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain

Grape, Olive, Pig is not a cookbook but a celebration of Spanish food traditions featuring great photographs. Matt Goulding fell in love with Spain, its people, and its food, and through his journeys shares insights that most tourists (and published tourist guides) miss, describing meals and sharing uniquely Spanish culinary history and vocabulary as he travels from Barcelona to Salamanca, Valencia, the Basque Country, Cádiz, Asturias, Galicia, Madrid, and Granada.  A unique book I never tire of re-reading.

Ask me a question about Spain: The Siesta


A Fallas Festival (Valencia) satire of the British attitude towards the Spanish siesta — “The britishland vs. Ca Pepe”. (Ca Pepe = Pepe’s house, referring to Spain).

“…are afternoon siestas common, especially in the cities, and particularly in technology heavy businesses?”

In Spain, the siesta is a short nap of 15-30 minutes taken in the middle of the afternoon, after the midday meal. The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, but most strongly associated with Spain.

A siesta is not the definition of the 3 hour break taken in the middle of the working day — many foreign tourists confuse la siesta with the 3 hour break, mistakenly assuming Spaniards sleep through the entire afternoon!  In fact, businesses, schools and government offices shut down from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. to allow the locals to enjoy lunch with their families, work colleges, or friends. In larger cities, the post office, national supermarket chains, bigger retail stores and some pharmacies stay open — but most towns, with the exception of restaurants and bars, completely close up.

Spaniards work from 8:30am to 8:00pm, and the long lunch break is important. Spaniards rarely invite business friends to their home, preferring to meet them in a restaurant or café.  People generally will not start discussing business before coffee has been served. In general, the Spanish are a very open and communicative.  No matter if you work in a large company or a small business, the long lunch break is a part of business and social life.  A hurried sandwich or salad at your desk is considered anti-social in a country where food and social exchange is very highly valued.

The tradition of the family dining together still exists here. If you work and can go home for lunch, are an ama de casa (housewife), a student in an elementary school or high school (many schools run from 9am to 5pm, with a two-hour lunch break) or retired, the siesta (short nap) is still a common tradition.

Tourists frequently find the 3 hour break both confusing and annoying. Many can’t understand why so many shops are closed and the streets are almost empty. In places where tourism is a big part of the economy, it is not difficult to find enterprising restaurateurs taking advantage of tourist frustration, offering a “Spanish lunch” at 12 noon — but you will find yourself eating an over-priced, mediocre meal surrounded only by other tourists. A real Spanish midday meal is never served before 1:30pm!

Best advice — shift your schedule and eat like a local during your stay.  There are restaurants and bars in every corner of Spain that serve a menu del día – a complete three-course lunch meal that offers good value for money and a great way to enjoy Spanish regional cuisine.  Whether or not you opt to take a siesta after the meal is your choice!

Photo©La Gringa Ibérica




The Distinctive Flavor of Xató

Xató is like nothing I have ever tasted — this rich, savory and versatile sauce it is one of the Catalonia’s unique gastronomic creations. The origin of xató lies in the wine region of Gran Penedès, in southern Catalonia.  Xató sauce accompanies a typical Catalan winter salad of escarole, tuna, salt cod, green tomatoes, black olives and anchovies — normally consumed during the cold first months of the year and specially during Carnival and new wine celebrations.

The Recipe

2 ripe tomatoes, 1 head of garlic, 1 guindilla pepper, 2 dried nyora peppers, ½ cup of toasted almonds, ¼ cup of toasted hazelnuts, 1 small slice of toast, 1 cup of olive oil, ⅓ cup of white vinegar, 1 tsp of paprika, anchovies (optional).

Leave the dried peppers to soak overnight so they can soften, and then remove the seeds. Place the garlic and tomatoes on a tray, add a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt, and put them in the oven for 15 minutes at 200 ºC. The garlic make take less time to cook, about 10 minutes. Once ready, peel the tomatoes and take out the seeds then put them in a mortar with the garlic. Peel the almonds and anchovies, put them in a frying pan for around 5 minutes, then add them to the tomato and blend it together. Then add the flesh of the dried peppers, the slice of toast, the oil and the vinegar. When it is all well mixed, add the teaspoon of paprika and the guandilla pepper. Blend the mixture again. Add anchovies to taste if desired.

Now that the sauce is ready, put the escarole, tuna, salt cod, green tomatoes, black olives and anchovies. Add the xató generously and enjoy!

The towns of Gran Penedès — Calafell, Canyellas, Cubellas, Cunit, El Vendrell, San Pedro de Ribas, Sitges, Villanueva i el Geltrú and Villafranca del Penedes — have their own variation of the recipe for this dish. In 1997 the Ruta del Xató (the Path of Xató) was created to popularize this dish and highlight the different variations of the original recipe. The Ruta del Xató is an easy trip from Barcelona.