Every food aficionado knows Catalonia is home to some of the best restaurants in the world: think elBulli on the Costa Brava, or El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. But while the Michelin starred cuisine of chef Ferran Adrià might not be suitable to all wallets, the region is also home to a variety of culinary delights which can easily make for an outstanding gourmet holiday, without breaking the bank.
One only needs to take a look at the many bank holidays and annual celebrations that take place in this autonomous region of Spain, to get an understanding of just how much the Catalans venerate the art of fine food. Our travel experts have compiled a list of the major festivities in the region as well as the traditional food items that go along with each one. So no matter what time of the year you visit, you can know just what to expect on your plate!
- Three Kings or Dia de Reis – January 6th
In Spain, there is a long tradition of having the children receive their Christmas gifts, not from Santa Claus, but from the Three Kings (Tres Reis in Catalan), during the night of January 5th (i.e., Biblical Magi Eve). The next day, people usually celebrate by eating a special cake called Tortell de reis. A dried fruit cake with an oval shape and for decoration, fig fruit, quinces, cherries or dried and candied fruits.
- Carnival – (varies) February
Carnival activities across Catalonia usually include lots of masquerade balls and parades. One of the culinary customs during the carnival festivities is to eat tortilla (Spanish egg omelette – pictured above) and butiffarra d’ou (a type of Catalan sausage made with egg) on the first day of Carnival, the traditional Dijous Gras (Fat Thursday). This tradition, religious in origin, allowed people to eat fatty foods in excess, as these should be the last days before starting the fasting that came with Lent (40 days).
- Holy Week or Semana Santa – April
The Holy Week processions are a deeply rooted religious manifestation, which remains in force in many Spanish towns. Year after year, between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday, the streets of many Catalan towns are filled with religious processions. “Bunyols de Quaresma” or “de l’Empordà” (also sometimes called “Brunyols“) are typical Easter “bunyols”, a doughnut like cake filled with cream.
During Easter, children receive from their godparents a Mona de Pasqua, a pastry richly covered with almonds, yolk jam, chocolate eggs (or chocolate figurines) and coloured decoration. It is an ancient pre-Christian tradition which marks the passage from childhood to adulthood. At first, it should have one egg for each year of the children’s age, adding one egg each year until they are twelve, as at thirteen they are no longer considered children but teenagers.
- St. George’s Day or La Diada Sant Jordi – April 23rd
For Sant Jordi in Barcelona, the food treat is the “pa de Sant Jordi”, a savory bread made with three types of dough. The first dough contains Majorcan “sobrasada” sausage; the second, Emmental cheese; and the third, walnuts. The contrasting streaks of colour between the sobrasada and the cheese dough make stripes resembling the Catalan flag. It’s the perfect patriotic accompaniment to the day, since besides being a knight who once rescued a princess from a dragon, Sant Jordi is also the patron saint of Catalonia!
- St. John’s Day or Revetlla de Sant Joan – June 24th
This is a celebration in honour of St. John the Baptist which takes place in the evening of June 23rd. Parties are organised usually at beaches, where large bonfires are lit and a set of firework displays usually follow suit. Special sweets such as ‘Coca de Sant Joan’ are served on this occasion. The coca is a typical Catalan pastry filled with candied fruits and pine nuts.
- All Saints’ Day or Tots Sants – November 1st
All Saints is a solemnity to honour and remember the relatives and loved ones who have passed away. In Catalonia, ‘panellets’ are the traditional dessert, together with chestnuts and sweet potatoes. These are small cakes or cookies in different shapes, mostly round, made mainly of marzipan (a paste made of almonds and sugar). The most popular are the ones covered with pine nuts (‘panellets de pinyó’ in catalan), consisting of the a marzipan basis rolled in pine nuts and varnished with egg whites. Panellets are often accompanied with a sweet wine, usually moscatell, mistela, vi de missa or vi ranci.
Where to Stay
Hotel Ciutat Vella is a centrally located 3 star modern hotel close to the Plaza de Catalunia. The Boqueria Market, and other famous landmarks are also located within a few metres from the hotel. Ciutat Vella boasts 40 fully equipped rooms, offering free WI-FI connections. There is also a Jacuzzi and solarium located in the terrace, at the top floor of the building, from where you can see splendid views of the city. From €79.
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This post has been written with the suggestions from HotelREZ’s very own travel expert Elisa Mazzoni. Although Italian, Elisa has lived and worked in Barcelona for 9 years and has a deep understanding of Catalan culture.
Tapas Restaurant image by Simon Patterson via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Tortell de Reis window shop image by chicageek via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Panellets image by Xaf via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Tortilla image by Luca Nebuloni via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Tortell de Reis at La Boqueria Market image by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Bunyols image by Marc Surià via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Coca de Sant Joan by Moritz Barcelona via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)