There have only been two times in recent memory where I have cried mercy after being stuffed with food and wine. The first was at the end of our two week eat-a-thon in Emilia Romagna. The other, was at the end of our three day blogger tour focused on eating in Catalunya, Spain. Extreme eating.
As part of TBEX, the travel bloggers’ conference in Costa Brava, we signed up for a blogger trip. We have not been on a lot of trips like this, mostly because we are not generally keen on group travel. We were able to apply for tours, and this one was gastronomy focused, so we figured we would give it a go. Of course it wasn’t advertised as extreme eating, merely a gastronomy tour of Costa Brava. And, it wasn’t planned to be extreme eating oriented, But, in the end, that ’s what happened, at least from my perspective.
Over three very full days, the Costa Brava tourism board arranged for a half dozen stops each day, around the theme of a Fishermen’s Tour of Costa Brava. You should know that we generally only plan to do one thing a day, the benefits of slow travel. Although a lot of our time would be spent eating in Catalunya, the plans also included some museums and guided coast walks. I was expecting three very long days.
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Day One of Eating in Catalunya
Our first meal was a truly unique experience, a traditional seafood meal at a fishermen’s shack on Tamariu beach. Although set in a rustic location, our meal was cooked by some of the top chefs in the region. It left me needing a nap, and I will admit to having shut my eyes for a few minutes on the bus to our next stop.
But, this traditional seafood feast was only the beginning. At the end of the day, we had a multi-course dinner at Hotel Llevant on Llafranc beach. From goat cheese and anchovies on olive bread, to cuttle fish with peas, a grilled local fish, and an orange sponge cake, we left dinner late, and very full. The meal was fabulous, in a restaurant with a modern, nautical feel, and was served by Pep, one of the twin brothers who run Hotel Llevant.
But, we were all a little tired, from two very large meals, and a good amount of wine. We were all happy to check into our room at Hotel San Roc in Calella de Palafrugell, not far away. We woke to a lovely buffet breakfast, and loaded up on coffee for our next full day exploring Costa Brava in search of the best Catalan food.
Day Two of Eating Catalunya
After a morning exploring the coast, we stopped in the medieval town of Pals, which reminded me of a quaint Italian hillside town. We were spoiled once again at Restaurant El Pedro, where they greeted us with a tray of sparkling cava. Anytime a restaurant welcomes us with cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, I get excited.
In our private dining room, we were offered bottle after bottle of local, Emporda wine. I may have gone a little overboard, but I was feeling the excitement of our large table of foodies. I don’t know how, considering how much food we ate the day before, but I was starved when we arrived in Pals. Eric was getting a little hangry too.
I chose the salad covered with shaved foie gras, and a giant steak. What was I thinking on the steak? Eric had a giant plate of home made croquettas, fried balls stuffed with meat and fish, a local Catalan food that is common throughout the region. We also shared an amazingly fresh roasted pepper with local goat cheese and dried fruits.
We tried two of the local Catalan food specialties for dessert. The first was an ice cream, with caramelized walnuts, and a local liquor called ratafia. The ratafia gave the dessert an herbal flavor. We also ordered a local cottage cheese style dessert, with a sweet local honey, called fonteta.
Someone at our table also ordered a round of ratafia for everyone. Ratafia at the end of the meal quickly became my least favorite thing about eating in Catalunya. The ratafia smelled a little too much like Jaegermeister, and a flood of college memories, or lack thereof, came to mind. I had to say no to the ratafia. I’ve had to politely decline ratafia a few times since this lunch as well.
It was also the second day in a row that lunch ended closer to 5pm than what I would consider a “normal” lunch time. My body was beginning to show a little wear and tear from our extreme eating in Catalunya. Even a couple of coffees were not able to save me, and I tried, once again, to shut my eyes for a few minutes on the bus to our next stop.
What is Extreme Eating?
It was somewhere during this day, that my blogger friend, Anne, and I compared our eating styles. She warned me that she can eat a lot, more than most women. She eats like a man. Her words, not mine. But, I realized so do I.
I felt like I had met my kindred spirit, my sister from another mister. We ate and drank ourselves silly during these three days. Asking questions about the wines and the foods, capturing it all for our blogs, as she is the Part Time Traveler. I had a companion, a soul mate, for my eating in Catalunya tour.
But, I started to feel a little like we were on some Food Channel program about extreme eating. It’s not normal to have multiple, multiple course meals, with multiple glasses of wine at each sitting. Now, I understand that Anne and I were not sitting at a table being force fed hot dogs in some extreme eating challenge, but the food we were eating was just so good, I wanted to try it all!
I am certainly not complaining. I love to eat, and drink. Eric and I are professional eaters. But, the hospitality of the Catalan people was certainly shining through. Everyone we met wanted us to try everything, to experience everything. It was how I found myself in this “episode” of extreme eating in Catalunya.
Day Two of Eating…Continues
We continued to enjoy ourselves on our eating in Catalunya tour while learning how to make mojitos in Begur. This was an interesting detour, mostly because the Catalans are addicted to gin and tonics. In fact, there is a passion for gin and tonics that I just don’t understand. Regardless, learning to make mojitos in the Begur town square was fun while we all wore our somewhat silly, Begur-branded straw hats. The mojitos gave us a little burst of energy to finish off the rest of the day.
When we arrived at Hotel Aiqua Blava, just outside of Begur. we checked into a lovely room, set up on top of a cliff, with an amazing view of the water. All I wanted to do was have a gin and tonic (it’s catching on) while sitting on the balcony, enjoying the view.
Instead, we were invited to dinner at the Hotel Aiqua Blava restaurant. This meal was an amazing, multi-course gastronomic feast, inspired by local ingredients and the Michelin star chef influences that have been famous in this region since Ferra Adria’s El Bulli opened its doors.
Our blogger group might have been a little bit too loud for the somewhat more sophisticated crowd and the hotel’s ambience, but we were all working on fumes. The cava, the red Emporda wine, the multiple courses, the desserts, and the fun candied petit fours and after dinner liquors, ensured that we all slept well. I, for one, kind of passed out.
The Extreme Eating Wall
When I woke the next day, I enjoyed a buffet breakfast with a view over the cove. I even had a glass of cava with breakfast. Why not? It was offered on the buffet, and when in Catalunya…
As I sat with Anne, and our friend Brad, from My Wanderlist, none of us wanted to leave Hotel Aqua Blava. We had five mega meals over the prior two days, many of which were hours long, a Spanish eating custom.
We also, had been touring the region. We visited a cork museum, toured a botanical garden, visited a rice museum, and more. Luckily, we took a few coastal walks too, to help work off the food we were eating in Catalunya. It was a lot of activity, a lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of stops. We were not just extreme eating, but extreme touring as well.
Esther, the marketing manager at Hotel Aiqua Blava, joined us for dinner the night before, and stopped by during breakfast. She made us feel very welcome, and commented that none of us really had enough time to enjoy the property. She was right. We joked that Eric was going to let the air out of the bus tires because we all just wanted to relax by the pool, rubbing our full bellies. Brad was late meeting the bus. I think he was trying to make a break for it.
We were all hitting a wall. A Catalan food wall. A wall as tall as the cliffs over the Costa Brava.
Day Three of Eating in Catalunya
We continued on our blogger trip, with everyone showing a little wear. Our last stop prior to lunch was Bell-Lloc, an Emporda region winery with the most architecturally unique cellar. It was so unique I couldn’t even get a decent photo of it. You just have to trust me. We tasted wines and their local cured meats and cheeses. At that point, I was actually hungry. It was close to 2pm, and I wondered how I could possibly be hungry after all of the food we had eaten already in the prior days.
We finally sat down for lunch well after 2pm at l’Espai do Peix for a show cooking demonstration. Bottles of Emporda wine were placed at the table, and the chef demonstrated how to cook some traditional Catalan dishes, including how to cure local anchovies. He made a slightly different version of the stuffed squid we had during our fishermen’s lunch, a fried local fish, and rice dish using the local Pals rice. All of the food was delicious. I was finding myself too tired to eat, and that is when I knew my extreme eating skills were faltering.
I sat across from Anne, my eating partner in crime, and she was looking tired as well. Anne and I were both rubbing our bellies. In the battle of Amber and Anne versus Costa Brava, Costa Brava was quickly winning.
I knew we had a few more stops to make after lunch, on the final day of our eating in Catalunya tour. All I wanted to do was go to the hotel, put on my yoga pants, and rub my belly more.
This is one of the downsides of being a professional eater.
I mustered enough energy for the Palamos fish auction downstairs, which was incredible. But, by the time the fishing museum tour started, I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep. I survived the final activity, which was a sailboat tour of the harbor, due to the fresh sea air and personality of our rugged seafaring captain.
That final night, at a busy tapas bar in Palamos, after a handful of bites, I was done. I almost couldn’t make it through my tapa of foie gras, which was perfectly cooked. I was full. Anne was showing a bit more energy still, but I cried mercy. She had won our eating contest. Not by much, she was only a handful of bites behind me.
Anne joined me in a vermouth digestive, pool side, at the Hotel Trias before heading to bed. I was spent.
What Did I Learn About Eating in Catalunya
I was left that night focusing on the quantity of food I had consumed during our three days eating in Catalunya. I call it extreme eating, but that term truly does not do justice to the experience. It is just a way to collect my thoughts on all of the food we ate in one blog post.
Looking back on the blogger trip, though, it was not the quantity of food I had eaten, but the quality as well. I knew there was good food in Costa Brava, and we had some amazing dishes. What struck me, though, was that almost every dish came with a story.
A history or tradition, or an explanation of a modern technique. We ate meals prepared by Michelin star chefs, twin brothers, a chef who has a goat, a mother and sons team. We ate meals that represented the seafaring history of Catalunya, the pride in their local rice harvest, the tradition of cured meats. We tasted Emporda wines, a region going through a true wine renaissance. We ate meals that were provided to us with great pride, and with a level of hospitality I had not seen in awhile.
Granted, yes, we were on a blogger trip, so it might seem that the people we met had to be nice to us, but so many of our experiences were more authentic than that. It left me not only full, but in eager anticipation about our upcoming stay in Costa Brava.
We were supported by Costa Brava Tourism during our time eating in Catalunya, but my views, my yummy sounds, and my belly rubs are, as always, my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.