Traditional Seafood in Catalunya

traditional seafood in CatalunyaWe received a pretty detailed itinerary, complete with photos and Twitter handles, for our three day blogger trip in Costa Brava, Spain.  One of the first things on the itinerary was show cooking of a traditional fish dish in a fishermen’s shack on Tamariu beach.  I expected some sort of traditional seafood meal, eating with our hands, in a shack, maybe with a few fishermen present.  My mental image was simple and rustic.


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Arriving in the Village of Tamariu

traditional seafood in CatalunyaWe stopped for a quick coffee on the Tamariu promenade at Hotel Tamariu, while waiting for the first half of our blogger group to take a quick boat ride around the cove.  After the coffee, it was our turn.  In the span of only about 10 minutes, the sunny, blue skies turned ominous as a thick fog rolled in to cover the little village.  I was hoping this was not a sign. Minimally, I thought it would add to the rustic atmosphere of the shack on the beach.

The first boat full of bloggers arrived ahead of us at the quaint, historic fishermen’s shack, called a barraca in Catalan.  The barraca sat at the edge of Tamariu beach, tucked away in the corner of a cove.  The house had white walls and a bright green door, and was almost hidden in the trees. 

When we arrived, there was wine, aprons, and a table set up with about a dozen mortar and pestles.  There were chefs as far as the eye could see, also in aprons, wearing their chef whites, or blacks.  There must have been twenty people all milling about, in a flush of activity.  We arrived to a party well in progress, kind of having no idea what we were doing there.

Half expecting some old fishermen, with wool hats and holed up sweaters, with skin bristled from the sun, I looked past the people gathered on the beach, and peered inside the fishermen’s shack.  What I saw was a long wooden bench, laid out with wine, wine glasses, appetizers.  A full gourmet style spread. In a fishermen’s shack.  This was not what I expected from our traditional seafood lunch in Spain.

Traditional Seafood and Fishermen’s History

traditional seafood in CatalunyaThe barraca, the fishermen’s shack itself has a history.  The barraca was created by a group of local cork workers as sort of a club or meeting point.  Currently, the buildings have been passed onto to local organizations, which include the sons and daughters of fishermen, chefs, hotel owners, and others as members.  These buildings were typical all along the Costa Brava and used for meals and family gatherings.  The chef at a nearby hotel, Hotel Aiqua Blava, told me his first cooking memory was with his mother and aunts and their local barraca.

A few barraca, like the one in Tamariu, belong to a group of local people, who keep the traditions alive. They are treated almost like private clubs.  It is rare to have a “public” meal like we were about to have at a barraca.  You need to get permission from the group to do something like this.  Hearing the story of these shacks made me suddenly realize what a unique experience we were about to have.

Traditional Seafood By Top Notch Chefs

traditional seafood in CatalunyaI also realized that our traditional seafood meal was not going to be prepared by old, grizzled seafaring men, and instead, by some of the top chefs in the region. 

Chef Quim, the chef at Michelin star restaurant Casamar, in nearby Llafranc, presided over the festivities.  He explained via a translator about the dishes we were about to eat.  The “translator” was Quique Serra, owner of a traditional family business selling pastries, wine, and other gourmet products in a nearby town.  Quique was certainly anything but a regular translator.  When we sat, Eric positioned himself perfectly next to Quique, and across from Chef Quim.  Smart man.

Even Chef Quim’s introductions were brief, merely talking about the dish we were going to eat. Before I knew it, someone immediately put an apron around my neck, an Emporda wine in one hand, and a bowl of ingredients in the other, in order to test out making a picada.

Traditional Seafood Dish – Suquet de Peix

traditional seafood in CatalunyaA traditional picada is made with fried bread, roasted peppers, parsley, hazelnut, almonds, tomato paste, roasted garlic, and saffron. The ingredients are mashed together in a ceramic bowl with a mortar.  I mixed up the pieces as best as I could, while standing with sand between my toes, leaning over a folding table on the beach, while snapping photos.  And, I didn’t want to spill my wine. I suddenly became distracted and very excited about our first Emporda wine of our blogger trip, a Coll de Roses white wine. If all the Emporda wine tasted like this one, I knew were in for a fabulous six weeks in Costa Brava.

The picada was the base for suquet de peix, a traditional seafood dish common throughout Catalunya.   As this was more of a show cooking experience than a cooking class, our picada was not used for our actual meal, which was prepared ahead of time. It was merely a stunt picada, to show us how it is done.  The chefs also demonstrated how to cook the suquet over an open flame on the beach, although it is just as often prepared inside a modern kitchen.

Catalan Chefs Preparing a Traditional Seafood Meal

traditional seafood in CatalunyaHere we were, surrounded by chefs, drinking wine, learning to make a traditional seafood dish, standing on the beach, outside of an old fishermen’s shack.  The hubbub of activity made everything seem like a blur. I swear it was not the wine.

What was most unique about this experience, though, was the collection of chefs who worked together to prepare the lunch for us.  In a lot of cities, chefs are often in competition with one another, elbowing each other out, in search of more reservations, better reviews. 

Costa Brava is unique for a variety of reasons, and perhaps it is because it is a smaller community, of only a half a million people.  The chefs here are friendly, and work together.   They meet regularly, they train one another, they travel the world promoting Catalan cuisine.  There is a sense of community, maybe because they are Catalan, that I have not seen in many other places.

This traditional seafood lunch was an example of this cooperation.  Chef Quim from the Michelin star Casamar, was working alongside Lluis, the owner of Hotel Tamariu, and Chef Marc of the hotel’s El Clos Del Mussols.  Quique Serra seemed to preside over the event as well, and prepared the pastries.  The Serra family owns nearby Hotel Garbi.  We had representatives from Hotel San Roc as well.   There were even more chefs sitting at the long, wooden table, who I did not even get the chance to meet fully.  They all worked together to prepare the meal, and to clean up at the end.  It was a community of passionate foodies, putting on the best that Costa Brava has to offer.

Our Traditional Seafood Feast

traditional seafood in CatalunyaWe all gathered around the long table inside the fishermen’s shack and Chef Quim, along with a younger cook, dished out the plates of suquet, along with another traditional seafood dish.  The suquet included local Catalan fish, prawns, clams, and mussels, cooked in the broth that was created using the picada.  There was no rice.  This was not a paella. 

The second dish combined the sea and mountain, which is also common in Catalunya.  It was a large, fresh squid, stuffed with minced pork and veal.  It was tender and fresh, and unlike anything I’ve had before.  We ate roasted vegetables, local anchovies, and had fresh rolls to dip into the sauce of the suquet.

traditional seafood in CatalunyaAfter our meal, we continued to drink the local Emporda wine, along with cremat.  Cremat is a local rum, mixed with coffee and fruits, and then lit on fire.  It cooks for awhile too. I was able to play with the fire a bit, until I realized how hot the handle was.  

traditional seafood in CatalunyaWe also listened to the music of two Havaneres, Lluis and Xevi, who played a few traditional songs.  The songs are all sad songs, but sung with passion, about the people of Catalunya who went off to Cuba.  There are festivals of Havanera music throughout the summer in Costa Brava.

After several hours of eating and drinking in Catalunya, our traditional seafood meal had come to a close, and we were off to the next stop on our blogger tour.  It may have been the wine, but I realized what a special experience we were just provided.

How to Experience a Traditional Seafood Feast In Costa Brava

traditional seafood in CatalunyaUnfortunately, your chances of recreating our traditional seafood experience is pretty slim.  This is one of the benefits of being a food travel blogger.  Even the chefs and hoteliers we spoke with in the following weeks knew what we did was special.  All of these chefs, coming together, to cook traditional seafood in a barraca – it was unique.

What you can do, though, is eat at the hotels and restaurants where these chefs preside over their own menu of traditional and creative cuisine, inspired by the sea and the Costa Brava coastline.  These chefs pride themselves on using fresh, local ingredients.  They pay homage to the Catalan traditions, while incorporating modern techniques as well.  Their passion for food and Catalunya clearly shows through. 

Or, more simply, just show up in the small town of Tamariu.  When you get to the beach, turn right, and look around the stone wall.  You will see the green doored barraca.  Open a bottle of wine, stick your toes in the sand, and enjoy the view over Costa Brava.

We are being supported by Costa Brava Tourism during our time in Catalunya, but my views are, as always, my own.

For more tips and stories on Spain, check out the With Husband In Tow Spain Food Travel Guide!

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