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Archive for the ‘Catalonia’ Category

BarcelonaOne day we drove the 1 and a half hours into Barcelona and wandered about in the old town with its incredibly beautiful architecture. One of the highlights was visiting the La Bocheria market (on Ciutat Vella) – a fabulous covered market the size of an average city block, with a bewildering choice in the number of stalls. As one enters the Victorian building, one is greeted by mountains of fresh glossy fruit, colourful vegetables and freshly made juices, some blended with coconut milk. We reached the stalls deeper in the market, where dried fruit and nuts were sold from huge sacks as we were sipping our second round of juices. The mushroom stall sells all sorts of wild and cultivated mushrooms of various shapes and sizes. There was even a chilli stall with different sizes, shapes and colours of chillies! Near the back of the market is a Vegetarian café, and just a few seconds’ walk from there, on the outer rim of the market is a vegan café.

La Bocheria market in Barcelona

La Bocheria market in Barcelona

Vegan dish: cold terrine of grilled red bell pepper and eggplant, and blanched onion

Vegan dish: cold terrine of grilled red bell pepper and eggplant, and blanched onion

Tapas is a good vegan choice for dinner. We had little bowls of olives, salted roasted almonds, grilled vegetables, “Pimentos” (small, sweet green bell peppers tossed in olive oil and garlic), boiled white beans (can sometimes be made with stock and added bacon, so ask first). Afterwards, we went to a stunning evening performance where popular opera arias were combined with a flamenco music and dance show in the Palau de Musica – a building so richly adorned one cannot stop staring.

Barcelona has lots of organic shops, perfect to shop around for all one’s vegan needs. Many are within a few city blocks from each other. There are also a number of notable chocolatiers. Spanish chocolate is on the dark side with wonderful flavour and a smooth melting characteristic. Luckily for vegans, most of the dark chocolate is also made with no dairy components.

Head to Gopal (on Carrer Escudellers 42, Plaça George Orwell, 08002) for lip-smacking vegan cakes (I had their carrot cake and on another occasion their rich, decadent hazelnut ganache cake), wonderful array of all sorts of large patties and kombucha; buy informal take-away vegan food (falafels and salad) at Maoz (several locations: a convenient one is at 95 La Rambla, only 10 min walk from Plaça Catalunya). Another great choice is Origen 99.9% (called La Llavor dels Orígens), an eco-friendly chain of Catalan cuisine restaurants, with a separate vegetarian menu of which some dishes can be veganized. The tapas tasting menu costs €20.

When eating out in Catalonia, some excellent vegan choices are: cold tomato soup (“Gazpacho”), grilled vegetables of eggplant, baby marrow and bell pepper (“Escalivada”); tomato bread (“Pan con tomate” and pizza (choose “Vegetal” and ask for no cheese). Catalan cuisine make use of various sauces, some of which are in fact vegan: “Sofregit” (fried onion, garlic and tomato), “Samfaina” or “Chanfaina” (the previous sauce with red bell pepper and eggplant or baby marrow added), “Picada” (ground almonds, garlic, parsley, pine nuts or hazelnuts, and sometimes breadcrumbs), “Allioli” (pounded garlic with olive oil, often with egg yolk added, so ask first) and “Romesco” (a delicious almond, tomato, olive oil, garlic and vinegar sauce or salad dressing). I’d usually order a starter and main; or two starters and bring along my own protein such as sprouted lentils; nuts or nut spread; tofu sticks; marinated tofu or cooked beans.

Gazpacho with condiments

Gazpacho with condiments

A traditional dessert seen everywhere is called “Crema de Catalunya“. Here is my vegan version of this simple and easy dessert.

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Our rental home in Tossa de Mar

Our rental home in Tossa de Mar

Spain is a country rich in fascinating history, beautiful natural scenery, delicious regional food and strong traditions. It’s a country I’ve been considering for a long time to visit, and when my partner and I started to make our travel plans, the trip grew into a 3 month visit. We spent months beforehand researching the different regions, accommodation, activities, drives, walks and cycle paths.

We started our Spanish sojourn in Barcelona where we collected our Citroën car (a much cheaper option is to buy a car with guaranteed buy-back than to rent for 3 months) near the airport. The villa that we rented was an hour and a half drive north-west of Barcelona, situated between Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar (once the thriving Roman town Turissa), on the Costa Brava (“wild coast”). Our villa was a large modern house, but thankfully built in the traditional style of the area.

We explored our surroundings, starting with Girona: a pretty student town of winding, narrow cobbled lanes in its Jewish quarter and brightly painted upright houses lining the banks of the river. A good network of cycle paths criss-cross the town and goes all along the river. At one of the city gates, Roman foundation stones mark the Via Augusta – the road that connected Tarragona with Rome. Gerunda, as it was known then, was inhabited by the Ausetani – an ancient people that pre-dates the Romans.

Girona

Girona

The rocky coastline of the Costa Brava is best appreciated from the sea, and thus we chartered a yacht for one day. We sailed along the coast from Sant Feliu de Guíxols where the emerald green water was a joy to swim in. The captain took us by dinghy to some sea caves near where we anchored in a bay, and indicated to us how to swim deeper in, zig-zagging along narrow openings until we reached a cave with an opening in the roof. As we sat on a flat, smooth rock we marvelled at the soft turquoise colour of the crystal clear water, while the perfectly round stones far below in the deep water were almost mauve in colour. Back at the dinghy, the captain skilfully hoisted each of us with one strong pull out of the water and into the dinghy.

Peratallada: Roman wagon wheels imprint in stone

Peratallada: Roman wagon wheels imprint in stone

There are lots of towns in the area that is fascinating to explore. An enjoyable drive is to do the golden triangle of medieval villages of Pals, Palau Sator and Peratallada (which is the most pretty of the 3 and has written records that date from the 11th century). The whole town of Peratallada is a pedestrianized maze of cobbled streets.

Corn chips with guacamole, and watermelon soup

Corn chips with guacamole, and watermelon soup

A large café surrounded by inner city walls and shaded by various trees, flowering shrubs and canvas canopies provided us much needed sustenance in the form of copious pots of herbal tea, while I snacked on my own home-baked vegan biscuits. After strolling around the cobbled lanes and looking around the small shops selling interesting hand-crafted items, we were ready for lunch. We settled in a café of which the tables were built into the old walls of a building. It was so hot, so I had two light courses which I ordered straight off the menu – all vegan! I had corn chops with guacamole dip followed by a watermelon soup drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

For a good dose of culture and history, we stumbled about in the heat of the day around the incredible archeological site of Empúries with its Greek and Roman cities built between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC: there were grain, olive oil and wine storage rooms, underground water cisterns, Roman baths and Greek gymnasiums, Roman villas with intricately laid mosaic floors perfectly preserved. For appreciation of more recent culture, it was only a short drive to Sant Feliu de Guíxols on a winding road with tight bends hugging the coast, to reach Figueres where we strolled through the maze of corridors of the Salvador Dali art museum.

Empúries: Mosaic floor of a Roman villa

Empúries: Mosaic floor of a Roman villa

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