Catacurian – Day 5 (part 2): Tapas lunch in Reus, Voll Damm, roasted sardines, paella mixta, and the tortel de nata
September 27, 2010
Once we finished up in the Gaudi Centre, we headed back out to the streets of Reus to do a little shopping, pick up our compras from the market from earlier that morning, and enjoy an early lunch.
We stopped in at a specialty foods store called Soins de The, which offered an astounding variety of teas, spices, and sweets both from the province as well as from all over the world.
I was thrilled because when we arrived in Reus, I finally had access to an ATM machine (I’d tried to withdraw money at the airport in Barcelona when I arrived, but after two failed attempts, I chickened out before the third try because I was afraid the machine would eat my card). Now that I had a pocketful of metálico, I headed straight for the spices. I purchased some of that incredible pimentón ahumado I mentioned in a previous post (NOT paprika!!), and some wonderfully-fragrant teas. Perfect for those chilly autumn nights in Seattle!
Once we left the spice store, we stopped in at a pastelería and picked up a typical Catalán dessert, the tortel de nata. This, to my utter delight, was like a giant, whipped-cream-filled sandwich with puff pastry donuts instead of slices of bread. I couldn’t wait to try it!
I found recipes for the tortel de nata here, here, here, and here. Sounds relatively easy, especially if you use frozen puff pastry (or hojaldre): You just cut two big donut shapes from the hojaldre, bake them, spread one with incredible freshly-whipped cream (lightly sweetened, please!), top the cream with the other hojaldre donut, sprinkle with almonds and powdered sugar, and voila. I can’t wait to try this!
Lunch was next on our agenda, and Alicia had pre-arranged with a tapas place she likes in Reus. I didn’t catch the name of the restaurant, but it was housed in an old hardware store, and had floor-to-ceiling shelves and some other really cool interior features.
Alicia suggested we try a certain kind of local beer, called Voll Damm, a double-malt beer brewed in Barcelona. It was delicious, smooth, and malty indeed. See for yourself:
Alicia ordered several typical Spanish tapas for us, and explained that, traditionally, a tapa is small plate of something that you receive as an accompaniment when you order a drink. Generally speaking, the first couple of tapas the waiter delivers are of less-than-stellar culinary quality, and tend to be pretty salty (think potato chips, anchovy-stuffed olives). Then, as you drink more (salty tapas!), you likely see better-quality snacks, and you can usually even manage to make a whole meal out of tapas.
This was not the way things were going during our lunch, however—all our food looked (and tasted!) amazing!
Among the things we tried: pulpo gallego (Galician octopus served over potatoes), Pa amb tomàquet/pan con tomate (bread with tomato), lobac (Galician ham), chipirones (baby squid), montaditos de tomate, pimiento, y anchoa (open-faced sandwich of tomato, red pepper, and anchovies), patatas bravas (“fierce” or spicy potatoes), pimientos de padrón (roasted padrón peppers), and ensalada verde (green salad. In truth, not the most typical tapa, but it was part of what Alicia and Maite ordered for lunch).
We ate and drank and were generally merry, and I couldn’t get enough of the food. I could have stayed there all afternoon! Alicia observed as plate after plate of “last bites,” politely refused by others at the table, made their final stop in front of me. “You know,” she declared, “No pareces americana. You seem like one of us.”
At this, I swelled with pride and downed one more anchovy for good measure. I felt I’d passed some kind of secret test or entry exam. One of them!
Sated and happy, we drove back to El Masroig for a leisurely siesta. Later that evening, we planned to prepare paella mixta, a traditional rice dish made with chicken, pork, shellfish, and veggies. The word paella is reportedly the actual name for the large, flat, wide pan in which the rice is cooked—a small surprise to me, since in Colombia and elsewhere, this pan is commonly referred to as “una paellera,” roughly, “a paella pan.” I’m going to go with the Spaniards on this one, since Colombia isn’t exactly famous for its paella.
At 6ish, we convened downstairs for our last official cooking lesson. We all felt a little punchy, and there was a little trepidation about the fact that some of the critters we planned to eat were still squirming on the prep table. Alicia roundly (and rightly!) admonished us all for being willing to settle for anything but the absolute freshest ingredients, and we pushed aside any discomfort and got started.
Here, the paella and our gorgeous ingredients:
We had beautiful cigalas (Norway lobster), card-carrying members of the Still-Squirming Club:
This one decided he wasn’t going out without a fight:
Butifarra (kind of a white sausage), chicken legs, and pork ribs…
Assorted veggies, sepia (cuttlefish), mussels, and clams…
And bomba rice. This is a special kind of short-grain rice from the Calasparra region which is typically used to make paella. This is one of Alicia’s favorite kinds:
Here’s Alicia doing her magic:
We began by browning the sausage, pork ribs, and then the chicken pieces…
You mix everything you’ve cooked all back together again, and then add the sepia…
And the rice…
Fish stock and the rest of the shellfish…
And then you wait! Mientras tanto, we created a delightful party-type atmosphere, with a fabulous pink cava:
Alicia also made “sardinetas a la llauna” for us – whole roasted sardines. I had never eaten any kind of whole fish before, and certainly not a whole fish that still had its eyes and bones in it. The one on the right appears to be looking askance to us all regarding his imminent fate, but I stayed strong.
Determined not to besmirch my newly-bestowed “almost a local” status, which was declared as a result of my willingness and delight to try and enjoy new foods, I knew I had to man (woman?) up. I felt emboldened and grabbed a fishy, toasted beauty:
It was delicious! Really, truly delicious. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. Here are Meg and Michael enthusiastically demonstrating their own opinions on fresh, oven-roasted sardines:
In short order, this was all we had left:
Doo-Bop, Alicia’s German Shepherd, even had a special sardine snack, reported to be wonderful stuff for healthy fur and skin. Doo-Bop, however, didn’t leave behind any bones.
By this time, the paella had already cooked and then rested under its requisite newspaper blanket, and dinner was ready to be served. We adjourned to the garden to, again, dine al fresco. The night was spectacular, the coolest to date, with a soft breeze.
I present you our lovely final product, paella mixta:
Soooo super tasty! I felt so thoroughly satisfied after this meal, and not only because of the delicious food.
As I finished my wine, I was aware that I felt completely content with my decision to accompany Joyce, Jessica, and Meg on this crazy Catalán adventure. I felt proud to have learned my handful of words and phrases in Catalán. I was pleased to have discovered that my Spanish interpreting skills weren’t as rusty as I’d imagined they might be. I had learned a ton about Catalán cuisine, and about a million other things, too, from how to taste olive oil to the flavor that slate imparts to wines produced in the area to how to clean mussels with a potato peeler. Most importantly, I had successfully unplugged from “normal” life to enjoy a complete break from things—what a luxury, and what a treat!
Suddenly, Alicia’s voice broke into my admittedly-cheesy, overly-smiley reverie. It was time for the tortel de nata. I had completely forgotten about it!
Oh, my. Feast your eyes on this:
As you may suspect, we didn’t leave a single crumb. Afterwards, we drank more wine and chatted a while. The following day was our final day together at Catacurian, and consensus was that we were generally bummed to leave so soon. Nevertheless, we knew that big adventures awaited us on our last day—when we emptied our glasses, we headed to bed to rest up for the excitement!