It is the land of old monuments and modern lines. Medieval walls, Romanesque churches, almost the largest Jewish quarter in Europe. The valleys of the Pyrenees and the rocky coves of the Costa Brava.
A mixture of Iberian, Greek, Roman and Arabic cultures. The struggle for tradition and the desire for the new.
Amazing dialogue in everything.
Catalonia is the most prosperous region of Spain, and one of its capitals, the center of the eponymous province of Gerona, is the most prosperous city. In the guidebooks it is called the “paradise of gourmets”. Epithet sugary, I do not want to agree.
There are sea and mountains, tiny farms and cities, traditional and fine cuisine.
And everything will be good in Gerona: both those who are ready to eat oysters and sea urchins three times a day, and those who are indifferent to them.
Today is a day off, and Alba can finally cook a full meal. “We will eat garum, escalivade, chicken with shrimps and catalana cream!” She solemnly announces. Rutger and I don’t mind: for almost a week in Girona, and we didn’t try plain Catalan food — the situation is unacceptable for culinary journalists.
But is it any wonder: in the field of gastronomy (including!), Catalonia has something to be proud of, and the residents of ZHeronits are trying to show the best from the beginning, and it’s not long before traditional restaurants.
There are plenty of high-class establishments where cooks with inspiration are made from local products.
We went to the coast to eat shrimp soup gallera, climbed the mountains to try a terrine from a hare, went down to the wine cellar of the Perelad castle … And now we are happy to just stay in the city.
Among the randomly intertwined streets, stone houses and stairs Jewish Quarter deserted In the morning, you can still meet a group of noisy schoolchildren with a history teacher; on the steps leading to the university, students smoke; tourists climb the stairs, trying to escape from the narrow streets and get to the Cathedral.
And in the late afternoon, when the sun disappears behind the gray walls, it becomes quite quiet. The concept of time is blurred: I am in a medieval city, enchanting and gloomy; right now I will meet a tradeswoman with a basket of plums, and from these windows, slop will be poured onto the pavement … In the Jewish Quarter of Gerona, Tom Tykwer was shooting Perfumer — I involuntarily recall this, being alone here: well, of course, another victim ran down these steps …
This is where life is in full swing, so this is Rambla.
The doors of the shops are friendly and wide open, the cafe tables are displayed right on the boulevard; foreigners buy souvenirs, old people rest on the benches.
More movement and light on the other side of the Onyar River. One of the four rivers of Zheron — Onyar — divides the city into two parts, it is in her mirror look multicolored dilapidated houses with postcards.
A dozen bridges connect the old Girona with the modern, with shops and bars, with offices and pharmacies, with traffic jams (and we thought it was a privilege of big cities!) And taxi stands.
A new day will begin in this part, on the city market, on Lev Square. In fact, she has a different name, but they rarely remember about him: because of the towering column with the corresponding image, this nickname was firmly attached to the square. Geronians do not go to the market except on Monday — after a brisk Sunday trade, the counters are half empty.
On all other days it is easy to get lost among the piles of the freshest seafood (everything moves!), Mountains of fruits, camber with sausages and ham.
Here housewives buy fish, local cooks come here for lobster.
At noon, the center of gravity will be the cozy Independence Square.
Restaurants and bars are calling for lunch.
There can be no talk of fast food: connoisseurs of good cuisine, people from Zherontsy explain that hot dog stalls do not fit into the local landscape. They, Zherontsev, at lunchtime can always be found in their favorite noisy Boira, in the restaurant Casa Marieta, which is already a hundred years old, in places where they serve tapas…
Of course, small snacks to wine tapas — the tradition is not Catalan. In Catalonia, they prefer something more substantial.
Any native person will confirm this to you — and will immediately tell you about the Catalan invention of pa amb tomaquet, crispy bread, rubbed with tomato, garlic and butter.
The first line in the menu tapas bars! So with Alba, nee zheronka, we start with a typical snack.
Alba gives us pestles and yellow mortars with “ears” — there are such in almost every home.
Blenders are also there, but it is better to crush olives, anchovies and olive oil for the garum paste by hand, so as not to eat shapeless slush.
While we enthusiastically tap with pistils, our “chefina” sends eggplants and onions for escalivade to the oven, and red pepper puts it right on an open fire. Nothing, that he will be charred to blackness: but then it is easy to remove the skin, and the flesh becomes tender and fragrant.
Alba mixes stewed vegetables, salt and pepper, sprinkle with oil, inject vinegar — and set them on toasts with anchovies.
She never throws away the ash from the pepper: she punches it in a blender with olive oil, filters it through a sieve — and it turns out “with smoke”. «Ferran Adria taught, ”Alba laughs.
They are crazy about Adria.
Everyone calls him simply Ferrand — he is the only one. Chef who made the Catalan cuisine high. Inventive, bold, unique.
For ordinary Catalans who will never go to his three-star restaurant el bulli, who generally never go to an expensive restaurant, Ferran is a real idol.
When they talk about him, their eyes light up.
… Those days, when we were in Gerona, stood out rainy. And the residents of Gerona jokingly said: what else would they do on a wet Sunday evening, how not to watch the shows of the best Catalan chefs.
The forum hall was crowded: they came in families, along with small children.
Adrià was giving a curtain session. Only half an hour was left before the closing, and there was still a queue at the entrance: people were patiently waiting for someone to leave the hall to take their place …
So it happened here: the kitchen is a part of culture.
They are interested in cooking, they are proud of their cooks, they stand for traditions. Although the Gheronians are not fanatics at all.
It is not true that they do not like Spaniards. They do not like Spaniards who do not respect their originality and who treat Catalan with contempt.
And they themselves do not ignore the Spanish customs. True, they separate themselves from paella (they say, this is not ours, yes, we are preparing rice — in the Pyrenees with meat, on the coast with fish, but this is different). But the all-Spanish potato omelet, with tortilla, is made almost every day.
If a Catalan woman ever tells you that she doesn’t know how to cook, it will mean she can only cook with tortilla. Alba is an excellent cook, and her omelette options have never dried up: tomatoes, chanterelles, ham, buttifarra sausages (especially for Rutgers, the Germans love!), Zucchini and onions …
Gerona is often called the place where the mountains meet the sea: part of the province lies in the Pyrenees, some — on the Mediterranean Sea. Mountains meet with the sea and in dishes typical for the Costa Brava — mar y montana. The translation is simple: “sea and mountains”.
The meaning is intriguing: together the rabbit is stewed — shrimp, chicken — lobster, meat and fish. They say it all started when an appetizing mermaid caught the hungry fisherman’s net … Tradition to combine meat and seafood in one dish really owes fishermen: when friends from the Pyrenees came to dinner, everyone put what he had on the table. The “Highlanders” brought birds and game, the fishermen shared their catch … Alba’s “Shrimps” turned out to be langoustines — she simply forgot, “as it is in English”. They, however, most often cooked with chicken.
There are uncomfortable, deliciously extraordinary.
… At about half past four in the evening, when the fishermen finish unloading the boats swaying on the waves, a noisy bidding begins at the fish auctions of Palamos and Estartit.
And somewhere the fishing went all night, and early in the morning, when the schooners arrive at the harbor, the counters in the markets of Sant Feliu de Guixols, Cadaques, Palafrugell are filled … «Blue fish» — sardines, anchovies and mackerel, white gallera shrimps ( with a narrow head and a wide tail that cannot be eaten, not all the fingers but the fingers that are so good in cream soup), sea urchins.
Yet it was seafood that glorified the tiny towns and villages of the Costa Brava (snow-white houses with tiled roofs, sandy beaches and picturesque rocks do not count).
Today, Rutger and I are not having a fish day — there was no such line on Alba’s menu, but we are not offended. Many pictures are already stored in memory: here we are crunching the fried anchovy ridges (crucian fins, and only!) In the hotel restaurant Emporda in Figueres. Here we eat eskeyshadu, salted cod salad, in a cozy La banyeta.
Here we poured thick fishing soup suket of monkfish.
Here are a lobster snack with avocados (we sit on the veranda Els tinars, where it smells of pines and sea — it’s not so far away). Here they serve a sea urchin with seaweed and apricot — they were prepared by Joan Roca himself, another “star” Catalan chef …
“Whisk the yolks for now,” Alba interrupts my thoughts and pulls out the bowl and the whisk.
It’s time to cook sweet. “What about salmonella?”, Vigilant Rutger wonders, when Alba combines yolks with sugar and cornstarch with milk. “We’ll all be warming up,” Alba reassures him.
Although egg mixture for crema catalana not always warming up — how many housewives … But pour thick sugar over the ready-made cool cream and place it under the grill to form a warm caramel crust — this is sure, without this there is no better dessert in the world.
… Despite the late hour, we do not take a taxi. From the Old Town, where Alba lives, to our hotel about thirty minutes on foot — for us this is not the distance.
In addition, on the way home we will be able to look at some noisy tiny bar, just four tables, chosen by the locals. Gerontsy used to communicate until the middle of the night …
Restaurant Albereda (Albereda, 9, Girona).
The classic Catalan restaurant, which uses traditional products and combinations (for example, the characteristic combination of sweet and salty) and modern cooking methods. The «highlight» of the menu — dishes from local mushrooms, especially chanterelles.
Restaurant Els Tinars (Carretera de Sant Feliu a Girona, km 7.2, Llagostera).
A few kilometers from Gerona it is worth going even for the sake of a single snack — lobster in its own juice, served with a soft-boiled egg, on a pillow of avocado.
Restaurant Mar Placa (Placa de la Independencia, Girona).
They serve fantastic fish and seafood dishes.
The menu is constantly updated — almost every day the chef offers something special.
True, for lunch, get ready to lay out a considerable amount.
Confectionery La Vienesa (near the bridge Pont de pedra, Girona).
Cakes, chocolates and sweets are varied, a variety of cakes, as well as wine and traditional bread.
And this is not a tourist shop with specialties — whenever you look here, you will meet regular customers — local residents.
Grocery Ventura (Carrer nou).
Narciso Ventura calls himself «a simple guron and a simple grocer.» In his shop you can find traditional wines, olive oil, jams, canned goods.
Separate conversation — stalls with typical cheeses, ham, salted fish.
All goods are of the highest quality.
Perelada Castle. The heart of the medieval town of Perelada (13 km from Figueres), its cultural and historical center.
Along with the wine cellars (Perelada group — the most famous wine maker in Spain) in the castle there is a wine museum, a glass museum and a very nice library that collected 80 thousand books from all over the world (only Don Quixote in 30 languages; there was even an old, worn out, primitive book Russian tales in English).
Weddings can be celebrated in the library, tastings are organized at the winery.
Here you will be offered a pink cava, a favorite sparkling of Salvador Dali.
Theater-Museum Dali in Figueres. Mandatory point of the program, even for those who are not interested in surrealism.
The car in which it rains and the portrait of Galla, which is also a portrait of Lincoln, should be seen by everyone.
If the children begin to whine «again the museum …», do not pay attention: then you will not be able to get them out of there.
Turron (torron). This nutty sweetness, nougat, is popular throughout Spain (and, by the way, not only in Spain). Be sure to try the almond turron Xixona (it is crumbly and rather resembles halvah) and the novelty is turron Crema catalana (made from egg yolks and tastes like the famous Catalan cream).
Great choice in store Candela (Argenteria, 8).
The seller does not speak English, but if you don’t understand what the sweetness is made of, he will cut a very generous piece into the sample.
Spanish chocolate. The country that colonized the homeland of the cocoa tree, can not produce dozens of varieties of chocolate.
Always fresh chocolate bars and sweets, in fancy packaging and loose weight, you will find in a quiet shop with the appropriate name. Xocoa (Carrer cort reial, 3).
A bottle of Catalan wine.
First of all, cava: without this ponderous souvenir you just can’t do — after all, the best Spanish sparkling wine is made in Catalonia.
Secondly, whatever: white, red wines from Penedes, Terragona, Priorat.
T-shirt with lettering «pa amb tomaquet« and a ridiculous pattern depicting the «alive» heroes of the Catalan snack: a tomato with eyes, an oil jug with arms and legs … The child will like it.