The Catalan Countryside Day Trip is one of Devour Tours new seasonal experiences and it’s a delicious introduction to the gastronomy and culture of Catalonia.
It can be truly difficult to find an authentic Spanish food experience in some of the big cities like Barcelona or Madrid. There are loads of restaurants decorated to look “Spanish” with tiles and photographs of bull fighters; but how do you know you’re eating the real thing? How do you find the spots where the locals like to go? This is the question Devour Tours seeks to answer.
It wasn’t the first time we’d been on a Devour Tour. In fact, we enjoyed two different tours over the past few years: the Devour Madrid Tapas, Taverns and History Tour as well as the Devour Málaga Tour. Both times we enjoyed learning some little known facts about the cities where we lived and discovered some new (and delicious) places to eat. This time, however, was different. The Catalan Countryside Tour is a day trip experience, which is something new to Devour Tours. The seasonal experience offers you the chance to spend a day in the countryside just outside Barcelona. We knew from the start that we were in for a treat!
Our guide, Jaume, greeted us right in front of the Hard Rock Café in the Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona. It was a sunny Saturday in March after a very rainy Friday, so we were all in good spirits. His first question for our group was “What do you think a calçot is?” The answers, of course, were varied. Some people had read up on the tour beforehand and others preferred to learn as they went along. “Don’t worry,” Jaume told us, “by the end of the day you will all know the answer to this question and more.” And with that, we all piled on the mini-bus which would take us on a short drive to the nearby town of Alella in hot pursuit of the calçots.
It was still early when we arrived in Alella and Jaume explained that we would be starting the tour off with an aperitif. I’m a very big fan of the aperitif and enjoying a little glass of vermouth on the weekend. It’s the perfect way to get your taste buds warmed up and ready for a delicious meal. What I loved most, however, was that on this stop we enjoyed a house made vermouth, as well as some delicious boquerones en vinagre (white anchovies), olives and cheese. The unexpected bit to this aperitif were the potato chips which Jaume doused with a deliciously spicy sauce.On the other side of the bar was a wine shop where you could buy local wines and taste them as well. How do you taste wine in Catalonia? Well, in this case it was using a porrón, or a glass pouring vessel that takes some getting used to, but in the end is a fun way to share wine without bothering with a glass. I’m far from an expert at using the porrón, but I always have fun trying!
After this we took a spin through the local market and marveled at the beautiful produce. I can’t say enough about the local markets in Spain. The market in Alella was, perhaps, one of the smallest I’d ever been in; however it was packed with bright red tomatoes and other produce, fresh fish, local meats and more. There is something wonderful about planning your menu with the seasons, and Spain is perfect for that. Pedro and I always try to shop at the market, especially since the tradition of shopping this way is something we truly believe in. Supporting your local vendors (be it in a shop or in a market) is something that we love about the Devour Tours philosophy!
We hopped back on the bus for a visit to a winery with a view where we enjoyed trying cava, white wine and a local red with views of the Mediterranean sea and the extensive grape fields. It was such an idyllic setting and we were all beginning to feel more comfortable joking and taking one another’s photos. As we tasted the different wines, we learned about how they were produced in an ecological way to ensure the best quality. As wine enthusiasts, Pedro and I both enjoyed the winery visit and were interested to learn about the similarities and differences with the vineyards in Andalucía. In fact, we enjoyed our visit so much that we bought a bottle of cava to bring home with us!
Finally it was time for the main event: the calçots. Calçots are a type of spring onion that is common in Catalunya. They are cooked over a fire pit basically charring the outside, but cooking the onion to perfection on the inside. Once you peel off the charred skin, you are left with the onion which is then dipped in a savory romesco sauce (made from hazelnuts and red peppers). It’s a messy business and we all got a bib to protect our clothes. We each got a pile of calçots and a little bowl of sauce to attack and that’s just what we did. It was one of the most authentic moments I’ve had on a Devour Tour, as I could easily imagine myself sharing the meal with a group of Spanish friends and family.
After the calçots came plates of local sausages (botifarra and morcilla), as well as perfectly grilled beef. There was also a plate of white beans being passed around the table, family style. In Spain, we love to share our food and our traditions. There is no concept of “my dish” or “my plate,” instead opting for ordering big dishes to share among everyone at the table. What I loved about the Catalan Countryside Tour is that in the space of a few hours our group had become comfortable with each other and enthusiastically passed the different plates. Phrases like “You have to try this!” and “Can you please pass the plate of sausage?” were repeated again and again.
After our meal we enjoyed two typical desserts: crema catalana (which is slightly different from the more famous French version of creme brûlée) and a fresh cheese topped with local honey and walnuts. All of this was washed down with a glass of cava for good measure before boarding the bus back to Barcelona. It was, without a doubt, a meal to remember.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Catalan Countryside Tour is one of the seasonal experiences offered by Devour Tours. The company, which started out offering shorter tours in some of Spain’s biggest cities, is now branching out to include day trips (including a day trip winery visit), and a nine day vacation with founders Lauren and James, eating and drinking your way through Andalusia in the fall. I would absolutely recommend this (or any Devour) experience for any foodies visiting Spain and looking to get an insider’s tips on all the best bites!