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Tarragona's cuisine is a reflection of its historic and cultural character: as a Mediterranean port, it owes much of the richness to the sea. Abundant fresh seafood from Catalonia's largest traditional fishing port and a veritable cornucopia of local produce give rise to a regional cuisine with a distinctive flavour and genuine personality.
The fishermen catch fresh shellfish and a local species of bluefish that has earned the official geographical indication (Denominació d'Origen, or D.O., in Catalan) Peix Blau de Tarragona. The fishermen’s district, known as “el Serrallo”, is one of the most picturesque places in the city. There, you will have your pick of restaurants offering mouth-watering dishes based on the day’s catch. Tarragona’s trademark dish is cassola de romesco, a casserole made with a rich regional nut sauce. Visitors can also sample the city’s renowned seafood paella, as well as arròs negre (rice cooked in squid ink), grilled or fried fish, arrossejat (seafood rice simmered in fish stock), fideus rossejats (sautéed noodles cooked paella-style in fish stock) and a wide assortment of creative and avant-garde recipes. Many of the city’s restaurants moreover have exceptional seaside locations, offering diners spectacular views of the port and immersing them in a traditional maritime setting.
City restaurants also draw on regional produce brought in from the local countryside (officially known as Camp de Tarragona), including hazelnuts, almonds, oil and fresh vegetables, as well as meat and eggs. Finally, the nearby mountains add wild mushrooms, potatoes and chestnuts to the mix, while the Ebre River delta provides rice and citrus fruits. One of the most emblematic dishes, available from January to late April, is the calçotada, a dish that originated in the neighbouring city of Valls. Calçots are long, sweet spring onions, which are prepared by roasting them over an open fire and are eaten dipped in succulent romesco sauce.
The select D.O. Tarragona wines also deserve special mention, in particular the mistelles and mellow wines, which are ideal with desserts. In vino veritas, or "there is truth in wine". Be that as it may, Tarragona is certainly proud of its wines. The region produces a variety of blends, which, whilst unpretentious, are perfectly at home on the best tables. The ancient Romans already knew that Tarragona's surrounding areas were ideal for winemaking, yielding wines that are the very embodiment of a land bathed by the sea and kissed by the sun almost all year round.
In the city's Old District (Part Alta), many restaurants are housed in historic buildings, parts of whose ancient Roman or mediaeval legacies are still on display, transporting gourmands to an era of imperial splendour or the difficult years of the Spanish Reconquest. As an added perk to this history-steeped setting, the month of May ushers in the "Tàrraco a Taula" food festival, where visitors can try dishes made according to ancient Roman recipes. Finally, Tarragona is also home to numerous tapas bars and llesqueries, the local version of a snack bar. With the arrival of the warm weather, city residents fill the tables set out in the squares and streets to enjoy a traditional glass of vermouth.