Their eyes really say it all. “In Catalan markets, fruit and fish look as if they were alive! In the States, food has a plastic look in supermarkets”, says one of the 12 students coming from the University of UCDenver who are experiencing a new kind of activity aiming to take Catalan food beyond our borders. By the look of the other guys’ faces, she seems to be talking on behalf of them all.
This proposal by the guides company Itinere Tarragona, is known as Tarragona Foods, and is introducing our city to visitors from a gastronomical point of view. Xavi Mejuto, the guide in charge of taking today’s group along the most relevant streets in Tarragona, says: “We’ve designed an easy and yet very representative menu of our city, which they will prepare and enjoy a bit later with the assistance of the chef of Al Natural“. First though, it is time to get all the ingredients.
Our first stop is the almost a-hundred-year-old Xarcuteria Cuadras (a typical kind of grocery store). Once there, the group of students led by the professor E.J. Yoder and Mark Hindle, businessman in the US hotel Industry, starts to find out more about one of the most characteristic treasures of our cuisine: the coca.Xavi tells them about the number of natural local products used to garnish it: almonds, hazelnuts, ‘escalivada’, … and one of the most beloved ‘teams’ which, as a matter of fact, the students will be taking with them to the Al Natural restaurant: la coca de ceba (onions coca). The strong yet delicious smell of such gastronomical jewel is staring to make our mouths water. “Six euros per piece?”, says one of the girls. The exclamation though, is actually referring to the cheapness of the delicious piece of coca.
Talking a bit more to Mark Hindle, I am told this is part of an optional academic activity that will actually provide students with credits for their future record. This is, in fact, the second time their university has enrolled in such an exciting Catalan experience thanks to Barcelona SAE (Study Abroad Experience) ), and they are absolute delighted with it.
Now, after a short explanation by Xavi about the secrets of romesco, yet another of this activity’s main actors, we head to the Botiga del Cafè in Rambla Nova, in order to buy some roasted hazelnuts we’ll need for our menu. Even E.J. Yoder is getting some camomile.
Next stop: the Market of Tarragona. probably the most exciting building in the whole tour. On our way there, Matt Almanza, the only guy with us today, explains that despite being from California, he is been already 3 years studying in Denver, and that this is his very first time out of the States. “A few days ago we were on a calçotada. It is just spectacular; it was delicious and we got very messy”, says while smiling.
We enter the Market and their eyes are lighted up immediately. Fruit and vegetables, fish and meat have just shocked them. The sheer variety and quality of these products is hard to find in their country, where they say it is only Mexican people running butcher’s shops. We buy mussels, which will be steamed, arbequin olives, for the aperitif, and a few inches of llonganissa which, once cooked, will be used to garnish the onion coca we bought earlier on. The menu is starting to come alive; and what a way to do it!
We just need to by the pa de pagès (special old-style bread) –with its seal of quality- at Forn Jordi Andreu, just opposite the Colonial Forum, which we actually enter. Once inside, Xavi shows us a map of the magnificent Tarraco in the Roman period. The guys are taken back to the time of the circus, chariot races, gladiator fights and the whole richness of the Roman Empire. After a few funny picture with the group, we head to Al Natural. It’s almost half one, and we are starving.
This 2-hour journey has made it to an end, or almost. The group of students listen carefully to the instructions by Maria José, helped by Xavi’s translations. After having such a great time, and once at home, they will remember Tarragona for the heritage… but also for the gastronomy.
Activity: Tarragona Foods
Company: Itinere Tarragona
Phone number: (0034) 977 239 657
Note: Prior reservation only. Exclusive for groups
Text and translation: Artur Santos
Pictures: Pere Toda