Eating My Way Around Girona

When I walked into the Girona food market I knew I was at home. I simply love the hive of activity, people shouting and selling their food, others bargaining with the sellers and most importantly everyone looks so happy. Food makes people happy. If you love food then you’ll love any market, if you just eat to survive then you might not have quite the passion but food still makes you happy and keeps your body going every day.

You can only imagine the colours everywhere and how the Mediterranean food just shines on every stall. I couldn’t help but look through a lens most of my way around as I tried to get ‘the’ shot to show you. Not even my canon really does justice to the fruits and vegetables – you’ll just have to go and see for yourself. We were shown around the market by the manager and he explained the different people and their stalls, interestingly the various fish stalls were representing all the individual family run fish mongers and locations of where they had caught their fish. To say it was fresh would probably be an understatement. Only hours before half of the produce was still in the sea!

We were then shown upstairs to a small but adequate room, that I loved it. It was buzzing with chefs all crammed into this tiny little kitchen, but most of all it had large floor to ceiling glass windows on one side so we could look at the market below. The chefs were actually students of the Girona Culinary School along with a few waiting staff students. All of whom were there to cook, prepare and serve some incredible food for us to get but a taste of what Catalonia has to offer. Below you’ll see exactly what we were served and I recommend you try to taste some of it when you go!

Course 1/12 – Fresh bread slightly toasted with tomato, olive oil and topped with anchovies from I’Escala. This was a typical but delicious aperitif. The common tomato bread is so easy yet utterly incredible – why don’t we eat this all the time??

Course 2/12 – Next up we were treated to possible the best anchovies I have ever tasted. Cured and served with extra virgin olive all, garlic and lemon. Nothing else – simple but stunning. Anchovies aren’t for everyone and are quite an acquired taste, I would suggest trying them this way because it was a much more subtle ‘fishy’ taste yet it was amazing with the lemon and the garlic.

Course 3/12 – For the third course we were served ‘Calcots with Romesco’. Often it’s served with a type of salad onion also known as spring onion, but we had grilled Asparagus with the treasure of a sauce that is Romesco. It originates from Tarragona in Catalonia and is a nut and red pepper based sauce often eaten with fish, yet the fresh asparagus was incredible with it. It can be made with a mixture of almonds, pine nuts and sometimes hazelnuts.

Course 4/12 – Escalivada is a traditional Catalan dish of grilled smoky vegetables, typically more Mediterranean vegetables. Slices of peppers, onions and aubergine in olive oil with garlic and salt. Another really simple tapas but it worked so well, it goes to show how easy it is to complicate dishes and ruin them!

Course 5/12 – Esqueixada was served next. It was a real strange sensation but a very well presented salad of shredded salt cod, onions, olive oil and garnished with diced cherry tomatoes. It was strange because I had no idea what it was at first so when I tasted it I suddenly had the salty fish, also the fact that it was cold was something I didn’t expect. It is another traditional Catalan dish that is eaten during the warmer weather because of how refreshing it is.

Course 6/12 – Sweet sausage (Botifarra) with apple. This was without a doubt my all time favourite course. The sweet sausage is actually extremely local to Girona – in fact a medieval tradition! When made, the sausage meat is mixed with sugars which means whilst cooking you can caramelize the sausage as the sugars come through. I wasn’t sure when they described it, but when I tasted it along with the apple and bread it was a total taste sensation! I can’t wait to try it again!

Course 7/12 – Fideua. Said to have originated in Valancia it’s a type of noodle dish, a noodle which was actually used in Paella before rice became the staple ingredient. This was served with white-fleshed fish and a healthy amount of alloli, a VERY strong sauce made with garlic, egg whites and oil – but totally scrummy!

Course 8/12 -Next up we were treated to Suquet Monkfish and Prawns, I’m not really sure if I have the words to describe how insanely good this was. Cooked to perfection by the lovely students in such a pressured environment not to mention a tiny little kitchen – credit to them!

Course 9/12 – A very common dish in Girona is Santa Pau beans with perol sausage. I actually had different versions of this throughout my stay in Girona but this was by far the best. It’s not an easy dish to work with when it comes to presentation and it can’t be easy to make such basic ingredients, very white beans and sausage meat, look good enough to serve. It was done well but it just looks a little plain so just beware you must still try it because it’s actually packed with a lot more flavour than you might think!

Course 10/12 – Veal fillet with sweet onion. This veal was outstanding and cooked so well, another very hard dish to serve in a small environment to 15 people. It was so succulent and made even better with a delicious wild mushroom sauce. I don’t even like mushroom and I ate it all – that’s how good it was!

Course 11/12 – As we were winding down, and feeling fat, we were served with a Strawberry Curd. A beautiful dessert served with a cold, refreshing sorbet. It was quite sweet but with the amount of savory we had consumed it was what we needed to balance our pallets.

Course 12/12 – Finally we ended the unbelievably good tasting experience with White Chocolate Soup and a fruit skewer. Both desserts were perfect as we needed the sweet, fruity flavours to end the savoury journey, but it was also still light enough that you didn’t feel sick even though you felt like you should! The soup was creamy and chocolaty, but not too much and nicely offset with the simple fruit skewer, and grated lime on the side.

As you can imagine each course was paired with its’s own wine, starting with Champagne and ending with dessert wine. I must also mention the freshly prepared juices we had as well, watermelon juice and kiwi juice. They were probably the most refreshing drink I had tasted in a long time and it was a perfect way to cleanse the pallet before each new course.

I actually returned to the market alone a few days later. It was just as electrifying as before, and I was on  a mission to get some lunch and decided that I would stick with something very simple but delicious. I found some bread, Serrano ham, anchovies and salads to make up a light lunch. I also couldn’t resist a beautiful bunch of flowers to sit on my apartment table at The Nord 1901 Hotel.

It’s safe to assume that we were beyond spoiled with the menu and the effort put in by these young men and women. They really were a credit to their school and as they were also being marked on their skills that day, I was so impressed with their calm and effortless approach to cooking – not something all chefs can quite handle in front of an audience! I very much look forward to returning to Girona to enjoy their cooking once again, perhaps in their own restaurant some day!

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