Homage to Catalonia

Spanish Professor Rosi Song takes a look at the food and song of one of Spain's most beloved cities.

How did you become interested in this topic?

Part of my research has to do with regional identities in Spain, especially in Catalonia. Being interested in the cuisine particularities of these areas was only a matter of time. Soon I was using food as reference to illustrate or to think about those differences in my courses—the way they are perceived, narrated, or historicized—and eventually it became a line of research in my recent work.

What surprised you most in researching this book?

Some of the chapters my co-author and I thought would be easy to put together ended up being surprisingly challenging. This book belongs to a series called Big City Food Biographies. Each book in the series has a chapter dedicated to the city’s most emblematic and historical eating spaces, and we had a hard time coming up with a list. Another surprising thing to find out was how many things that people ate many centuries ago are present in current-day diets—and also some of the stories related to the building of the food markets in the city of Barcelona.

What is your favorite Catalan dish?

More than a dish, I like the peculiarities of some of them: the mixing of ingredients, the finishing sauces, the stories around them. When I introduce Catalan food to friends, they love one of the simplest things Catalans like to eat: bread with tomato. Sounds simple and easy to make but sometimes hard to put together outside of the region.

Favorite Catalan restaurant?

It changes continually. And that’s part of the charm of the city, which is always renovating itself. Having said that, recently I had very good meals at El Racó de l’Agüir and Bodega 1900. One of my favorite places to eat, which will be closing soon, was Gaig. We tell its story and why this closing is not surprising in the book.

Are there any good Catalan restaurants in the U.S.?

Most places serve Spanish food in general, so it’s hard to pinpoint one that focuses only on Catalan food. The recently opened Little Spain in New York City is worth a visit to learn about the varieties of food in Spain and to try some of their dishes. They import good-quality products. There is a restaurant chain called Barcelona—we have one in Philadelphia—that  carries some products that come specifically from Catalonia but does the more generic approach to Spanish food, tapas in general and some rice dishes. Oloroso in Philadelphia is also interesting place, focused on tapas and Spanish food in general.

Do you like to cook? Do you have a signature dish?

I do, and I wish I had more time to do it. I don’t know if I have a signature dish—I like trying new things. Lately I have been obsessed with rabbit and making breaded rabbit ribs, fried like lollipops. They are amazing. 

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A Taste of Barcelona: The History of Catalan Cooking and Eating by Rosi Song and Ann Riera

Not your standard-issue guidebook, this culinary history of Catalonia and its largest metropolis traces Barcelona’s development from the Middle Ages to the present and encompasses the Muslim influence on 
Spanish food and culture, the impact of French gastronomy, and the rise of celebrated chefs such as Ferran Adrià. Plus, the final chapter is devoted to recipes for Catalan classics such as allioli (garlic-olive oil sauce), sofregit (a tomato-based sauce with carmelized onion), and rabbit in chocolate sauce. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019)