Dear Culinary Backstreets,
I’ll be in Spain during the December holidays and I’m wondering if Barcelonans eat any special meal on Christmas? If so, what is it and where in the city could I try it?
As you wander through the streets of Barcelona during the holiday season, you may be puzzled to see giant plastic sculptures of noodles erected in various public spaces throughout the city. These shell-shaped pasta are called galets and they’re the star ingredient of Catalonia’s main Christmas dish, escudella i carn d’olla, also known as escudella de Nadal or sopa de galets.
At first glance, the dish looks fairly simple: large, snail-shaped pasta shells floating in broth with meatballs. In reality, the preparation of escudella is a multistep process involving the construction of a large meatball, known as the pilota; a variety of vegetables; and at least four different kinds of meat, including chicken, botifarra (Catalan sausage) and beef. Often the broth and galets are served together while the meat and vegetables are removed and served on separate platters.
The soup is known to have been around for a very long time; the 14th-century medieval Catalan writer Francesc Eiximenis wrote that Catalans ate it on a daily basis. While Barcelonans no longer eat escudella every day, it’s very likely that almost all of them will be eating it for lunch on December 25. Traditionally, the leftover meat is used to make canelones, which are then eaten the next day.
If you’re in Barcelona at this time of year but are not lucky enough to have a Catalan grandma with a big pot nearby, there are a few restaurants in the city that offer special Christmas menus featuring sopa de galets. El Suquet offers a full “Menú de Navidad” that includes both sopa de galets and canelones. The Santa Eulalia Café also has a Christmas menu with sopa de galets.
Even when it’s not the holiday season, a few Barcelona restaurants offer escudella throughout the year. At Casa Julia, the Catalan Christmas classic is served every Thursday, and at Terra d’Escudella, an old-school restaurant that specializes in traditional Catalan cuisine, they serve escudella every Friday at lunchtime. At both restaurants, it’s a good idea to call and let them know in advance that you’ll be ordering the escudella.