Join Culinary Backstreets

Sign up with email

or


Already a member? Log in.

Log in to Culinary Backstreets

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

On November 9, Catalonia conducted a straw poll on independence, with more than 80 percent voting in favor of secession, and more than 10 percent voting for statehood without independence. In spite of a ruling from Spain’s Constitutional Court to suspend the vote, the regional government, under the leadership of Catalan president Artur Mas, was able to proceed with this more symbolic poll thanks to support from 40,930 volunteers. The general atmosphere was civil and calm, but the prevailing mood was clear from the numerous flags, pro-independence T-shirts and yellow signs everywhere proclaiming, “We want a new country!”

There have been implicit messages too, especially where culinary matters are concerned. Food, like industry and culture, is closely tied to politics. Throughout this important process, we have continued cooking lunch and meeting friends for tapas at our favorite bars and restaurants. And in this daily context, gazing at what’s on our tables, we wonder: How is independence affecting food and kitchens? Is it somehow going to alter Catalan or Spanish markets and restaurants? The final answers to these questions might not yet be clear, but there is already some change underway.

Vote for independence (and chocolate), photo by Paula MourenzaFirst of all, gastronomy in Spain is deeply connected to regional identity, with protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications indicative of that. But in Catalonia especially, food products and culinary traditions are inextricably tied to local identity. On the one hand, Catalan products have been recognized for their quality and origin and promoted by the Catalan and local governments. But also an extraordinarily rich collection of documented recipes dating from medieval times have been researched, collected and promoted by institutions such as Fundació Alícia (founded by world-renowned chef Ferran Adrià) and the Fundació Institut Català de la Cuina i la Cultura Gastronòmica (FICCG, created with private and public funds) and are being put forth in an application to include Catalan cuisine in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. In recent years, there’s been an international trend for local, seasonal food, and in Catalonia, that inclination was already strong and has grown stronger still (as demonstrated by the annual fair Mercat de Mercats). Every day more chefs are embracing a cuisine that is connected to the land, not only as a way of distinguishing themselves, but also out of a sense of identity. Consequently, it’s easier than ever to really get to know Catalan cuisine – from different points in history, from different landscapes and in a range of styles.

That sense of Catalan pride and identity is keenly felt elsewhere in Spain. Citizens of other regions have begun boycotting Catalan products, including food and wine – and especially cava. The loss in cava sales due to the boycott purportedly doesn’t make a substantial difference in what is attributed to the economic crisis, but Catalan cava producers have sold much less in Spain in the last two years: Codorníu has suffered a loss of €5.9 million, and Freixenet’s sales are down 15 percent. Fortunately, many producers and shops say that the majority of the food lovers and connoisseurs are over this matter.

Food is always connected to the economy and politics, and so the independence movement in Catalonia is something we’ve been able to see, hear and also literally taste in months leading up to the vote. As a reflection of the enthusiasm in the streets – and also a marketing ploy – some food producers have created their own tributes to the movement. We’ve seen pro-independence sentiments in many shops in town and market stalls, on bottles of wine, cava and beer, on bread and cake and even on hamburgers. In Catalonia, we vote with our stomachs, too.

(photos by Paula Mourenza)

Related stories

May 10, 2017

Sergi de Meiá: Back to the Land

By Paula Mourenza
Barcelona -- Sergi de Meiá, in his own words, “started in cuisine the day he was born,” growing up as he did in his mother’s restaurant. He received his first cooking lessons from her and from a family full of chefs and cooks before heading off to cooking school at 14. Nowadays, his mother, Adelaida…
May 30, 2017

El Racó del Mariner: Sole Survivor

By Paula Mourenza
Barcelona -- There are certain places that experience the strange phenomenon where everything and nothing change at the same time. Take the example of El Racó del Mariner (The Sailor’s Corner), located for 40 years at the old fishermen’s dock in the port of La Barceloneta until it was forced to move when the area…
May 16, 2017

Mornings in Barcelona

By Laia Escribano
Barcelona -- Mornings in Barcelona start with a strong "tallat" coffee and "pa amb tomàquet" (bread with tomato) along with some "tortilla" slices fresh from the market's bar! A promising start to a rewarding culinary walk!