Holiday Gifts in Barcelona | Culinary Backstreets
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Barcelona’s food shops and colmados offer culinary treasures all year long, but the holidays are a particularly exciting time for browsing their wares. The festive window displays show magnificent gift baskets overflowing with tasty treats – with many Spanish and Catalan specialties among them.

Perhaps the most desirable items in holiday gift baskets here are the seasonal sweets, which previous generations would amass in quantities that would serve as “emergency” treats for unexpected guests the rest of the new year. (Thankfully, one can now find these year-round, so there’s no need to hoard them.)

We’ve written previously about artisanal turrón, which continues to be handmade by a few family-run companies. In addition to the traditional Xixona and Alicante varieties, there are also local classics like the turrón de yema, or burnt yolk variety (great for sugar addicts), and modern versions with chocolate, praline and with fruit – a particular favorite of children.

The younger set carries on the beloved tradition of “feeding” Caga Tío, or ye olde Christmas Log, treats to get presents. They might offer it the Andalusian shortbreads known as mantecados, or the sugar-dusted version, polvorones. In return, they might receive turrón or neulas, rolled wafer cookies that nowadays come in all kinds of variations. (Some shops, like the historic Planelles Donat, sell sugar-free, gluten-free and/or lactose-free versions of these sweets.)

Jamón iberico, photo by Paula Mourenza

On the savory side, there is, of course, jamón. In the decades of abundance and excess leading up to the financial crisis, one might have occasionally seen fortunate individuals on the street carrying a leg of ham they had received from clients, business partners or their employers. These individuals are much rarer now, of course, but a good ham is still a much-appreciated gift, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. A gift basket might include vacuum-packed, sliced, free-range, acorn-fed jamón iberico.

Another popular gift basket item are embutidos (embotits in Catalan), or charcuterie, usually made with ground pork, seasoned with a variety of spices and then cured or cooked. Paprika-seasoned cured meats include chorizo, lomo, morcón, chistorra and sobrassada, while pepper-seasoned ones include salchichón, longaniza and fuet. The cooked kind are botifarras, typical Catalan sausages, the best of which come from Vic.

Embutidos at Butifarrería, photo by Paula Mourenza

During the holiday season, specialty shops and colmados offer the most prized and most interesting selection of extra-virgin olive oils, which are often bottled in beautiful opaque or decorated vessels. Stay tuned for our feature on olive oil, coming in January. In the meantime, we recommend shopping for oils at Oro Líquido, OliSal and OlisOlivia.

A good aged cheese is a typical and much-loved gift. In the past, Castilian sheep’s milk cheeses or Manchego were preferred, but these days, it’s more important to find something high quality and local. Every part of Spain produces wonderful cheeses, and visiting those areas is the best way to taste the local expression of their culture. In Catalonia, some of the most delicious aged (the easiest kind to give as a gift, as it’s the most preserved) artisan cheeses include Garrotxa (goat), Serrat Curado (sheep), Roques Blanques (cow), Ros D’Eroles (cow), El Sec (sheep) and Puigpedrós (cow). We refer you to our series on cheeses from this community.

We’ve also written extensively about wines, vermut and cava, all of which make excellent gifts. Cava is virtually obligatory this time of year, and Catalonia is first in quantity, diversity and quality of cava production. We recommend supporting artisanal producers. The wine options are seemingly infinite: in Catalonia alone there are 12 wine regions. The most prized (and expensive) is Priorat D.O.Q., but the other 11 areas should not be overlooked.

On the other hand, giving a bottle vermut has many advantages, beyond just the price: there are many excellent artisanal ones, and the field is much less crowded – and therefore less daunting – especially if one is pressed for time. Vermut also has a long shelf life and pairs easily with olives, cured meat or fish, potato chips and canned seafood. It’s also simultaneously retro, modern and cool.

Liquors, like the Catalan Gin Mare or Mallorcan Xoriguer, are also quite appreciated as gifts. Other artisanal drinks worth including in a basket are Catalan ratafía, Basque Aragonés Patxarán, Galician Licor Café amd Licor de Crema de Orujo.

And then there are conservas, the tinned foods Spain has elevated to great heights and classic gift basket items. Just about any type of seafood you can think of – and many vegetables too – can be found preserved with exquisite care in olive oil, brine or vinegar. And from the sweet end of the jarred spectrum, there are fruit preserves and marmelades, marron glace and honey as well.

Holiday sweets at Bubó, photo by Paula Mourenza

Barcelona is also a great city for chocolate, with numerous traditional and innovative producers plying their craft around town. The classic shops are Escribá and the tiny, old Bombonería Fargas, but all the good traditional pastry shops make their own chocolate. We also recommend checking out the wares of world-class chocolatiers Oriol Balaguer and Enric Rovira, as well as the popular shops Xocoa and Cacao Sampaka.

You can find just about everything mentioned here at Vila Viniteca and Teca Vila Viniteca, but other shops worth perusing are Casa Pepe, Colmado Quílez, Casa Petit, Mantequería la Sierra and Casa Gispert.

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Published on December 22, 2016

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