“We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun,” wrote George Orwell.
He knew quite a lot about poor diets, as he came to Catalonia in 1936 to fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War. He joined the leftist political party and then a militia that fought on the Aragón front for six months, so it’s quite likely that he had tinned food at some point – but only on rare luckier days. In his war diary, Homage to Catalonia (1938), he wrote about craving food at the front as well as many other remarkable experiences that he endured in that period.
If Orwell had come to Catalonia in peacetime with no food shortage, he may have eaten the kind of old-fashioned food that the restaurant Terra d’Escudella serves. Neither the restaurant’s name nor the location is a coincidence. Escudella is the quintessential traditional Catalan soup, a slow-cooked meat stock with vegetables, meatballs and bones. The restaurant is located in Sants neighborhood, a district with a historically very strong working-class identity that is well-known for its deep-rooted network of local associations, cultural groups, cooperatives and all sorts of entities, including a century-old choir, a sports union, a cycling club, several folklore groups, two local radio stations and two self-managed social centers.
In fact, when Terra d’Escudella first opened 15 years ago, it was part of a broader cultural association that had a bookshop and a center for historical research and documentation. The success of the restaurant was immediate, and it eventually took over the space of the whole association. Its formula was and it still is unbeatable: traditional, seasonal Catalan cooking made with only fresh, local ingredients, at very affordable prices.
Its €9.65 set lunch menu (starter, main dish and dessert) changes daily and offers the kind of old-school dishes that Catalan grandmothers used to make: escudella, meatballs with cuttlefish, assorted sausages, cod with romesco sauce and pork feet with almonds.
There’s also a highly recommended evening tapas menu with platters of artisanal charcutería and cheese, patatas bravas with allioli sauce and homemade croquettes among other old-style dishes. A list of sandwiches with traditional cured meats such as donja (pork sausage) brought in from Organyà, a village in the western part of the Catalan Pyrenees, is also available.
Desserts are not an afterthought here: crema catalana foam, Marcona toasted almonds covered with caramel, hazelnuts with white chocolate and a shot of ratafia, honey and the ricotta-like brossat cheese, sheep’s milk yogurt, curd pudding with almond cookies and nougat ice cream are just a few examples.
Wines come from all over the Catalan-speaking areas (the Valencian Community, Balearic Islands, Roussillon and Catalonia), and the list changes monthly. Each week, the restaurant highlights a different wine sold by the glass. Catalan craft beers such as the celebrated Cervesa del Montseny have an important presence here too. Even the soft drinks and distilled spirits are Catalan: Alter Cola, Desperta Ferro energy drink, Jaume I whisky and Xoriguer and Marianna gins.
In short, Terra d’Escudella is a gastronomical homage to Catalonia, an ode to Catalan popular cuisine and a little trip back to the 19th-century fondes dels sisos (humble inns frequented by workers, artisans and travelers) as well as to our grandmothers’ kitchens. The restaurant’s walls are covered with posters that resemble old Anarcho-syndicalist, Bolshevik, feminist and labor union propaganda – Orwell’s politics would have been right at home here. And we’re pretty sure too that, were he still around, Terra d’Escudella would be Orwell’s favorite joint in the city.