Catalan Culture in a Nutshell

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Catalan Culture Explained

So what is Catalan culture? How is it different to Spanish culture? At first sight, you may have come to Barcelona and noticed a different language written on the signs around the city. That’s because you’re in Catalonia – one of Spain’s comunidades autonomias (autonomous communities) which has not only it’s own language but also it’s own distinct culture. Catalan culture, despite being less well known than it’s more famous Spanish cousin boasts a huge history as well as it’s own unique traditions and cuisine. Taking the time to discover some authentic Catalan traditions as well as those well known Spanish ones will only make your trip to Barcelona an even better one.

Want to know more? Take a look at what makes Barcelona even more of a special and unique place with SuiteLife’s own guide to Catalan culture!


Flag of Catalonia

1. Catalan food

When you think of eating in Spain, automatically images of paella, sangria and tapas spring to mind. Whilst you can easily experience these here in Barcelona, there is so much more to try! Catalan cuisine is different to Spanish food in that is a good mix of seafood based and meat based dishes due to Catalonia’s position near the sea and moutains (mar i muntanya). In fact, whilst here in Barcelona, you may have already tried some Catalan food and not realised it. Catalan cuisine is always changing much like any other. There are so many different Catalan foods and it would take a long time to list them all so below are some of the most iconic and common foods that you may come across. Bon profit! (Catalan version of Bon Appetit!)

Pan amb tomate (toasted bread with tomato, olive oil and salt) – an incredibly popular food whether in a sandwich or eaten as tapas. A basic in Catalonia which you can find pretty much in any bar or restaurant – the Catalans believe it makes bread much more exciting and we agree! Guaranteed that you will miss this when you leave Barcelona.


Calcots – the closest thing that you could compare these too are spring onions or leeks. Eaten during the season, which is roughly January, February and March. When you eat them, they will usually be cooked by barbecuing them or putting them in the oven. When they’re ready, you simply peel them and dip them in Romesco sauce. Amazing!


Botifarra – a type of Catalan spiced sausage. You can get black or white botifarra and it is usually eaten with pan amb tomate or as tapas.

Escudella – a type of Catalan stew. Made up of meat, beans, potato and cabbage. Usually eaten during the winter.

Fideua – the Catalan version of Spanish paella. Instead of rice, the Catalans use noodles. Sometimes, squid ink is used too.


Catalan food

Crema Catalana – cream custard with a burnt sugar coating on top (think Creme Brule)

Mel i mato – cream cheese and honey mixed together.

If you are keen to try the best of Catalan cuisine, then you should check out this restaurant which has been voted as making the best Catalan food in Barcelona!

2. Catalan language

Catalan people, for the most part, are bilingual in both Catalan and Spanish (and increasingly those working in the tourist industry speak English well too), so language barriers whether you speak Spanish or not are not extremely high. However, you will notice that Catalan people are immensely proud of their language and you will see Catalan everywhere you go in Barcelona. This is mainly due to the fact that the Catalan language was oppressed during the Franco dictatorship (1936 – 1975) and the desire for Catalonia to become an independent state away from Spain currently. Technically, foreigners are not expected to know any Catalan, but even knowing one or two words will go a long way.

Bon dia (similar to buenos dias in Spanish) – Good day/Hello
Com estas? (similar to como estas in Spanish)- How are you?
Be, gracies. I tu? – Good thank you. And you?
Adeu – Goodbye
Si us plau – please
Moltes gracies – Thank you very much
Parles angles? – Do you speak English?
Com es diu…..en Catala? – How do you say…….in Catalan?

Interested in learning Catalan? Feel free to check my previous blog on learning Catalan in Barcelona – ‘Learn Catalan – the easy way!

3. Catalan fiestas

Who said that the Spanish were the party animals? The Catalan’s put on a good show too! In Barcelona alone, there are events happening all the time and every neighbourhood has their own unique party through the year. Whilst there is a party for almost every occasion, many are neighbourhood parties and most tourists unfortunately miss them or happen to stumble across them. Thankfully, SuiteLife publishes a blog every month detailing the major events coming up in that month to keep you in the loop of the best things to do. Check out March 2013′s here!

La Merce – THE biggest party to hit Barcelona and probably Catalonia too during the year. Although it has religious origins, the fiesta (or more appropriately festa) now has a whole range of Catalan traditions within it such as Castellers, the Catalan Wine Fair, la Sardana as well as a variety of music performances and general all round craziness. Held for a week in September every year. Check out our coverage of the event last year through our series of blogs last year starting here

Dia de Sant JordiCatalonia’s answer to Valentines Day but instead of 14th February, it is held on 23rd April. Instead of lavish presents that people usually splurge out on for Valentines Day, Sant Jordi is considerably more traditional. Traditionally, the man gives his lover a single rose andthe woman returns the gift by giving him a book. Visiting the Ramblas will be the most obvious sign of this occasion with the number of stalls selling roses, and rumour has it that this is the day where Catalonia makes almost half of its total annual book sales!

National Day of Catalonia – Also held during September, this commemorates the Catalan defeat by the Spanish in 1714. Although there are usually demonstrations,this is a great day to experience many aspects of Catalan culture and see how much passion people in Catalonia have for it! (also worth mentioning that it isone day where you won’t here any Spanish except from foreigners and will see almost every building with a Catalan flag!)

4. Catalan traditions and emblems

As with any culture, Catalan culture has it’s own traditions. As a foreigner, you may find some of them rather odd. But for certain, you will not leave Barcelona and forget them!

The Catalan burro (The Catalan donkey) – The ‘national’ symbol of Catalonia and their take on the bull as a symbol of Spain. It’s origins lie with a breed ofdonkey native to Catalonia and Catalan speaking areas. The donkey emblem has many interpretations as to what it means. Some say it represents Catalan’s as hard workers whilst others say it is there to make fun of the Spanish bull. We’ll leave you to decide that one…..


Donkey of Catalonia

Catalan flag with a blue triangle and white star – the blue triangle and white star on the Catalan flag simply represents Catalan independence.

Castellers – human towers which are a unique tradition to Catalonia. Back in 2010, they received UNESCO protection which makes them culturally exclusive to Catalonia. Most popular in the town of Tarragona (where they hold contests to see who can get the biggest human tower!), they can be seen all over Catalonia particularly during big celebrations such as La Merce. The idea is to build the biggest human tower possible and then disassemble the quickest. A great deal of trust and concentration are needed for this! Nowadays, it is open to men, women and even children! Definitely a must see if you’re in Barcelona for a celebration. Check out this blog for more info!


Catalan Castells

La Sardana – this is a traditional dance of Catalonia said to have links with Catalan nationalism. The best way to see the dance is to see it which is why I have included a link to a video below! If you want to see a Sardana dance in Barcelona, you can see some during festivals or at the Teatre Mercat de les Flors theatre (I would recommend checking their website beforehand at



As you can see, there is a lot more to Catalan culture than meets the eye! This makes Barcelona even more of an incredible place to visit and if you visit during a fiesta then you are surely not going to forget the experience!

Have you seen/experienced any of the above? Or do you know of any other unique Catalan traditions that you’d like to share with us? Leave your comments below!

Moltes gracies!
- Chris

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Submitted on Tuesday, March 5th, 2013 at 10:57 am

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  • Valenciano

    Fideua is NOT originary from Catalonia. Like the Paella, Fideuá comes for the Valencian region.

  • Bonnie E. Parker

    Castellers-human towers which are a unique tradition to Catalonia

    I’ve seen this kind of human castles in India during the Hindu festival Krishna Janmashtami in Maharashtra

    Catalonia and catalans come from there?

  • Gustin Foraster

    Not all catalan people are as idiot as the blogger.

  • Zarina

    As well as Catalonia, every Spanish region has its own peculiarities.

  • Antes en chino que en español

    Not only pride, having to pay fines contributes a lot to the use of catalan language. Spanish is actually banned in Catalonia.
    No solo el orgullo, las multas contribuyen también al uso del catalán. En realidad el español está proscrito en Cataluña.

  • Adrian

    This post has a basic flaw: it puts Catalan culture agains a purported Spanish culture. Since Spain is a collection of cultures and not a monolithic entity, it does not make sense to oppose a region of Spain agains the rest. The variety of customs, festivals, food, climates and languages is what makes Spain. And Catalonia is a good part of that, despite the artificial mythology which is being fabricated these days.