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 renowned 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!
1. Catalan food
When you think of eating in Spain, automatically images of paella and tapas spring to mind. Whilst you can easily experience these here in Barcelona, there is so much more to try! Catalan cuisine is a good mix of seafood and meat based dishes due to Catalonia’s proximity to both the sea and mountains (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 to are spring onions or leeks. Eaten during the season, which is around 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 a short noodle, similar to macaroni. Sometimes, squid ink is used, leaving the noodles with a dark colour and giving the dish a different taste.
Crema Catalana – a rich custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel (think Creme Brule)
Mel i Mató – A type of creamy cheese similar to ricotta, served with honey. Mató cheese is similar to ricotta and is made from whey. It was very popular in medieval times, where it was served on its own or with scented orange flowers.
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!
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 hear 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 current Spain. Technically, foreigners are not expected to know any Catalan, but 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!’
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 our monthly guide here!
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La Merce – Held for a week in September every year – THE biggest party to hit Barcelona and probably Catalonia during the year. Originally a religious celebration of the Virgin of Grace, the fiesta (or more appropriately festa) now includes a whole range of Catalan traditions such as Castellers, the Catalan Wine Fair, La Sardana as well as a variety of music performances. This creates a mad and fun atmosphere. Check out our coverage of the event last year through our series of blogs last year starting here
Dia de Sant Jordi – Catalonia’s answer to Valentines Day. Instead of 14th February, it is held on 23rd April, and rather than focussing on lavish presents between loved ones, Sant Jordi is considerably more traditional. The man gives his lover a single rose and the 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. Rumour has it that this is the day where Catalonia makes almost half of its total annual book sales!
National Day of Catalonia – Held on 11 September, this day commemorates the defeat of the Catalans 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! It is also worth mentioning that it is one day where you won’t here any Spanish except from foreigners and will see almost every building with a Catalan flag!
As with any culture, Catalan culture has it’s own traditions. As a foreigner, you may find some of them rather odd but you will not forget them once leaving Barcelona!
The Catalan burro (The Catalan donkey) – The ‘national’ symbol of Catalonia. Their take on the bull as a symbol of Spain. It’s origins lie with a breed of donkey 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…..
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!
La Sardana – this is a traditional dance of Catalonia said to have links with Catalan nationalism. I have included a link to a video of this dance below! If you want to see a Sardana dance in Barcelona, you can see it during some festivals or at the Teatre Mercat de les Flors theatre (I would recommend checking their website beforehand at www.mercatflors.cat)
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!