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TV Review: Spain…on the Road Again – “Catalunya”

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Barcelona is the jewel of Catalunya, or Catalonia, province in Spain. Catalunya is in the northeast sector of Spain, flanked by the Mediterranean, Andorra, and France. The food from this episode is primarily the fruits of the Med and the best that the rich land has to offer.

Barcelona has been given short shrift for many years, at least up until about 10 or so years ago, when it was suddenly rediscovered. Spain was the poor cousin of the EU countries up until about 15 years ago, when many businesses discovered the lower cost of doing business in the country, along with the gorgeous, lengthy coastline, and the sun, which is what gives the land the bounty we see during this series. The wines, the vegetables and fruits, and of course the pork and seafood which define Spain. The influx of other European businesses had the added bonus of allowing those Europeans coming into the country to extol the country’s beauties and bounties. Now, suddenly, property values shot up, music festivals began cropping up, and tourism rocketed. The property boom brought many Euros from the wealthy Europeans who were now becoming familiar with the country, and the rest is history, as they say.

I spent a week in Barcelona about ten years ago, but unfortunately I was working and got little chance to see the sights. I think I saw more of the most famous sites in this episode than during the week I was there. Spain is noted worldwide for its artists and architects, and Barcelona is filled with examples of both.

Sometimes, when you’re watching a TV show, you’ll look at the clock and note that you’ve been watching an hour, while only three or four minutes has elapsed. This series is quite the opposite. You’ve watched it for three or four minutes and suddenly the episode is ending. I stated that I saw more during the show than during my week there. Yet, I was irritated when the end credits began running, as I felt they’d hardly scratched the surface. But I’m not complaining, because it gives me that much more reason and determination to return to Spain.

Episode Six of this series begins with us seeing some of those sights I mentioned, but oh so briefly. La Pedrera and Casa Batllo are both Gaudi creations and are briefly seen as we make our way to El Penedès, just south of Barcelona, which is the wine-growing region. The Cava grapes are famous for this area, and are used to make the Spanish version of Champagne, called Cava. We’re treated to a tour of the Cava cellars of Segura Viudas, which uses the Méthode Champignoise, the Champagne Method, of processing their grapes and making and bottling what will eventually become Cava bubbly wine. This includes two fermentations, first in a giant vat, then in the bottle, which are turned in three movements twice daily, all by hand. During this “jiggling” process, the condition of the wine is carefully checked, and care is taken to insure that all the sediment is kept in the neck of the bottle when it is reinserted into its rack, with the neck kept at the low point, for the sediment. When the Cava has finished “working,” the upper portion is frozen to allow the sediment to freeze into the ice, allowing it to be easily extracted. Then it’s bottled, corked, and the cork wired, just as French Champagne is. The exact same methods, the exact same grapes and the exact same processes used to make French Champagne are used by Segura Viudas, but the difference shows in the pricing. While typical French Champagne sells for $50 per bottle, or $300 per bottle, Spanish Cava often sells for less than $10 per bottle.

From here we move a little further south to the region known as Sant Carles de la Rapita, which is touted as having the best seafood in the country. El delta de Ebro, the Ebro River delta, meets the Mediterranean here, imbuing the riches of the sediment into the Med to mix with the Med’s own riches. The combination brings a bounty of fish and other sea life to the area, which in turn allows the fisherman to harvest that bounty. We’re shown how mussels and oysters are grown on ropes dipped into the waters of the Med, and then we’re given a quick cooking lesson by Gwyneth Paltrow and the Iron Chef. The pair whip up a literal feast in a matter of minutes at Bodegas Renè Barbier, including prawns, espadrillas, and a Catalan spinach dish, along with the grilled fresh vegetables we were introduced to in the previous episode.

The shows are broken down into segments, with the hosts pairing off and going in different directions, then meeting up at some point. In this episode they meet up back in Barcelona at a tiny restaurant called Inopia. It’s owned by the brother of the most famous chef in Europe, and acts as a sort of annex to the chef’s restaurant, which always has a lengthy waiting list, with bookings required to be made months in advance. The smaller Inopia manages to put out the same quality and wonderful flavors as those in the restaurant, while at the same time allowing more people to partake of the creations of this family. Everything in Inopia is served in sample portions, small dishes with just enough to allow the entire table to partake, and no more. But dish after dish is brought out, each one impossibly better than the last. Michael Stipe joins the host quartet at Inopia, along with the chef’s wife, and his brother who runs Inopia, explaining each dish as it’s devoured. Nothing lasts more than a few seconds, it seems, before a waiter is quickly removing the small, now empty dishes and quickly replacing them with other delectable morsels of fabulous creations. It’s an almost frenetic display at the table, and the diners are obviously reveling in the richness of tastes crossing their palates.

This is a wonderful, lighthearted, but information- and enjoyment-packed show, that absolutely dazzles the eyes. I repeat my warning of last week: Be sure to watch this with a full stomach!

Also, be sure to check the website for additional information, video clips, recipes, and more.

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About Lou Novacheck

  • Crazyhair

    At first I thought this might be interesting because of Spain, wine and food. After watching it the only person with any personality is the traveling chef. The so called actresses have the personality of a gain of sand! The other guy who is along I have no idea who he is as well. All three seem to be along for the ride and have no clue about anything except posing for the camera.

  • bliffle

    I saw this episode, they keep repeating it for some reason, and thought it was terrible. But it’s easier to take with the sound off. Too much celebrity worship. Too stilted.

    For a better experience keep your eyes open for a Rick Steves episode on barcelona and Catalonia.

  • Richard

    Lou mentions ‘espadrillas’, one of the ingredients on the grill at Bodegas Renè Barbier. They caught my ear too, but I’ve never heard of them, and google.es only brings up images of shoes! Did Mario get the name wrong? Did anyone recognise them?

  • Lou

    Sorry for the delay on posting this followup.

    The actual name for them is espardeñas, or sea cucumbers, but they’re commonly called espadrillas, apparently because of their appearance. That’s the explanation I got from PBS, anyway.