The Mercè festivities they deserve a lunch and/or a dinner in style. And what better way to do it than paying homage to the patron saint of Barcelona with some of these dishes born in the city.

    To do this, we have turned to Núria Bàguena, who has explained (almost) all the secrets of these elaborations. Few people know more about the subject at hand: a graduate in Humanities, she researches the evolution and history of cooking, has written the books ‘Cuinar i menjar a Barcelona (1850-1900)’ and ‘De l’antiga Roma a la teva cuina’, among others, and is a professor of culinary heritage, a lecturer and curator of popular culinary exhibitions.

    So you only have to choose which of these 12 Barcelona dishes you’re going to sink your teeth these days. Bon appetit and enjoy the holidays!

    1. Bomb

    A lid that has the place and date of birth: La Cova Fumada, in Barceloneta, 1955. It was the work of Grandma Maria, the grandmother of the current owners of the business. “The first version had meat with pine nuts.” Magí, the father, was very funny selling them. ‘Alioli’ and hot sauce with oil and cayenne and… the rest is secret. Double batter? An Andalusian fry? Who knows. “One day, a neighbor named Enric tried it and said: ‘This is the bomb.’


    2. Zarzuela

    A festive dish that began to be served at the end of the 19th century, when restaurants began to open in Barcelona. Zarzuela was then a very popular musical genre because it was fun, and that is why they gave this name to the dish, which they considered as good as a zarzuela. In the ‘fondes de sisos’ (establishments that are considered the forerunners of the current popular restoration of the city and that served traditional cuisine in abundant portions at a very good price) they prepared the zarzuelas in three acts: a portion of a king prawn, two mussels and a squid. All sautéed with oil, onion, tomato, salt, pepper; a short and good juice. And with humor they called the zarzuela with lobster opera.


    3. Monkfish soup

    Another very Barcelona creation. And in this case, popular because it was eaten in many houses in the city. Hence, the recipe has some variations: you can prepare the raw fish and make the ‘fumet’, or make the ‘fumet’ with the strained sofrito and chopped almonds and garlic. You also put bread and bring the pot to a boil, or boil rice and put in the shredded monkfish (normally it is made with the monkfish head).


    4. Barcelona-style sea bream

    María Mestayer de Echagüe (Bilbao, 1877-Madrid, 1949), also known as Marchioness of Parabere, was a Spanish gastronome, writer and businesswoman who wrote several cookbooks and culinary studies that were republished after the war due to their great success. In one of them, ‘The Complete Kitchen’, the Barcelona-style sea bream appears, which is made in a saucepan over low heat: half a kilo of fish, chopped onion, garlic, hazelnuts, saffron and parsley, oil, milk, salt and pepper.


    5. Parellada rice

    Juli Maria Parellada was a nobleman from Barcelona who went to eat at the Suís Restaurant, and there he had the custom of ordering a rice casserole with all the fish peeled, cut and boneless. The waiters, when singing the order in the kitchen, said “a rice for Mr. Parellada!”, and over time the name was shortened until it became “a Parellada”. The dish ended up becoming fashionable among the other customers and the Suís chef, Joan Matas, incorporated it as a star dish that spread to other restaurants in the city. According to the journalist Lluís Permanyer, this dish was created around 1902. It has other names: ‘sense feina’ (without work), ‘sense entrebancs’ (without obstacles), ‘senyoret’ (they said it in the popular and cheap ‘fondes de sisos’)….


    6. Cannelloni

    Juan Antonio (Giovanni Antonio) Ardizzi opened the Beco del Racó in 1815 (it is not clear if it was in Carrer de Boters, in Plaça Nova or in Capellans), where many point out that the first cannelloni came from there. In 1903, the French brothers Charles and Michel Pompidor opened Maison Dorée at number 22 Plaça Catalunya, where they served cannelloni that caused queues of people to take them home. Ramon Flo founded a “pasta” company in 1898, which in 1911 began to manufacture cannelloni plates in the factory on Borrell Street (until then they were imported from France) marketed under the Los Pollos brand, a name that changed in 1914 by El Pavo due to a judicial warning from some French who defended the company La Poule. By making their preparation cheaper thanks to the El Pavo plates, cannelloni became even more popular and in many houses they began to cook them for Sant Esteve and other special days. Later, the Barcelona-style cannelloni acquired its own profile thanks to the tomato sauce and bechamel sauce.


    7. Sarah Cake

    The Sara cake was created on behalf of a lover of Sara Bernhardt, an actress who acted in the city between 1883 and 1895. He wanted to give her a unique and personalized cake, and the result was a Genoese sponge cake filled with butter cream and covered with laminated almonds. Given the popularity that the cake reached, it became a magnificent base for celebrations of all kinds, also as an Easter cake that is decorated with chicks and feathers. Only from the 30s of the last century did the monkeys begin to be sold, understood as chocolate figures.


    8. Enquesadas

    There are references to the enquesadas from the 19th century, but in today’s Barcelona there is hardly a trace of them. It is a short-crust pastry that is shaped like tetilla cheese, is powdered with icing sugar and filled with a meringue that is not as sweet as a meringue. The filling is more towards the base, so that it is more airy at the top. Fortunately, there are still those who make them, such as the Cusachs pastry shop, where they have been available since they opened their workshop during the first half of the 20th century. So they were the grandparents of the current owner, Glòria Cusachs, who currently, together with her team, prepares them every Monday (and some Wednesdays too) and puts them up for sale. There are customers who only go that day to buy them.


    9. Massini Cake

    Angelo Massini (1844-1926), an Italian singer nicknamed the “angelic tenor” who performed at the Liceu and the Principal, was a much-loved character in Barcelona. He even has a dedicated street in the Les Corts neighborhood. The city’s pastry chefs wanted to pay tribute to him with a three-layer sponge cake: cream, truffle (this arrived in the 20th century) and burnt yolk.


    10. Balls

    There are already horchaterías in Barcelona since the 19th century, whose owners came from the Valencian Community. Some even dressed up in regional costumes to sell their authenticity, like Tío Nelo, in the 7 Portes building (he was a neighbor of the restaurant and closed in 1890). Bolados were also sold there (La Colmena, in Plaça de l’Angel, still makes them): they are sugary and spongy pastries with flavors that are diluted in fresh water to give them flavour. An old-fashioned drink (it was given a touch of lemon juice or dried anise) that at that time was like an industrial sugary soft drink of today.


    11. Pajamas

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    Another dish, in this case a dessert, from the 20th century (1951) that was born, curiously, from a mistake, when some marines from the United States Sixth Fleet ordered a Pêche Melba at 7 Portes. As his accent was difficult to understand, Paco Parellada, responsible for the restaurant, did not make that dessert, but an interpretation based on the instructions of the military, who explained what it was like. And the result was a creation based on flan, fruit in syrup, ice cream and cream that was inspired by the Pêche Melba.


    12. Nougats

    They arrive from Alicante to Barcelona in the mid-19th century, so they can be considered a Barcelona snack, according to Bàguena. On special dates such as Christmas, Alicante nougat vendors came from their land to the Catalan capital and settled in the doorways of wealthy houses to sell their products, such as Planelles Donat in Portal de l’Àngel and Cucurulla. Many of them ended up staying permanently.



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