Buenos días, bonjour, and bon dia!
Andorra is one of Europe’s smallest countries, nestled in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain. The principality shares its official language, Catalan, with the neighboring Spanish region of Catalonia. While restaurants of specifically Andorran origin seemed hard to come by here in Boston, we soon figured out that we’d be able to take advantage of some delicious Catalan dining. But as for finding things to do, Andorra proved to be our most challenging country to date. There are few internationally famous people from Andorra, no feature films have been set in Andorra, and no one in Boston seems to be from Andorra. Would we really be able to entertain ourselves for the better part of a weekend?
Although I’d had a department event which kept me at my university later than usual on Friday afternoon, Jess went ahead and whipped up this recipe for Catalan style vegetables with a homemade Romesco sauce (minus the almonds). After our delicious dinner, we sampled our version of a traditional Catalan dessert of cheese and honey called mel i mató. Rather than the traditional mató cheese from Catalonia, we used a locally available cheese called quark which is said to be very similar. The cheese was fluffy with some tang, like Greek yoghurt. That evening, we watched Honour of the Knights (2008), a film adaptation of the classic Spanish novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The artsy production was very peculiar, to say the least, but it allowed us to appreciate the beauty of the Catalonian countryside where the filming took place. Furthermore, the actors spoke Catalan—the same almost-French, almost-Spanish dialect that is still spoken in Andorra today. On Saturday, we started our morning with a traditional Catalan breakfast of pan con tomate (or bread scraped with the juice of a plump tomato) accompanied by a traditional Spanish cheese called manchego. Having learned that most Catalan people eat not one but two breakfasts, we savored some more mel i quark a while later. Although Andorra also comes up short on YouTube documentaries—not even Britain’s intrepid cultural ambassador Michael Palin seems to have visited the territory—we managed to find a short introductory video to watch later that morning: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZH3aZcqjh4Q For lunch, we had intended to dine at a Catalan style eatery in the South End called Las Ventas, but arrived only to find a handwritten sign on the door: “Closed for Private Event.” Unfortunately there were no other Catalan or Spanish restaurants open for lunch in the area, so we went to the closest alternative, a Venezuelan restaurant, though we can’t find any real connection between the arepas we ate and Catalan food. Having enjoyed the warm weather with a hike down Boston’s Southwest Corridor linear park to Jamaica Plain and back, we finally got a taste of genuine Catalan cuisine at Toro, a popular tapas restaurant also located in the South End. After putting our names in for a table, we sauntered over to the bar, where Jess and I both ordered traditional Spanish cocktails: for me the calimocho, red wine mixed with cola, and for her the tinto de verano, red wine with lemon soda. Once seated, our first tapa was the escalivada Catalana, a dish of smoked eggplant, peppers, onions and tomato. Even though we had started the day with Jess’s delicious pan con tomate, we decided to check out Toro’s take on the traditional bread: The third Catalan dish was for me alone: croquettas de bacalao, or salt cod fritters with lemon rings and alioli. We couldn’t pass up the house speciality, grilled corn on the cob smeared with alioli, lime, aged cheese and pepper, even though we weren’t sure whether the dish was Catalan in origin: After concluding our meal with some churros (a pastry popular in Spain, France, and the Americas) sprinkled with sugar and served with a bowl of dipping chocolate, it was time to pay a visit to that small border region—no, not Andorra itself, but Tufts University! Like Andorra, the Tufts campus occupies a hilly area between two larger territories (Medford and Somerville) and boasts its own post office, police force, etc. Although the dean of the university’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service is the former U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra, our visit was for a public screening of the 2013 film Her. On Sunday morning, Jess whipped up some more homemade tomato bread for brunch before we started to prepare our final Andorran recipe, a Catalan flatbread with spinach and onion. (We left out the pine nuts.) We wrapped up the weekend by eating a bit more mel i quark and watched a highlight reel of Andorra’s entries in the Eurovision Song Contest, the popular European battle of the bands in which Andorra has participated since 2004. Our Andorran weekend introduced us to a lot of good food but brought some frustrations as well. Although we had expanded our focus from Andorra to Catalan culture in general, our choice of local activities and films still seemed limited in comparison to the other, larger countries that we had previously explored. We don’t anticipate having the same problem next weekend, however, as we are planning to take a detour to the largest country of all—Russia.