[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]e wonder if it pains a Barcelona native to be asked where to find good tapas. After all, tapas didn’t originate in the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region any more than paella did. Sure, we love a good bikini – gooey toasted jamon and cheese sandwich – but you haven’t been to Barcelona until you’ve tasted authentic Catalan cooking.

Even so, it’s too wide a topic to go into because there are so many elements that distinguish Catalan cuisine from the rest of Spain.

Pa amb tomàquet (olive oil-drenched crisp toast smeared with crushed tomatoes that just can’t be replicated outside of Spain because of the tomatoes used); rice and stews cooked with the magical foundation of sofrito – slow-cooked tomatoes, garlic and onions – and accented with aioli and picada (their kind of pesto); and the happy marriage of mar y muntanya (aka surf ‘n’ turf) barely crack the surface of what Catalan cuisine is, so we won’t even try.

Suffice to say that anything outside of Catalonia is a pale shadow of the real thing. Even as Barcelona’s cosmopolitan nature demands that it caters to all styles of Spanish and international cuisine, there are enough restaurants around that still hold fast to the cooking traditions of old. What is new is how it’s presented – in trendy surroundings or modern plates – by chefs who are clearly in tune with the flavours of the past, but are determined to bring them into the present and future.

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This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: Jaime Ee/BT. Main photo by Francesc Guillamet