Before we had kids — you know, when we got to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, or so it seems in glowy hindsight — we went on vacation whenever we found an intersection of cheap airfare and unused vacation time. Then (and I bet this isn’t an unfamiliar story) we had a kid and travel abruptly stopped. What with all of the upbeat stories of angelic children on airplanes, enthusiastically staying seated for 8+ hours and effortlessly adapting to new time zones and cuisines, I can’t imagine how, can you? Plus, between naptimes and nappies and strollers and sippies and snack cups, wouldn’t we just be spending a considerable amount of money just to find a new group of strangers to apologize for our kids-being-kids to?
Fortunately, a couple of years in, reality set in too: we’re parents, we have kids, we’re not getting any younger. We don’t wait to wait 20 years to see the world again, so going on kid-adjusted vacations is still better than staying home. I’m so glad we did.
What’s a “kid-adjusted” vacation? It’s going to be something different to each family. For us, it mostly means making sure every hotel and apartment for a summer trip has a pool (likely the part they’ll remember most). Traveling with another family with similar vacation priories (do things, but not too much) and children of similar ages has made it wildly more enjoyable. But mostly, it means doing a whole lot less. So, no, we didn’t make it to [name the top-tier restaurants wherever we went], we didn’t see [quiet exhibit in a big museum], we also missed [the thing you’re about to send me an all-caps email expressing your disappointment over; I agree, it would have been lovely] but we got to Spain (I’d never been). We walked the streets, we ate the potato tortillas and paella and patatas bravas, we drank the vermouth and gin-tonics, we saw the coast, we swam in the ocean, and we had a fantastic vacation.
I’ve attempted to round-up some of the place we went and some of the places I wished we’d gotten to on this page. As with my recommendations from other places we’ve been, please remember that I’m very much a non-expert. I went on a 12-day vacation and this is really just the tip of the iceberg of things that one can do in Catalonia. But maybe it will get you daydreaming too.
I realize we are getting on in tomato season, but one cannot travel to Catalonia without falling in love with tomato bread. Besides, it’s not fall yet so I am calling at least a 9-day moratorium on pumpkin spice, at least in my Smitten Kitchen kingdom.
Pa amb tomàquet, also known as pan con tomate or as we call it here, tomato bread, is a staple of Catalan cuisine, although it is known all over Spain. It’s eaten for breakfast, as a tapa, with dinner, or basically any time you wish. Every restaurant has it and more often than not, it comes out with a dish and isn’t something you need to separately order. To turn it into more of a meal, you can top the bread with sliced jamón or anchovy fillets, or serve it alongside chorizo or a potato tortilla. Could you put an olive oil-fried egg on it? Yes, and I hope you do.
While it sounds incredibly basic — bread, usually but not always toasted, with a raw tomato half rubbed over it, seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes raw garlic is rubbed on the bread before the tomato — in any recipe, the fewer the ingredients, the more the quality matters. Make this while it’s still tomato season. Make this with the olive oil you’ve been saving for something special.
The bread is rustic and crusty, like a short, wide baguette. Pan de cristal is traditional, but uncommon outside Spain. I use ciabatta at home, but a baguette will also work. There is even a traditional tomato used (tomata de penjar) which is mature and juicy and somehow just the right size for a split piece of bread. If you can find campari tomatoes (about the size of golf balls), I’d consider those the closest frequently available at U.S. grocery stores. But any peak-season, juicy, flavorful tomato will work.
There are two primary methods to make pa amb tomàquet, the first is as I described above: toasted bread with tomato rubbed onto it, seasoned with olive oil and salt. To our delight, there are restaurants that will send out the bread, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt out on a plate for you to make your own. In the less traditional method, which I understand you see more outside Catalonia (correct me if I’m wrong), the tomato is grated on the large holes of a box grater, seasoned with salt and olive oil, and is then spooned on toasted bread that you may or may not have rubbed with a garlic clove. This method also yields a thicker tomato layer, closer to bruschetta.