Let’s Talk About Food: Costa Brava

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that one of my favorite parts of traveling is the FOOD. Even though eating out can prove to be tricky on a student slash backpacker budget, I always try to find a balance between preparing my own meals in hostels (like sandwiches, for instance), and trying the local cuisine. 

At the end of the day, I would rather spend my money on experiences rather than material things

To me, food is an experience. Some of my favorite experiences in my travels have involved food; eating gyros for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Santorini, Greece; finishing a whole, traditional, thin-crust margharita pizza in Naples, Italy; delighting in fresh ceviche on the Ecuadorean coast; devouring lamb and fig tajines washed down with mint tea in Essaouira and Chefchaouen, Morocco; and living off of fresh baguettes, cheese, chocolate, and wine in Paris and Switzerland

So while I didn’t eat out in Madrid very much because I’d already had the chance to hit up their excellent tapas scene two summers ago, I knew when I came to Costa Brava I just had to try some of their platos típicos.  But let’s start with their gelato. 

One of the first things that attracted me to Costa Brava was, you guessed it, their food

My favorite travel blogger, Adventurous Kate, posted a mouthwatering account of what she tried when she first visited Costa Brava back in 2012. I came upon this post while I was trip planning back in 2013 for my two-month jaunt around Europe, and ever since, I’ve wanted so badly to visit this region of Spain, one I’d previously never explored outside of Barcelona.

So let’s talk about this gelato. Kate raved about it in another one of her Costa Brava posts, so I was determined to find it and experience the supposed wonder that is Rocambolesc gelato.  Opened by all-star Catalan chef Jordi Roca, Rocambolesc offers six flavors that change seasonally, with a wide array of unique toppings that you can order in a standard cup or cone deal. 

For my first Rocambolesc experience, I chose to go with their most original flavor, called Green Sorbet, a blend of green apples, cucumber, basil, and mint flavors. Sounds weird, right? WRONG. It was one of the most refreshing servings of gelato I’ve ever tried.  For my toppings, I went with their recommendations for this particular flavor:  green tea-powdered pistachios, mint sugar, and candied eucalyptus. It was absolutely incredible. 

Since then I’ve tried the following combinations from Rocambolesc: coconut and violet-flavored gelato with fresh grated coconut, candied coconut chunks, and a violet flavored and violet sugar-coated marshmallow; baked apple gelato with caramelized apples, baked apples, and chunks of a flaky pie crust-like cookie; and last but not least, vanilla bean gelato with brownie chunks, caramel flakes, and chocolate sauce.

To say that I’ve become obsessed with this place would be an understatement. I’ve still got two more flavors to try!  Now let’s move onto some of their savory dishes, like patatas bravas and botifarra, for example (pictured above). 

I went to the adorable little medieval hamlet of Besalú last week and decided to go for some late afternoon tapas in one of their main squares. 

I tried these at the Trip Advisor-recommended Curia Reial; I’d tried the potatoes before in Granada, but I thought it was time I tried them in the region that made them famous. It’s a pretty straightforward dish: potatoes (probably fried) with a spicy, aioli-like sauce. So simple, and so delicious. 

The botifarra was a new one for me, which I’d ordered at the waiter’s suggestion: a typical Catalan preparation of sausage stewed with mushrooms and a hearty sauce, not unlike a pot roast. Served with bread, I lapped up every last bit of that sauce. Another dining out experience that was well worth it. 

On my weekend trip to the beautiful beachside town of Tossa de Mar, I couldn’t resist going for patatas bravas again. 

I also tried, once again at the recommendation of my waitress, boquerones de bacalao: essentially deep-fried cod bites. AMAZING. I took one bite and couldn’t stop smiling. What better place to try fish than the beach in Costa Brava? 

The next day, I went for a late lunch of tapas at one of the fancier joints in Tossa, la Taverna de Tossa. Right down the street from our hostel, I went with a Finnish girl who was working reception and we shared a most delectable meal (of which I lament I forgot to take pictures!) that I will do my best to describe to you now:

Prawns grilled in red garlic sauce: easily the BEST shrimp I have ever had in my life. I was embarrassingly amateur at prying apart the meat from those little rascals (which were served whole, antennae, little legs and all), but my oh my were they scrumptious. 

Fried squid: essentially calamari, but only very lightly fried in only a small amount of batter so that you could really taste the squid meat. Once again, like the calamari I’d had in Madrid, it was served without your standard North American aioli dipping sauce, but again like Madrid, this calamari didn’t need it. It was a standout dish all on its own. 

Croquetas con espinacas y queso: croquetas with spinach and cheese, round, bite-size, deep-fried morsels of heaven. 

I didn’t think my food ventures in Costa Brava could get any better. And then I went to Tapas el Portal for my last night in Tossa.  I’d passed by this cute little spot every morning on my way to the beach, and after reading rave reviews on Trip Advisor and checking out their menu, I decided to go for it.  I started with the chef’s tapa special for the day, a cool twist on gazpacho, the traditional chilled Spanish soup. 

This one was a purée of beets, strawberries, and herbs, with little chunks of cod, asparagus, and caviar. It was TO DIE for. I thanked the chef, Giuseppe, personally; I couldn’t even believe how flavorful and refreshing it was. I then moved onto their swordfish carpaccio, served with pickled vegetables and a special kind of green and yellow salt. The waitress had described it to me as a typical Mediterranean ceviche, and my goodness it was easily some of the smoothest, tastiest fish I’d ever had.  For my “third course” (that is, third generous tapa portion), I tried their pork cheeks with lemon, and potato and lemon purée. I’ve always been a fan of slow-cooked beef and pork cheeks, but my goodness, you guys, I couldn’t rave about this dish enough. 

Each time the waitress and manager came by to ask how I was doing, I couldn’t stop beaming; I was just so happy; and beyond thrilled with my decision to treat myself my last night in Tossa. 

Would you like to look at our dessert menu? my lovely Peruvian waitress Vero asked me. How could I not, after devouring each of her on point recommendations with more relish and excitement than I’ve experienced with a meal in a long time?  Vero’s recommendation? Portal’s peach tatin with raspberry sorbet and lychee foam. I mean, come on. Once again I was absolutely delighted, and thanked Vero and the manager, chef, and owner profusely for their service and for the stellar culinary experience they’d provided me with. 

Today is my last day in Costa Brava, and my goodness, has it been an unbelievable week. 

With the food, the people I’ve met, the hostels I’ve stayed in, and the beautiful and unique places I’ve been able to visit, I cannot wait to return. 

After my four-month study abroad in Granada, I never thought I could possibly fall in love with another region in Spain as I did with Andalucía. Girona and the rest of beautiful Costa Brava in Catalunya? You just may have proven me wrong.