Tomato Bread is a Passion in Barcelona

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Visitors to Barcelona will soon find that the locals have a passion for 'Pa amb Tomaquet', also known as 'Pan con Tomate', sometimes 'Pan a la Catalana', or simply, in English, 'Tomato Bread'.
If you wonder how such a sophisticated people as the Catalans can get excited about so basic a dish, simply try it in Barcelona.
Not only will you enjoy it, you'll also be on your way to understanding what makes this great city tick.
  'Pa amb Tomaquet' is, at its most basic, a slice of country bread with ripe tomato squeezed and pressed on to it, finished with some olive oil and a little salt.
For those used to eating the tasteless red fruits that emerge from Dutch hothouses throughout the year, the appeal will be elusive.
    Try a real tomato from the Mediterranean, a sensational taste in its own right, and then combine it with a bread that's more than a cut above Mother's Pride, and the appeal becomes clearer.
Add a touch of garlic, a good quality local olive oil and sea salt, and everything drops into place.
This is real food, Barcelona food!   You can now add a little mystique to the mix.
Catalans will debate endlessly whether the bread should be a fresh country loaf, or one that's a day old, or even older.
Or should the bread be lightly toasted? Is garlic an essential ingredient or should a slice of Serrano ham be added? Will any Spanish olive oil do, or should it be a local Catalan oil?    Then there is the question of who does the work.
Should the 'Pa amb Tomaquet' be assembled by the restaurant or bar staff, or should the ingredients be brought to the table so you can do the work yourself, exactly as you know it should be done? Debates can go on endlessly, all adding to the interest of this simple dish.
  Surprisingly, 'Pa amb Tomaquet' hasn't a long history that goes back many centuries.
It's thought to date back only to 1800's - it was mentioned in an 1884 cookery book - but its origins are unclear.
Leopold Pomes, who wrote the definitive 'Theory and Practice of Bread with Tomato' in 1984 claims it was invented by a painter who wanted to combine the colours of the sunset on an edible base! This sounds fanciful and others reckon it was more likely a local looking for a tasty way to use up the previous day's bread and a glut of tomatoes.
  What we do know is that the tomato first came to Spain in the 16th century.
It originated in Peru and soon found it's way to Spain on the galleons bringing back the gold and silver of the New World.
It was called the 'Golden Apple' in south west France and, curiously, this name has stuck in Italian - Pomodoro.
  For several hundred years, the tomato was simply a decorative plant as it was thought to be poisonous! It was, however, the Spanish who first dared use it in cookery.
Before long it spread across the Europe and became the basis of cuisines all around the Mediterranean, and further afield such as in Hungary.
  Next time you are Barcelona, do try some 'Pa amb Tomaquet'.
It won't be hard to find.
Once you are aware of this simple dish, avoiding it will be more of a problem! As you eat it, perhaps accompanied by a local botifarra sausage, or perhaps goats' cheese, or anchovies, ponder how such a simple dish can be so good, and how a piece of bread rubbed with a ripe tomato can create so much debate.
It may well be one of the 'gastronomic' highlights of your city break in Barcelona.
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