Stuff Catalans Do: Mar i muntanya, Mató, Montserrat

Mar i muntanya

‘Sea and mountain’ is a type of dish that combines ingredients typical of mountain areas (meat, sausages, game etc) with fish and seafood, as in arrós mar i muntanya

For example:

  • pollastre amb llagosta – chicken with lobster
  • pollastre amb escamarlans – chicken with crawfish
  • calamars farcits de carn – squid stuffed with meat
  • rap amb cansalada – monkfish with bacon
  • galtes de porc amb sípia – pork cheeks with cuttlefish

Also, the concepts of mar and muntanya are key to finding your way around Barcelona, which we actually managed to do long before GPS or Google maps. The first time I looked at a Google map of Barcelona, I got completely dizzy – it made no sense.  When visiting parts of the city I know less well, I usually get completely disoriented. How to get home? Where to find the bus stop? ‘Just tell me which way the sea is,’ I wail. “On és el mar?”

From the old A-to-Z of Barcelona I bought when I first arrived to the big paperback guide distributed by the Ajuntament in the 1990’s to the online one at Barcelona’s layout is stylized like this: the sea is a straight horizonal line across the bottom of the page. The horizontal streets are parallel to the sea, and the vertical streets perpendicular. So, down is mar, up is muntanya. Sideways it’s the two rivers:  Besós or Llobregat. So when directing someone to the Pedrera, Passeig de Gràcia 92, you’d say: it’s on the corner of Passeig de Gràcia and Provença. Which corner? Muntanya, Besòs.

BTW, the Ajuntament map is incredibly useful because there’s are dropdown menus on the left for you to put all sorts of stuff on it  – bus stops, Metro stations, traffic direction, car parks, pharmacies, city wifi hotspots… and lots more.

Mel i mató

Mató cheese drizzled with honey (mel) – a popular traditional Catalan dessert. Even better with a few strawberries or walnuts. Mató is a soft fresh cheese made from cow or goat milk, no salt added, similar to ricotta or curd cheese. The mató from Montserrat is particularly well-known. You can use mató for any of those recipes that require fresh cheese, mascarpone,  ricotta, etc.


One of the things I found most odd when I first came to Barcelona was the very common name Montse. Okay, so Montse was short for Montserrat, but why were half the women in my English classes called ‘jagged mountain’?

La muntanya de Montserrat, just 59 kilometres from Barcelona, is Catalunya’s number one landmark, an amazing ensemble of crags and peaks visible for miles around. High in its folds is a Benedictine monastery containing the sanctuary of the Virgin of Montserrat, a Black Virgin, also known as ‘la Moreneta’ (the little dark-skinned one aka black madonna).

Identified by some with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend, this is the spiritual heart of Catalunya, and a pilgrimage centre to which football teams, athletes and assorted Catalans ascend (ideally barefoot) when their prayers have been answered by the miracle‑working Virgin (the patron saint of Catalonia, hence the millions of Montses). The age and origin of the wooden statue itself is shrouded in mystery.

Montserrat is also a paradise for hikers, climbers and the city‑weary: a funicular takes you far away from the tourist kitsch around the monastery to the top, where you can wander around in the sun, pick thyme and lavender, and gasp at the views (you can see Mallorca on a clear day).

And for your pub quiz:  The Caribbean island of Montserrat was named after the mountain by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

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