In Catalonia, autumn means wild mushrooms. Market stalls display a dazzling variety of edible fungi of all shapes, sizes and colours. This is our pick of restaurants whose chefs bring out all the rich, complex flavours of these seasonal delicacies, as well as the markets that sell them so you can try your hand at your own recipes.
Where to eat them
This outwardly unassuming restaurant boasts one of the best seasonal menus in Barcelona. Run by owners Jordi and Pedro with all the savoir faire and good humour of long experience, it specialises in Galician seafood, the freshest fresh fish and delicious cuts of beef. But the trick is to look out for the daily specials, which depend on what’s available at the market – always the most logical approach when it comes to wild mushrooms. Their homemade botifarra de perol, a traditional pork offal sausage served with wild mushrooms, is spectacular, as are their ous de reig - Caesar’s mushrooms - served with foie gras.
It’s not actually inside a market, but Casa Lucio captures the spirit of Barcelona’s market eateries. It’s a cosy space with a vintage aesthetic, where you can eat tapas-style at the bar or in the small dining room at the back. Lucio himself is the master of ceremonies, reciting the dishes of the day (which are prepared offstage by his wife Maribel) and recommending wines to accompany them – their wine list is one of their strong points. The menu varies from season to season and from day to day, but the specials are always fresh, and always delicious. This is the place to try more unusual mushroom varieties: white-fleshed llanegas, in a tart orange and truffle escabetx marinade; scrambled eggs with greixa, a creamy yellow mushroom with curly tips; or salt cod carpaccio with clams and chanterelles. For real fans, there’s their barrejat de bolets, a wild mushroom gratin with horn of plenty, yellow foot and tiny Finnish shiitake, baked in a truffle béchamel.
Italians love their fungi, and although from a Catalan perspective they seem to focus on just two types, those two are possibly the best of all: porcini and the white truffle – the Alba Madonna – one of nature’s little miracles. Daviano, a graphic designer by training, opened I Buoni Amici (‘Good Friends’) in the early ’90s, so he could dedicate himself full-time to his real passion: food. His fantastic pappardelle pasta with duck ragout and fungi porcini is a fixture on the menu, but now that the white truffle is in season, look out for special dishes that pay homage to the most intense – and expensive – of autumn flavours.
Catalans tend to consider themselves the greatest wild mushroom-lovers in the world. It’s true, the region is rich in different edible species, and collecting them is hugely popular, for some almost an obsession. But they have serious competition: in Japan, mushrooms have been considered a delicacy for hundreds of years, and their cultivation has been raised to fine art. At Koy Shunka you’ll find the ultimate fusion of these two traditions: fresh Catalan wild mushrooms prepared and served in a Japanese style, in one of the city’s most exciting restaurants.
The name evokes the private restaurants of the Cuban capital La Havana, the paladares, family-run businesses that serve homemade food in private houses, and the informal atmosphere and the unfussy traditional cooking give this restaurant a genuinely homey feel. The hearty aromas of their dishes of the day attract a clientele who can sniff a filling meal at a reasonable price from streets away. You’ll find uncomplicated Catalan cuisine: wild mushrooms with scrambled eggs, the classic grilled rovellons – saffron milk-caps – as well as fricandeau, meatballs and even pigs’ trotters, all served with wild mushrooms.
On the Ramblas, at the entrance to Carrer Escudellers and directly in front of Bar Cosmos, there’s an imposing statue, a popular meeting place - and pigeon roost. It commemorates Pitarra, the pen name of Frederic Soler, a 19th-century Catalan playwright. Make your way a little deeper into the Gothic quarter and you’ll find the house where he used to live on C/Avinyó, now a restaurant dedicated to his memory, and also to the best of Catalan cuisine. It’s a pillar of the Barcelona restaurant scene, and proudly serves dishes that are hard to find elsewhere: civet of wild boar, monkfish suquet with ceps and prawns, and partridge in wild mushroom sauce.
If you want the best ingredients, you go to the source. But since most Barcelonans can’t make it to the forests of the Pyrenees to pick their own wild mushrooms, they rely on markets like La Boqueria to bring the forest to the city. That’s where you’ll find Quim, the quintessential Boqueria eating place, whose menu is based directly on what’s available from the stalls. Pull up a stool to the tiny bar for a mushroom feast: their wild mushroom timbale with foie gras and fried egg, baby squid with golden chanterelles, or porcini and prawn risotto with black horn of plenty mushrooms – all against the backdrop of the Boqueria market and its colourful fauna.
Like wild mushrooms themselves, which can be found in the humblest home-cooking and the most sophisticated cuisine, and travel from the dampest corners of the forest to the most sumptuous tables, there are restaurants that combine the earthy and the luxurious – and achieve spectacular results. Tram-Tram, at the heart of the swish Sarrià district, is one such, a Barcelona classic constantly reinventing itself to keep pace with the times. A traditional town house, elegantly refurbished inside, is the perfect frame for a sophisticated take on Catalan cooking: arròs de colomí – rice with squabs and mushrooms – creamed wild mushrooms with soft boiled eggs and essence of foie gras, or the cep and Iberian ham croquettes.
Where to buy them
If you're on the hunt for seasonal mushrooms, set your brain on this path: the Boqueria, wild mushrooms, Petràs. The most high-profile vendor of wild mushrooms in Catalonia, Llorenç Petràs, opened Bolets Petràs (Stall 867) four decades ago in the city's central market. They've learned from experience not to "balance the books until January – this is not an exact science and the orders come from above". Between local and imported produce, Petràs carries a stock of 26 different types of mushrooms.
In Fruites i Verdures Labrador (Stall 168), Josep Labrador marks a difference from Petràs in that he is committed to the wild mushrooms from the local land and refuses to import them. In his many years of experience he's also had time for passing on his wisdom, and he shares recipes with other wild mushroom enthusiasts.
The other wild mushroom specialist in Santa Caterina is Juan Carlos Torrent. In Fruites i Verdures Selectes Torrent (Stall 161), as in Labrador's shop, they sell mushrooms all year round. Torrent believes the balance to having an excellent season has to be precise: "There can't be excessive wind, heat or cold. Rain is yet another factor. And depending on the climate, there can be three seasons a year." Torrent recommends getting acquainted with the pink-tipped coral mushroom, "a mushroom that can be combined with any other species – it's very good, aromatic, and works in any stir-fry or omelette".
Although Fruites i Verdures Fina (Stall 63) sell mushrooms throughout the year, and although mushrooms from the rest of Europe are similar to the Catalan variety, Fina believes that there is a difference: "Ours are usually pine mushrooms. They are much more palatable. We can tell the mushrooms from the rest of Europe by their shine, they're cleaner and softer. And above all they don't have the flavour ours have."
Fina is also a strong supporter of the pink-tipped coral mushroom: "It's quite ugly – looks like a claw – but it goes well with meats, chickens and other game." Another of Fina's specialties are dried mushrooms: "In summer, mushroom lovers look to the dried varieties, and the kings are the morels and the wild mushrooms from Burdeos. If you put them in water for a full day, they're practically like fresh-picked."