Half of my family comes from Cambrils. My grandpa was born here in 1905, when the place was still a tiny fishing town. At the time, most villagers would hardly make a living either as fishermen or farmers, and the main distraction when not at work, would be strolling down to the harbour to chat with some friends and gaze at the Mediterranean together. A time when nobody from outside the village seemed to have noticed yet about this little paradise.
It wasn’t until the tourism boom of the 80s when the village authenticity and charm became more apparent to an increasing number of visitors. Attracted by the prospects of an emerging economy, many villagers started working in the tourism industry, contributing to the rapid transformation of Cambrils and changing things forever.
Those years saw my grandpa back from a long work-related ‘exile’ that took him and his family across many cities, always far away from Cambrils. Old and tired from years of continuous hard work, he bought a small piece of land and built a house, just a few miles away from the town center. This is the place where I spent my childhood summers, sitting down on the villa porch and eating Grandma’s delicious cake.
Cambrils is sweet. Not only because of my cake-related childhood memories but also because of its confectionary tradition. Still today, it is possible to find the traditional Coca pastry made by the expert hands of the local pastry makers. One just needs to walk into the family-run bakery opposite Sant Pere Church to taste the classic recipe. It’s simply delicious.
Cocas are very popular in Catalonia. They consist of a simple dough which is then topped with various ingredients. They can be both sweet or savoury and the number of varieties that one can find all over the region is pretty much endless.
Similar in concept to pizzas, some say it was the Romans who introduced this recipe during their occupation of Hispania. Whether true or not, analogous recipes exist in some form or another all over the Mediterranean. And they always respond to the same basic principle, a pastry base that holds some toppings, in this case some of the wonderful local produce from this area.
But there is much more to Cambrils than just cocas. The proximity with the Ebro river delta makes it an obvious place to enjoy rice-based dishes such as the traditional ‘arroz negro’ or black rice. This recipe uses squid ink to dye the rice until it gets pitch black. It is cooked and served with fresh seafood, and if you want to enjoy it at its best, then you need to visit Can Bosch (19 Rambla de Jaume I). This restaurant specialized in local cuisine proudly carries a Michelin star, granted over 22 years ago and never lost ever since.
Surprisingly for such a small town, Can Bosch is not the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Cambrils. A short walk from here, El Rincon de Diego (7 Carrer Drassanes) also holds a Michelin star since 2006. Run by Chef Diego Campos, it combines the best of both modern and traditional cuisine to offer a fantastic tasting menu where the fresh fish and shellfish from the nearby harbour are always king.
But there is a flavour that reminds me of Cambrils more than any other. A dish that can’t be found on the menu of any Michelin-starred restaurant. A regular recipe on my grandma’s repertoire and one that my mum still cooks on special occasions. It is called ‘fideos rossos’ (red noodles) and local fishermen used to cook it aboard the boats. It consists of small fried noodles cooked in a fish broth and served with aioli. Make sure you try it before leaving Cambrils. Possibly the best place to do it is Acuamar (66 Consolat de Mar), a family-run restaurant founded in the 70s that still today focuses on local produce and slow cooking.
Not far from here, another childhood memory brings me close to a restaurant that no longer exists. I still remember the excitement when my parents would announce a dinner trip to El Posit. The old establishment was without a doubt, my favourite one in town. Local fresh fish and vegetables, all part of the typical experience involving a very noisy Spanish bar. Back in the days, that was my idea of a perfect summer family night out.
These days, El Posit is just a past memory, although there is a new El Posito (3 Plaça Mossèn Joan Batalla) even more crowded than its antecessor and still serving some of the best ‘raciones’ in town. Here you can enjoy fresh oysters and mussels, garlic prawns, fried fish or patatas bravas. Not that Cambrils is the epicenter of tapas, but if you are craving for some, these ones are definitely worth a visit.