We’ve visited the cuisines of some pretty large countries in our world-romp ‘Expedition To’ series. Now it’s time to go micro. In fact, we’re going to Andorra, one of the smallest independent sovereign states in the world. It’s colourful food traditions owe a lot to France and Spain…
Escudella: The national dish of Andorra…
Landlocked Andorra has an official area of only 181 sq. miles / 468 sq. km and is surrounded by the Pyrenees mountains on three sides. It’s situated on the border of France and Spain and its culture – though heavily influenced by those much larger neighbours – retains its own distinctive touches. The same can be said for its cuisine, which has developed largely in response to its alpine climate.
Andorra is believed to have been created by Charlemagne, and became an independent principality in 1278. It’s survived as such through centuries of European unrest – especially between France and Spain – and became a member of the United Nations in 1993. It’s capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest in Europe, at at an elevation of 1,023 m / 3,356 ft.) above sea level.
Of special interest to us is the fact that Andorrans enjoy the longest life expectancy of any country in the world – 85.5 years. Their diet must have something to do with that!
On our menu today
Escudella: A hearty stew. This is Andorra’s national dish, characteristic of the hearty fare folks in this mountainous principality have developed to fortify themselves against the harsh weather. A special favourite for holidays, Escudella has a little bit of everything in it. It starts with a hambone broth containing pasta (large shells), beans and veggies (mainly potatoes and cabbage), and rice. Meats may include any or all of: chicken, pork, ham, meatballs, or sausages. Simmer the bone, meats and beans for at least 2 hours. Then remove the bone and add the cabbage, potatoes, rice and pasta shells, simmering until the spuds and rice are tender.
Cargols a la llauna: Snails. ‘Cargols’ sounds a bit like ‘Escargots’, which is snails in French. But the dish is actually an import from the nearby region of Catalonia in Spain. Snails are washed, purged and placed on a shallow tray (sheet pan).
They’re drizzled with olive oil and garlic mayonnaise, anointed with fresh ground black pepper and a pinch of salt, and bake for just a few minutes before finishing under the broiler. If Escudella wasn’t the national dish of Andorra, Cargols probably would be.
Trucha a la Andorra: Baked Trout. Yes, Andorra is landlocked. But, no, it is not waterless. In fact its rivers are richly endowed with freshwater fish, the favourtie of which is Trucha (Trout). In fact, the trout come so large there that some folks call them salmon!
The fish are customarily gutted with the head and tail left on, stuffed with fresh herbs and lemon slices, wrapped in bacon or thin slices of ham, and baked or grilled until the skin is crispy and the flesh is flaky.
Embotits: Literally, ‘cold (cured) meats’. But the term is usually used to refer to Andorra’s ‘national sausage’. It’s made both at home and at butcher shops and is found in every supermarket. It’s a simple recipe based on pork seasoned with salt and black or red pepper. But there are many variations – as many as there are cooks who make it! Embotits are usually hung and dried, and need no further cooking, but they’re often added to soups or stews, or other cooked dishes.
Cunillo: Rabbit. One popular game animal that’s plentiful in Andorra is the rabbit. It’s cooked in a variety of ways, but is most commonly disjointed and braised with tomatoes, onions, potatoes and white wine.
It’s as popular as chicken – perhaps more so.
Cannelloni Andorrana: An interesting dish that resembles more or less conventional (Italian influence) Cannelloni, stuffed with a meaty filling of minced lamb, pork and chicken.
It’s topped with a with a thick, rich (Lasagna-like) layer of Béchamel Sauce and cheese, and baked until the cheese turns golden brown. It’s made at home and offered in most restaurants.
Chicory Salad: While root veggies are king in Andorra during three seasons of the year, wild Chicory grows lush and plentiful on the country’s mountainsides in summer, and is popular as a salad. Combined with chopped nuts and bacon bits, it’s usually served with grated hard cheese on top.
Trinxat: Potato Cake. This traditional potato dish starts with mashed spuds mixed with finely chopped leeks and cabbage, and studded with small-diced bacon or pork fact (see photo, top of page). The mixture is then formed by hand into patties (cakes) and pan fried until golden. A favourite side dish or appetizer at big suppers.
A small sample from a large national cookbook…
In spite of its small size and overbearing influences from neighbours France and Spain, Andorra boasts a surprisingly rich food heritage marked by its own distinctive traditions. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few of the country’s favourite breads, desserts and beverages…
~ Maggie J.