The Romani population exudes art “por los cuatro costaos” – in all manner of ways – with its artistic tendencies also warranting recognition in the kitchen. As many as 30 authentic Romani recipes have been collated in a single cookbook, which highlights this creative streak.
Cod soups; lentils, green bean and pumpkin soup; sardine soup; gachas; and fish broth with breadcrumbs are just a few of the dishes that feature in the cookbook, containing around 30 of the most popular Romani dishes in Catalonia, although these dishes originate from all corners of Spain and even herald from as far as France and Portugal.
“Halar, cuina gitana en Catalunya” (“Halar, Romani cooking in Catalonia”) is the title of the book, which has been edited by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Autonomous Government of Catalonia), of which there will be 500 editions. The project was made possible with the participation of Romani collectives from various cities around Catalonia, and also counted on the collaboration of the Fundación Alicia.
The cookbook delves into the different dishes enjoyed by the Romani population in Catalonia – not through listing the different family recipes that are cooked at home, but also by presenting photographs of the different cooks involved in concocting the dishes.
Alfredo Reyes, a specialist in the Programa del Pueblo Gitano y de la Innovación Social de Barcelona (Barcelona Romani People and Social Innovation Programme) who has participated in this project, told Efe that “all they needed to do was preserve the recipes, because, at the end of the day, they’re not so different to those cooked by the non-Romani population”, although he noted the importance of conserving certain distinguishing items, such as gachas, which have roots in Africa.
In the book, teacher Manuel Fernández Cortés comments that music isn’t the only space in which the Romani people have made cultural and social contributions, with proof of this lying in the title of the book itself: “Halar”.
The word “halar” derives from the Romani “jallipén”, which in the language of the Romani people, literally meaning “to eat”. This word is now commonplace in Catalan, used to express a desire to eat.
The book underlines that Romani people consider cost to be a determining factor when deciding which naturally-occurring ingredients to use when cooking, “thus creating a cooking style based on making the most of what grows around you: a style which is sustainable in time and space”.
One of the products that is most synonymous with Romani gastronomy is fennel: a seasonal herb that is harvested and used in its entirety. Another is chicken, which is a very popular meat that features in many recipes featuring in the cookbook.
This is also the case for pork, viscera and giblets. Fresh fish, meanwhile, except for coastal communities, is not commonly used in Romani recipes, with cooks opting instead for cod and other types of salted fish.
Soups, stews, broths and casseroles are the traditional cooking styles that are associated with the nomadic traits of the Romani people, as well as boiling ingredients over a stove.
The Romani cookbook
The cook-book is split into four sections, each reflecting the way in which you eat the dishes: with a spoon, with a spoon and fork, with a knife and fork and with your hands.
The “with a spoon” dishes, for example, are those dishes in which the solid ingredients and liquids are brought to the boil and left to bubble away together in a pot for a fair while. These are usually highly nutritious, such as horse mackerel or green bean broth, fennel and bread soup stew or Catalan-style escudella, which includes chicken, pig ear and snout, chorizo, black Catalan butifarra sausage, veal and pig bones, ham and many other delicious ingredients.
Each entry includes a short story about who submitted the recipe, the ingredients used and the step-by-step instructions for creating the dish, alongside a photograph of what the dish should look like once it is ready.
Six discussion groups were created in the municipalities of Montcada i Reixach, Sabadell and Barcelona, in the Barcelona region, and Lleida, Girona and Figueres in the Girona region to help create the book, with a total of 26 Romani people also being interviewed from a wide range of backgrounds: Almería, Málaga, Aragón, Catalonia, León, Murcia and Navarra in Spain, as well as France and Portugal.
Once this first stage of the project had been completed, the kitchens of the Fundación Alicia held four sessions with the aim of reproducing the recipes. Around 100 dishes were concocted over the course of these four days, which was them trimmed down for the book.