Spain: Tomato Bread (Pa amb tomàquet, Pan con tomate)
Posted by Degan on August 2nd, 2012
After railing about the authenticity of the Sardine Can‘s tomato bread, I figured I’d better write about the real deal. Pa amb tomàquet is technically a Catalan tradition (it’s called pan con tomate in Spanish), but we ate it every day throughout Spain – in Andorra, in Cordoba, in Madrid, in Peniscola, and of course in Barcelona. When we planned our trip to Spain I was counting on eating as much jamón as possible – and in particular that elite type of Spanish ham, jamón ibérico de bellota - which wasn’t a problem but we weren’t expecting to love the tomato-smeared bread that showed up on almost every table as much as we did. It’s so simple that if you don’t have good quality ingredients, it’s terrible but it’s peasant food, truly, and tomatoes, olive oil and bread are plentiful in Spain. It’s so beautiful in its simplicity.
It’s basically a form of bruschetta but with the focus on ripe, regional tomatoes. This is how it works; take a piece of bread and toast it, then rub a cut slide of garlic over it followed by a very ripe cut tomato. Get as much of the tomato meat onto the bread as possible. Then sprinkle with salt and finish with some Spanish olive oil. Variations include toasting the bread on a grill so that it’s got a bit of char, pureeing the tomato pulp into a soup that you administer yourself (this was the popular format at breakfast buffets) or using rubbed tomato on un-toasted bread to form the base of a bocadillo sandwich.
Tomato bread isn’t really part of the tapas tradition but it is the custom in many places to bring out a small dish with every drink that you order and because it’s cheap and easy to make tomato bread often fits that bill. It also quite often accompanies a plate of jamón or cheese or sausage. That got us into trouble a couple of times where tried to order as many tapas as possible and didn’t count on the plate of carbs coming out with it. A delicious problem to have, in any case.
In addition to lunch, dinner and late-night, we also saw tomato bread at every hotel breakfast buffet. Being a DIY affair, the ingredients were laid out along with the other breakfast items; a toaster, a pile of bread, a bowl of pulped tomato, olive oil, salt and cut garlic. In some small towns we got a plate of toast with the tomato and garlic laid out (olive oil and salt were already on the table). None of these were my favourite, but the novelty of this didn’t wear off in the 3+ weeks we were in country.
The best tomato bread we had was at Tapac 24. They use a bread called “crystal” that is something between a baguette and a ciabatta - a long loaf of spongy bread (the better to soak up the tomato pulp), beautifully charred on the grill and doused in olive oil, super fresh, flavourful tomato and sea salt. We had this on our second day in Barcelona and I can still taste it. It was absolutely brilliant.
Our second favorite was at Pintxos in the Mercat de la Boqueria (and not just because it came plated with a botifarra sausage!). They didn’t use the crystal bread but another kind of thick, rustic-style bread that soaked up the tomato juice and olive oil quite well, and this one was also thrown on the grill before being topped with sea salt. There actually wasn’t very much tomato pulp on these – which made it different from most we had – but the flavour was so full in spite of it.
Cultural Fundamentals: Pa amb tomàquet is a great resource if you want to know even more.