Paella at Can Pep near Siurana Lake

The pristine, blue gem that is the Siurana Lake offers a wonderful escape from the sticky, salty seawater and looming influx of summertime tourism on the beaches of Barcelona. It’s a place to get away and enjoy fresh mountain air, while sunning on a dock, surrounded by silence. Every once in a while a family or two will set up camp on the narrow pebble beach or settle around the smooth boulders scattered alongside the water. A local group of teens might bring a radio or play a remix of last summer’s hits. ♬Yeah, you never said a word. You didn’t send me no letter. Don’t think I could forgive you… A welcome soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon shared with a few likeminded folks. No peddlers kicking sand in your face as they saunter around selling massages or mojitos. No staticky electropump booming from the nearby chiringito.

10988511_3059495806386_5684748933514450460_nIt’s the type of place that makes one hungry just being there. And so much sun and clean water somehow makes everything taste better. One option is to bring a picnic and enjoy it with a cold beer from the canoe rental shop near the entrance of the main beach. Another is to plan ahead and get a table at Can Pep, only a few steps up from the road that descends to the water.

That means call ahead, even if an hour before. My friend and I neglected to do so and the attitude with which we were received reflected that, heavily. But they seemed pretty nice to everyone else and the place does seem to get quite full, so this time I’ll take the hit for the less-than-courteous service. While waiting for our table, we sat outside on the lush, leafy green terrace with an ice cold beer and some chips to snack on. When everything was ready they ushered us back in and sat us at a table with a generous carafe of house red wine, part of the midday set menu served as default (unless the kitchen is told otherwise). 12First came a gargantuan plate of salad, probably meant for 5+, that we sent back to save room for the paella that Can Pep is most known for. The paella appeared next, portioned appropriately for 2–3. The table next to us shared a gigantic pan between 10. Theirs was of seafood, as they had called ahead two days prior to request it. The mussels, prawns and clams were probably shipped over from nearby Cambrils, a city by the sea. Ours was a slightly more mountainous version with green and red peppers, onions and tender hunks of rabbit mixed in with the chewy bits of baby cuttlefish. So, another classic example of mar i muntanya, Catalan surf ‘n’ turf.

As someone who virtually never ate rabbit before moving to Priorat, I can’t seem to get enough of this protein. It’s as delicate as chicken, but not as boring. It’s lean, but because the fat is so evenly distributed and not because it’s not there. The skin crisps up, providing a salty, crunchy canvas for seasoning and the flesh divides naturally into smooth bundles of fiber that are a joy to chew. And the rabbit maintained these characteristics in the paella, remaining crunchy on the exterior and delicate within, even while cooking under a blanket of Bomba rice. Rabbit went well with bits of cuttlefish, which, having lost most of their marine essence, provided more texture than flavor to the dish. The veggies were brought to a point where they were tender, slippery and caramelized but still had that signature cell wall snap when bitten into. The rice was fine, though a bit overcooked and mushy in many patches where it should’ve been more crunchy (most importantly, the patches scraped off the sides of the pan). It was also significantly over-salted, which both my friend and I noticed and reluctantly admitted to noticing after the first few bites. One redeeming quality of the paella is that it was prepared on a charcoal grill, a preparation for which Can Pep is known in and around the Priorat. The wood and smoke imparted a nice depth of flavor to the rice.

43This was far from the best paella I’ve had, but it left us feeling full and happy after an afternoon in the sun. We surprised ourselves by managing to finish the entire carafe of wine as well, sauntering back to the water to catch a few more rays after our meal. After a day on Siurana lake, Can Pep offers what you need and doesn’t take you too far out of your way to get it. A bit of shade, a comfortable country tavern vibe, and wholesome, hearty, no-fuss food to help you regain your strength and recuperate from the sun.

5

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