Pantumaca, or tomato on bread is a typical Spanish tapa which you will find throughout the country, but especially in northern regions such as Catalonia. Should you ever travel to Barcelona go to one of the many bars in the city and ask for pantumaca for breakfast. It may seem strange at first but you won't regret it. It is said to originate from the custom of spreading olive oil on slices of bread and then sprinkling them with salt.
The combination of bread and olive oil has been present in Europe since the times of the Ancient Greeks. Already in the 17th century there was a recipe, perhaps the seed of the current pantumaca, however tomato was not one of it's ingredients yet.
The tomato comes from Latin America, and the conctact between the old continent and the new began at the end of the 15th century, however it wasn't considered an edible vegetable and many believed it was poisonous, so it was used more as a decoration for many years.
Tomato wasn't present in the Spanish cuisine until the 18th century. Perhaps one of the earliest references we have of pantumaca dates back to 1884, when it appeared in a Catalan cook book. It would soon spread throughout Spain.
There's a theory that says that it was in the agricultural world were pantumaca was created, to take advantage of a bounty harvest of tomatoes and thus soften yesterday's bread.
This hypothesis knocks down the widely held belief pantumaca's origin comes from the immigration from Murcia. According to this popular rumor the Murcian men who worked in the construction of the Barcelona "Metro " (subway, tube) in the 20th century, planted tomatoes next to the rails to be able to dip the dry bread in the vegetable.
Pantumaca is similar to the Italian bruschetta. The base ingredients are natural toasted bread, tomato, olive oil and garlic. There are many variations as there are tastes. Some people like to add serrano or Iberian ham or any number of ingredients. Despite being such a simple recipe, pantumaca is a highly revered dish, especially in the Spanish region of Catalonia, and it is considred to be one of the most representative dishes of the Mediterranean diet.
If you were ever to visit the Balearic Islands, which can be found to the East of the Spanish peninsular, you would see a version of this dish in bars and homes on the island of Mallorca. Here it is called 'pa amb oli' and they make it with a special type of tomato that grows on the island which is 'tomàtiga de ramellet'. This tomato is smaller in size when compared to a normal tomato and generall has a salty and bitter taste. The benefit of this tomato is that it has a harder and drier skin than most tomatoes and so will keep much longer than normal tomatoes, up to a period of six months!(
Pantumaca, or 'pa amb tomàquet' as it is known in Catalan, is a very common dish and is most often served as a tapa or ración. However, many people eat this Spanish dish as a snack during the day, or even as part of their breakfast. It makes a great side dish too. So no matter what you are planning to cook, pantumaca will be a great addition to your menu. Furthermore, it is made using old bread and other common ingredients making it a great choice for people wanting to stick to a budget yet still enjoy some authentic Spanish food.
Pantumaca is easy and quick to make and in Catalonia its consumption is almost a religion.