Barbara is a friend of Expatclic. She moved to Catalonia one year ago. She tells us about calçotada, a lovely Catalonia tradition she has just discovered.
When I arrived in Catalonia almost a year ago, I discovered a genuine cuisine very close to my taste.
In January, an acquaintance told me “the calçots season is about to start, we should organize a calçotada“. I had never heard of it before. I nodded and smiled, but I did not have much time to delve into the matter. I noticed that many restaurants, though, both in the centers and along the roads of the Western Valles where I live, right at that time began to display signs with the words “Calçots” in clear letters. I realized that there was a lot more to it: We were not only talking about a dish, but of a real tradition.
Calçotada is a very convivial event, of peasant origins, widespread throughout Catalonia, which marks the end of winter: groups of friends or large families get together to eat the calçots, the meal then continues with grilled meat and a good local red wine.
But what are these calçots? They are a local variety of sweet, elongated onions that grow from the end of January to the end of April. They are grilled on a high flame, so that the outer layer burns and the inside remains soft, then wrapped in sheets of newspaper and left to rest to keep them warm until mealtime. They are served accompanied by the delicious romesco sauce, made with almonds, roasted tomatoes, red pepper and olive oil. Every family and every restaurant has its own secret recipe for this accompaniment that has a sweet and round taste: In some cases dry biscuits are added, in others the proportion of ingredients varies and the true connoisseurs can spot the best version.
Forks and knives are banned, calçots are eaten with your hands only: you take a spring onion from the shared dish, remove the burnt outer layer, soak it well in the bowl of romesco sauce and finally bring it to your mouth from above, with a technique that must be learned. Grown-ups and children compete for those who manage to eat more and time goes by cheerfully. To protect clothes from highly likely stains, given the mode of consumption, a large bib or napkin is usually employed. In restaurants, a protective kit consisting of bibs, gloves and refreshing wipes is often provided.
The city where this dish originated at the end of the nineteenth century is called Valls and is located near Tarragona. Here, to celebrate the beginning of this lucky tradition, the Great Festival of the Calçotada del Valls is organized on the last Sunday of January, and it has an extensive program of tastings, popular representations, folk dances and competitions related to the consumption of this particular vegetable, like the competition for the best romesco sauce or the one for best producer of calçots. Of course lots of ember is provided to cook and then eat all together!
Those who pass in Catalonia in April still have a couple of weeks to taste them, otherwise try it next year!