It tastes like a sweet onion and it looks like a leek, the most popular catalan meal from January to April, Calçot, will make you get your hands dirty if you happen to find yourself in the middle of the Calçotada experience.
Every winter, almost every catalan enjoys the Calçotada -the complete meal based on Calçots and grilled meat- at least once. There are many festivals around Catalonia where local people gather to cook and enjoy this tradition, being the most popular event “La Festa de la Calçotada de Valls” – The Sweet Onion festival in Valls.
If you visit Barcelona in winter, check out for celebrations in the areas you are visiting, because there could be a Calçotada around the corner!
The Calçots harvest is an elaborate process that requires up to three plantings and pull outs throughout a harvest that lasts several months and has to be gathered at the precise moment, generally between November and April.
To obtain the authentic taste of calçots, they must be flame-grilled until charred. In big gatherings, a fire is set from wood sticks on the ground and big grills are used to cook long rows of calçots at once. Some people use old metal bed frames as grills to cook as many calçots in a row as possible, but then the problem is to find the way to turn them over!
Once cooked, calçots are served on terra cotta tiles and eaten after peeling off the charred skin. But, before you hold it up and prepare to devour the long onion, don’t forget to dip it in the delicious Romesco sauce. Traditionally and accurately prepared, Romesco sauce has a very particular taste. It is based on roasted tomatoes, red peppers, almonds, hazelnuts, garlic and olive oil. Some like it hot and at some chilly peppers and mint as well.
Traditionally, calçots are a standing eating meal, eaten with no other cutlery than your own hands and an average of 20 to 30 calçots is calculated per person except, of course, in the Valls Eating Contest, where the record was set last year at 275 calçots!
The Calçotada tradition dates back from mid 20th century in Valls (Tarragona), when an Artists Club used to invite cultural and artistic personalities from Barcelona to their celebrated calçotada. The guests from the capital helped spread the tradition and, in the 60’s, the first restaurants located in masias (typical catalan farmhouse) started to offer the Calçotada experience to their clients. Nowadays, calçots can be found almost in every restaurant winter season menu and the travel agencies have included Calçotada in their tours as a cultural and gastronomic attraction for visitors.
Peel it, dip it and enjoy it!