What are many of your Catalan friends doing next Sunday? From November to April, chances are they are meeting for a calçotada, a traditional party consisting mainly of eating calçots, that is, sweet onions typical from the Valls area, in the Alt Camp comarca (county) near Tarragona.
So, how does the calçotada work? First, you and your friends gather in a masia (typical Catalan farm), preferably in the south of Tarragona. If you don’t have any Catalan friend whose family owns a country house, you can also go to a restaurant and ask for a calçotada menu. The main purpose of the calçotada is having fun with your friends, chatting, drinking wine, and eating with bibs! Yes, bibs! Bibs are mandatory, not only because eating calçots with its sauce is tricky, but also in case you want to drink wine with a porró instead of using a normal glass. Just remember you can’t touch the porró with your lips, you must drink from a distance, so the porró can be used by more than one person.
In a calçotada, we usually drink cava and red wine. Appetizers can consist of many things, including cockles, olives, roast hazelnuts, prawns cooked with olive oil and garlic, Iberian ham, Spanish omelette, bread and tomato with olive oil, fuet, and tons of other things. As you’re in Tarragona, the tapes may also include coca de recapte, a pie typical from this area, with roasted onions, tomatoes and pepper. You can also add some anchovies from L’Escala, simply, the best anchovies of the world!
Calçots are cooked over a flaming barbecue. After cooking them, they are wrapped in a newspaper to bring them to the table and they are served in a clay roof tile to keep them warm. So, you grab a calçot, and you’ll see a burnt onion, but, don’t panic, you don’t have to eat the burnt leaves! All you need to do is peel away the outer layers and dip the calçot in the delicious sauce made from a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts, tomatoes and olive oil.
The barbecue is also used to grill more food: bread, meat, artichokes and a popular dish called botifarra amb mongetes (sausage and haricot beans). You can add the famous Catalan sauce all i oli to the menu, as it accompanies meat very well. All i oli is Catalan for garlic (all) and olive oil (oli). For a homemade all i oli, just pound garlic, extra virgin olive oil and salt in a mortar… but obviously it isn’t as easy as it looks, there’s a millennial technique developed in Catalonia to obtain the perfect all i oli.
After all this food, I don’t think you can eat much more, but, in case you want something sweet, why not try a crema catalana?
I love going to calçotades because they are a perfect excuse for a day out with friends or family, and little children do enjoy the view of their parents eating with bibs and drinking with those weird things called porrons!
Note that calçots are also served in many restaurants across Catalonia, so if you can’t make it to Valls you can still taste this delicious onions in a cozy restaurant nearby.
(Extract from an article at @Marta at pocketcultures.com)
WHEN?: the season runs from November to April but the major event in Valls is held at the end of January
How to get there from Barcelona
Video: © wileygray