Track down a calçotada for a true taste of traditional Catalan diningFeatured March 11 Words by Regina Winkle-Bryan
PHOTO © TIM WHITE
Tucking into burnt onions might not sound like the most appetising lunch, but it's worth catching the end of the calçot season this month to experience a true culinary ritual. The sweet, leek-like onions are blackened on a barbecue or open fire and served throughout winter across Catalonia, creating strong feelings (and plenty of messy faces) wherever they're eaten.
But this is no ordinary meal. The consumption of calçots is called a calçotada, and is usually a lunchtime affair. The feast begins with wine, bread and around 20 calçots per person, charred, tender and traditionally served steaming on a clay roofing tile. Twenty may seem like a lot (especially given that calçots are usually eaten as a starter), but Pedro Fuentes Castillo, owner of Restaurant L'Antic Forn (28 Calle Pintor Fortuny, tel: +34 (0)93 412 0286) says that he's used to serving up many more than that. Fuentes Castillo also says that diners should stand up to eat, dipping their calçots in creamy romesco sauce before tilting their heads back and lowering the lot into their mouths. It's great fun but not the most practical way to eat an onion, and most restaurants furnish diners with bibs and plastic gloves to protect them from the worst of the mess.
Once the tile has been cleared, the main course begins. Barbecued meats such as lamb, rabbit and butifarra sausages are brought to the table, along with grilled vegetables and white beans. When diners begin loosening their belts a notch, waiters know it's time to bring out the cava, desserts and coffee. All of this feasting will set you back about €30 per person, making a calçotada a thoroughly reasonable indulgence.
You'll find calçots served in restaurants all over Barcelona and the surrounding countryside, but the best place to eat them is Valls, a town just over an hour's drive from Barcelona. Valls is the birthplace of the calçot tradition, and a calçot festival is held here every January, complete with a calçot-eating contest. Consuming calçots is more than a meal - it's an event, a traditional way to celebrate winter, family, friends and, of course, those long, green onions.