There are many strangely wonderful traditions existing in Barcelona and across Catalonia today, from the pants-dropping Christmas caganer to the fire-waving devils of the correfocs, but of them all, the Calçotada is definitely one of the most delicious. Harvested throughout the winter season and into March, the spring-onion-like calçot is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike across the region, with the highlight of the biggest all-you-can-eat festival called the Calçotada bringing the month of January to a close.
There is no actual translation for calçot into English, only that it is a long onion, similar to a leek or scallion, but rather less bulbous. It is said that were first cultivated in Valls, Tarragona by a farmer named Xat de Benaiges, in the 19th century. Since then the calçot has become a popular meal in masias (farmhouses-turned-restaurants) from around January to April. They can sometimes also be seen in the restaurants of Barcelona, although the most typical way to enjoy the calçot is in a calçotada.
A calçotada is a festival whereby people from all over a particular town gather to cook and devour this tasty onion, with many locals partaking in the all-you-can-eat competitions. The most famous calçotada in Catalonia is held in Valls on the last Sunday of January. This year the event will take place on January 29th and will see masses of calçots being barbecued, dipped and devoured.
The traditional way to cook a calçot is on a barbecue, char-grilling the onion until the inside is softer and ready to enjoy. The blackened leaves are then peeled back and the calçot is dipped in a salvitxada or romesco sauce made with garlic, peppers, nuts and olive oil, before being dropped into the mouth, in a sword-swallowing fashion. Naturally this is a messy process, thus the use of bibs is generally accepted, if not necessary.
The calçots are typically downed with an accompaniment of red wine, served directly into the mouth from porrons: a type of long spouted glass. After the calçots have been cooked, a variety of meats and bread are placed onto the barbecue and shots of liqueur wash down the meal. As for the eating competitions – it is not unusual to see a whopping 200 calçots being consumed in 45 minutes!
If you are coming to Barcelona this winter you will have the opportunity to try calçots in many restaurants throughout the city. For example, Balmes/Rosselló bistro is located in the Eixample district of the city and offers a calçotada set menu for 24€.
However, if you would like a more extreme onion-related festival experience, head out to Tarragona on January 29th for the Gran Festa de la Calçotada in Valls. You can even stay in one of the many central Barcelona apartments, taking a day trip out to the town for the festival, as Renfe trains run from Barcelona to Valls on the day. Don´t forget to take some breath mints!