Calçotada: Amb la teula a la taula – With the roof tile on the table

Two things Catalans are very proud of (and justifiably so!) are their food and their traditions. A Calçotada unites exactly those two things: Originally used to describe a rural folk celebration in Catalonia in an area around Valls (a town in the province of Tarragona) nowadays it usually refers to the act and gastronomical event of eating Calçots. It really is an event, not without reason people say the first ingredient for a Calçotada is people. The public calçotada in Valls is probably the biggest one, with around 30.000 people attending.

The other main ingredient are calçots, which are a kind of  green onion (Blanca gran tardana) and are nowadays eaten in many Catalan regions in the end of winter and early spring, typically between January and April. The growing process is quite some work as the onions have to be covered with earth step by step, several times. This process is known as “calçar” and it is what gives calçots their name. Calçots have a more mild (almost sweet!) taste compared to common onions, have a longish shape and are between 15 and 25 cm long.

Traditionally, calçots are prepared in a special way: first, they are put on a big grillage and barbecued in the flames of an open fire. When the outer layer is completely black, the calçots are put on the table lying in a “teula” (a semi-circular roof tile) which has been heated before. This way, they stay hot for a long time, which is very useful, as eating them takes some time: you take one calçot at a time and hold it with one hand at the top end. With the other hand you pull off the outermost, burned layer. The tender inner part of the calçot is then dipped into a rich sauce, typically Romesco sauce or Salvitxada.

Romesco consists mainly of olive oil, almonds, roasted tomatoes, peppers and garlic but can also include things like onion and vinegar. Salvitxada is a special kind of Romesco which is thickened with toast which has been rubbed with fresh garlic. It is the typical sauce for a calçotada (also called salsa de calçots).

After dipping the calçot into the sauce, it is dangled into one´s mouth. The whole process is quite a messy one (and probably not the right choice for a business lunch or first date) and usually bibs are handed to guests for their clothes´ cleanliness´ sake.

Calçots normally are served as a starter. They are followed by a main course normally consisting of some kind of meat, served with bread and red wine or Cava. A normal portion contains 10-20 calçots per person, but don´t be surprised to see people eating many more than that. After all, with calçot season lasting only a couple of months, you cannot blame anyone for trying to eat as many as possible. The official world record is 306 calçots in a row, or in other words: 3755 grams of onion in one meal!

There is a great book about calçots and many other aspects, dishes, ingredients and traditions of Catalan Cuisine (which is also its title)!


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