How to eat calçots
Handsome Catalan man eating a calçot

What are all your Catalan friends doing next Sunday? From November to April, chances are they are meeting for a calçotada, a traditional fiesta consisting mainly of calçots, that is, sweet onions typical from the Valls area (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 porrón instead of using a normal glass. Just remember you can’t touch the porrón with your lips, you must drink from a distance, so the porrón 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 tapas 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 called salvitxada 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 allioli to the menu, as it accompanies meat very well. Allioli is a Catalan word meaning all (garlic) and oli (olive oil). For a homemade allioli, just pound garlic, extra virgin olive oil and salt in a mortar.

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 porrones!

calçots on the barbeque

If you want to learn more about calçots, I recommend visiting Valls during their Gran Festa de la Calçotada

Read more:
Cafe culture in Buenos Aires
Can you learn Spanish in Catalunya?
Piqueteadero: Colombian barbeque

About the author

Marta Garcia grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and has also studied in Belgium and the UK. She works as a professional translator, translating English, French and Italian into Spanish and Catalan.