It makes you wonder how it came upon that an onion grilled to death could become one of Catalonia’s greatest delicacies. Yet the calçot, as this uniquely mild onion is know, is one of the most deliciously simple culinary inventions I have ever come across.
The spiritual home of the calçot ( an average mild onion grown in a bespoke way with earth piled along its stem which counts for its elongated shape) is Valls which is lies in the heartland of Catalonia, a twenty minutes drive from Tarragona. Tradition dictates that on the Sunday of the last week in January the GranFesta de la Calçotada is held, a real treat for anyone with hyperactive taste buds.
As soon as you enter Valls you’ll smell the calçots before you see them. The smoky, sweet aromatic, caremellised trail is everywhere, luring you in to the heart of the town, but not before you have passed a fantastic display of some of the best regional produce on sale at one of those gastronomic travelling markets which seem to spring up when ever there is a big event with a heady display of cheeses, sweetmeats, cured meats, roasted nuts and olives.
The Gran Festa de la Calçotada has been running for 32 years and the program includes several competitions held during the day: the best sauce competition (this is the “Salsa Calçotada Valls” in which you dip your peeled calçot in, and is just as important as the the calçot it self) the best grower competition and the “Who can eat the most calçots” competition, which has now become a bit of an international event of gorging endurance.
This is held in the main Plaça del Pati, and is watched by thousand as 20 hardy calçots eaters stuff them self with the slippery delicacy; they manage 3500 calçots between them . The winner is the one who eats the most calçots in the allocated 45 minutes. There is a Carnival atmosphere when the Gran Cercavila of dwarfs, giants, carriages pulled by horses and strange green fantasy creature make their entrance in to the square; human towers go up and calçots go down!
To join in the fun you can buy a voucher for 8 Euros which will get you a goodie bag containing about a dozen of ready charcoaled calçots, one small bottle of very palatable local red wine, a handy bib (this is messy eating), a napkin, a generous help of Salsa Calçotada, two slices of country bread and an orange for desert. Most will head for the many restaurants along the streets, other will eat along the makeshift table rows which have sprung up at every corner. Meet is grilled on large open barbecue and calçots roast away getting ready to become the next serving.
For more insight in to Calçots see the excellent article: Calçots: Not Your Average Onion by culinarybackstreets.com
Informative video about Calçotata
Photos of the day