If you pass by Catalonia between the end of January and the end of March you can’t miss this Catalan tradition of eating calçots.
This is a variety of scallion, also known as Blanca Grande Tardana originally from Lleida. By the end of the XIX century a farmer of Valls (near Tarragona) started growing this onions covered in earth in order to keep the edible part white and tender. The action of covering the calçots is known as calçar (to put shoes on), from which the name of the scallion. The calçots grown in this region are registered EU Protected Geographical Indication.
The best way to try this typical dish is at a calçotada, a popular feast usually held outdoors, one of the strangest, satisfying and somehow medieval-seeming gastronomic experiences in Europe.
The onions are usually directly picked from the garden and cooked over a charcoal vine barbecue, without even washing them. Little by little you can start feeling the sweet aroma filling the air and making everyone’s mouth water!
Essential accessorize is the bib you will be given, not to end covered in charred skin and red sauce during the meal.
When calçots are served, pick one, holding it from the top with your right hand, and with your left hand pull it from the bottom, careful not to burn your fingers; dip the onion into the romesco sauce (made of pepper, almonds, garlic and oil) and eat it with your head skywards. The charred skin will make your hands filthy and are usually left in piles on the table or on the ground, increasing the rough atmosphere.
Accompany the meal with a good purró (a special glass with a beak) of red wine.
Together with calçots are also served lamb and pork sausages, cooked once the onions are taken away from the barbecue. To end the meal, you will be served oranges, crema catalana (a kind of custard) and a glass of Cava. The whole feast can take about 3 hours, characterised by a wilde and full of joy atmosphere.
Having calçots in a restaurant can be a little bit overpriced for backpackers but it is worth it.
Youth Hostel Barcelona Urbany staff is not missing it and is going to a real calçotada next weekend!