The Catalan cuisine is world-renowned, with some of the top restaurants of the world situated in Catalonia, and iconic dishes and tapas forming a part of any foodies’ visit to the region. One of the strangest and most fun gastronomic delights is that of the calçotada: a feast where friends or families get together to eat vast quantities of calçots – something between a large, sweet spring onion and a mild leek.
Yes, the humble onion has actually been of my highlights of my time in Barcelona because the calçotada feast is unlike anything else I had ever experienced before. Traditionally, dozens of calçots are strung on a wire then placed above a fire of vine branches, sending a distinctively sweet smoke into the air. The barbecue chars the outside of the onion and sweetens the inside, and when ready they are bundled together and wrapped in newspaper or put into rounded terracotta roof-tile to keep them warm.
Many say that the most important part of the feast is the orangey-red paste sauce that accompanies the calçots. This can be bought in supermarkets (you’ll see ‘salsa calçots’), or, more preferably, made at home using garlic, tomatoes, almonds, ñora peppers (in English, anybody?), bread and olive oil (of course). Most keep their recipes a closely guarded secret, but you can find a few on YouTube.
A calçot is taken in one hand at the top, and using the other hand, the onion is squeezed from the top down to remove the charred outer-layer in one smooth action. Then, this calçot is dipped into the salsa and eaten in the most phallic way possible! It’s a messy affair. You wear bibs and end up with blackened hands and salsa-faces, but this is part of the fun and atmosphere.
Whilst the calçots are the main attraction, they are actually only the first course. Typically, there is a second course of barbecued meats and sausages and dessert of crema catalana.
The calçot season roughly runs from winter to early spring and you can find restaurants in Barcelona city that offer calçots, but of course the quality, quantity and atmosphere will be better if you can get out to a rural restaurant (for example Masia Can Borrell), or do it yourself in a barbecue area in Collserola.