Every February, in deepest, darkest Winter, restaurants all over the Catalan countryside load up their grills with a rather unusual vegetable and churn up huge bowls of rich, Romesco sauce, to host a fun food fiesta known as the Calçotada.
Calçots are not unlike a large, fat spring onion, which when grilled over hot coals soften and become sweet and sticky. The centre of the onion slipping easily from its blackened outer layers is then dunked in garlicky romesco sauce before being dropped vertically into the mouth for a fun and tasty food tradition enjoyed by Catalan families and visitors alike, every winter.
It is quite the sight. Salsa Romesco, is a special sauce made from dried red peppers, nuts (usually hazelnuts and almonds), garlic, vinegar and olive oil that is typical of Tarragona, the region where this tradition started.
At a real Calçotada, a 3-4 course menu is usually served, looking something like: a cream of artichoke soup or pan con tomate (coca bread rubbed with garlic and tomato), Butifarra (Catalan sausage) and Crema Catalana (the Catalan's version of Creme Brulée), with a pile of Calçots as the main event.
It is simple fare but is generally an excuse to gather with friends and family on a Sunday, drive out to a country restaurant, eat a lot and laugh as you get covered in charcoal, and start to smell like fire and onions.
Recently passing through Tarragona on our way south from Barcelona we stopped off for a Calçotada before we left the Catalan region. As plant based eaters we opted for a 'Teja' (roof tile) which is a piping hot pile of calçots served on a hot terracotta roof tile to maintain heat as you work your way through the lot.
You are provided with a Calçotada kit when you order, containing a bib, plastic gloves and extra napkins – all of which you look at wondering how on earth you could need so much stuff for a few grilled onions, but need them you will.
It is messy, hilarious fun with the added game of seeing who can eat the most calçots. Siestas afterward are unavoidable and you will potentially not eat for 24 hours following your Calçotada, so they are quite the memorable experience if you find yourself in Catalonia in Winter. And we highly recommend that you do.
The Most Famous Calçotadas in Catalonia
Address: Carrer de la Font F, 14, 43813 Masmolets
Telephone: 977 60 59 60
Restaurante El Rodavi
Address: Av. Can Nicolau, 47, 43881 Cunit, Tarragona
Telephone: 977 94 39 54
Hours:1-4pm; closed Monday
Hostal Restaurant Grau
Address: Pere el Gran 3, Santes Creus, Tarragona
Telephone: +34 977 638 311
Hours: 1-4pm; closed Monday
Font Les Planes
Address: Carrer Vallvidrera a Sant Cugat, 08017 Barcelona
Telephone: 932 80 59 49
Hours: 9am – 7pmSunday to Thursday; 9am-11:30pm Friday & Saturday; closed Tuesday
Address: Carrer Gran de Gràcia 57, Gràcia
Telephone: +34 932 187 370
Hours: 1-4:15 & 8:30-11:45pm; closed Sunday & Mon. evening
Make your own Calçotada at home!
Want to try calçots but can’t make it over to Spain before the season ends? Try this pasta sauce to get the flavour of a Romesco sauce (the best part of the Calçotada is the sauce!) and taste a little bit of Catalonia right in your own kitchen!
Cycling Rentals Smoky Romesco Pasta Sauce
Serve with your favourite pasta shape or some zucchini noodles for a low-carb option.
-Vegan, Gluten Free.
Written by Vanya Maplestone
Vanya and her husband Enrique are part time cycling tour guides, and full time eaters. They take photos of food, their bikes and pretty places. See their plant based recipes at www.wonderlandfood.online and follow them on Instagram: @Wonderland_Food & @Wonderland_Locations