Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spanish food 101: Calçots

The title of this post is a little misleading as the tradition of eating calçots is not really Spanish, so much as it is Catalan and, as some of you may know, there is a great difference between the two!  However, for the purposes of this post, I am going to put aside long-standing cultural and political differences and delve right into a description of this very tasty, very fun to eat, Catalan food.   

Calçots are green onions (or scallions) that have been charred over a grill until almost black on the outside.  As  calçots are plentiful during the late winter months, friends and family usually gather together at this time of year to barbecue them as well as a variety of meats (normally chicken, beef and sausages) and spend a few leisurely hours drinking red wine or beer, eating some grilled meats, and devouring countless charred green onions.  This gastronomical event is called the Calçotada.

This past weekend, the Professor and I were invited to a Calçotada by some of his colleagues from the university. Although Calçotadas are typically held outside in the countryside (given that they normally produce a lot of mess and given that open land for grilling is not easy to come by in a metropolis like Barcelona), we decided to cheat a bit and have a restaurant do the grilling for us.

We quickly learned that there is some skill required in eating a calçot.  First, a heaping pile of rather unappetizing looking burned and wilted green onions are served to you in a clay roof tile.  The restaurant also thoughtfully provides you with bibs, gloves, and wet naps.  Each person grabs a handful of calçots and peels the burned outer layer off revealing a white bulb.  You then dip this long bulb into romesco sauce (a sauce made of tomato, garlic, olive oil and nuts) and then tilt your head back and slowly lower the long, dripping, bulb into your mouth.  You can now see the point of wearing a bib, right?

After you've stuffed yourself with these charred green onions, you are normally served a platter of grilled meats, bread with tomato and garlic, a variety of ham and sliced sausages, and plenty of red wine and local beer.  You can easily spend the entire day eating which as a matter of fact, we did!  All in all, it wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday.

If you want to see a short video clip of a Calçotada, click on this link to see Anthony Bourdain's experience.

(Top photo: Barcelona Photoblog. All other photos: Kiana @ The Barcelona Story)


  1. sounds amazing!! I'm glad you are getting to experience fun cultural things, and glad I get to read about them!

  2. Sounds delicious actually! I love scallions! They're always surprisingly flavorful. Now...the scallions in the picture look much arger than what I'm used to... Is that because they are or because I'm crazy?

    1. I don't think these are the same scallions as the ones you're imagining. They do taste like them but the Catalan variety are much thicker. You are crazy though but for other reasons. hehe :)

  3. @ Nedita: Thank you! We're glad too!