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Calçots in Barcelona

Planning on visiting Barcelona or Catalonia (Catalunya) in the winter or early spring? Make sure you don’t miss calçots or a Calçotada! A unique and festive barbecue centered around calçots, Calçotadas offer several fascinating features that will ensure it’s an experience you won’t forget. And calçots, an equally unique type of long, green onion, typically charred and eaten by hand, are rich with flavor and definitely worth your time to try.

Calçots in Barcelona

What is a calçot?

Those visiting Barcelona in springtime may have noticed an unusual amount of green onions (known as ‘calçots’ in Catalan) being sold in the superkarkets.


Made from onions grown under specific conditions to yield their unique, elongated shape, calçots are a typical Catalan dish and a must-try if you’re in the area. The Catalan way, they are grilled over a fire so that the inside is soft and the outside black.


The calçots are so special to Catalonia because of how the onions get their shape. In order for the scallions to get so long, Catalonian farmers will incrementally add soil above where they’re growing, so that they are forced to grow up toward the surface, as opposed to out, widening like most onions do.


Calçots play an integral role in Catalonian culture, and for good reason. Their delicious flavor aside, they represent much of what the region stands for: innovation and resilience in the face of adversity.

Calçotada

Calçotadas are traditional Catalan barbecues that take place from January to April, the focal part of the meal being, obviously, the fresh calçot course. Calçotada typically look one of three ways:

 

  • A group of family and/or friends gathering out in the country to cook and eat this unique vegetable. A common social ritual, this type of Calçotada is hosted at the house of a friend or family member, or sometimes a public barbecuing area. Calçots here are served more casually, often in newspapers or something of that nature.
 
  • Restaurants in the countryside that specialize in calçots. While the traditional setting for a calçotada is a masia, or a rural Catalan farmhouse concept like described above, you can still get a full Calçotada experience at a countryside restaurant as well. We’ve listed some great recommendations at the bottom of this article. 
 
  • Having them in a restaurant in Barcelona as a starter before a main course. While this is not the most authentic way to consume calçots, it’s still a great experience worth trying. There are plenty of city restaurants that put special care into their calçot preparation, a few of which we’ve also recommended below. 

Romesco or salvitxada sauce

It’s rare to see calçots served without a classic romesco or salvitxada sauce accompanying them. Romesco sauce originated from Valls, same as calçots, and consists of a roasted tomato and garlic base and any mixture of toasted almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, olive oil, vinegar, and nyora peppers (a small, round type of red bell pepper). It was originally intended to be eaten with fish as a dish, but started to be used as a sauce paired with calçots not long after its conception. Salvitxada sauce- also known as calçot sauce- is similar, although it is thickened by rubbing toast with fresh garlic, moistening it with vinegar, and pulverizing into the sauce. 

 

Sausages

Catalan: botifarras

Spanish: butifarras

Butifarras are another commonly served food at Calçotada. They are grilled pork sausages based on ancient Roman recipes, and, the Catalan way, you’ll typically see this offered with white beans after the calçots course. Butifarras are not just unique to Calçotada, however. You’ll see these sausages in markets, restaurants, and everyday homes year-round. They’re one of the most important foods of Catalan cuisine. 

White beans

Catalan: mongetes

Spanish: alubias

While you may not see white beans served at every Calçotada, they are typically offered, as mentioned before, as an option with the sausage after the calçots course. These beans are often called mongetes here, or “little nuns,” because of their pale nature, and they originate from the Phaseolus vulgaris bean, which came from the New World circa 16th century and is now the most common species cultivated worldwide. 

Bread with tomatoes

Catalan: pa amb tomàquet

Spanish: pan con tomate

This is a simple yet delicious dish, and a tapa that you’ll find at almost any Catalan meal or restaurant. Just bread with tomato, olive oil, raw garlic, and sea salt, it’s a perfect and refreshing balancer in a Calçotada. You’ll typically see the tomatoes in a rubbed, puree-ish form, so that it feels more like a thin spread, although nowhere near the consistency of a sauce. 

Potatoes

If you’re still not full after the calçots, butifarras, mongetes, and pan con tomate, the potatoes will for sure do the trick. Not anything too crazy, Calçotada potatoes are usually cooked simply. Cut into medium-sized cubes and oven baked with salt, pepper, and maybe some garlic or a similar seasoning. They are a classic Catalan dish, and never not enjoyable. 

Wine

Red wine is a staple during a Calçotada, but it is the drinking method, rather than the wine itself, that makes the event so memorable. During Calçotada, wine is drunk from a porrón- a special type of pitcher. It consists of a handle and a small, protruding spout for the wine to flow from. In true Calçotada fashion, it’s a common practice to attempt to fully extend your arm while pouring the wine into your mouth, without breaking the stream or spilling anything. 

 

Dessert

Lastly, make sure not to miss a classic Catalan dessert! The two most common at Calçotada are crema catalana or mató. Crema catalana, or Catalan cream, is comparable to a French crème brûlée. A custard topped with a layer of caramelized sugar, and made from milk, egg yolks, and sugar, it is widely enjoyed in the region. Mel i Mató, more commonly known as Mató, is another traditional catalan dessert: cheese and honey. The fresh cheese is made from sheep’ or goats’ milk, with no salt added, and it is served with honey drizzled over the top, or as a dipping sauce on the side. 

Sobremesa

Sobremesa is the Spanish term for chatting around the table after a meal is finished- an integral part of the authentic Calçotada experience. The traditional sobremesa can take hours. Tipsy & ready for a nap, Calçotada-goers will find that the conversations can be lively or calmer, covering any topic of life. While sobremesa isn’t unique to Calçotada, it is a unique part of Spanish culture, and something that should not be skipped, if you have the chance. 

Bibs and gloves

The last aspect of a Calçotada are the bibs (pitets) and gloves! You might be surprised to find you will not use a fork and knife to eat your calçots- be prepared for dirty hands, charcoaled chins, and the staying smell of smoked onions and meat. It might feel strange at first, but it is a part of the Calçotada charm, and, once you accept it, can be a quite fun practice. 

What do calçots taste like?

Calçots are typically considered by locals to be rich with flavor, although much of this taste has to do with the preparations and pairings of the food. Slightly sweeter and milder than a normal onion, their flavor is comparable to leeks or spring onions. Most people have described them as being much less overpowering than expected, so take that as you will. But they’re especially juicy when barbecued, and especially flavorful when paired with the famous romesco sauce. There is certainly a reason for their persistent popularity, and definitely a must-try if you get the opportunity. 

How to eat calçots

To eat a traditionally cooked calçot, you must wrap your fresh-off-the-grill barbecued onions in some type of newspaper, and then dip them in a nutty romesco sauce. And don’t forget to remove the charred outer layer of the onion before dipping! 

 

One of the key aspects to eating calçots lies in the quantity. In an impressive and, to a foreigner, surprising feat, considering their large size, it’s typical to see people consume anywhere from 20 to 35 calçots in a sitting. So if you’re attending a Calçotada anytime soon, prepare for this in advance!

 

The method in which people eat calçots is also very important. Traditionally, calçots are eaten by holding the onions upside-down high above one’s head, arm fully extended, head leaned back, and eating them in this same position. If you were wondering what the bibs and gloves are for, this is why! Cleanliness is definitely not prioritized during Calçotadas, so do not fret if some of the sauce or oils drip onto your bib mid-bite. 

Origins of the calçotada

The traditions of Calçotada began in the 19th century in Valls, when, according to the legend, peasant Xat de Benaiges made the first calçots inadvertently by burning some onions he was barbecuing. He discovered the inner layers were delicious, and the dish quickly spread throughout the region.

 

Other theories, however, suggest that calçots started much earlier. Within the past few years, a third century Roman painting has surfaced that appears to show a man eating “porrus capitatus” – a term that archaeologist László Borhy has concluded to be the Latin equivalent of calçots. Latin literature has also referenced this same “porrus capitatus” numerous times.

Gran festa de la Calçotada

The festival can be found at its height in Valls (a province of Tarragona, and the proclaimed origin spot of Calçotadas) at the end of January: the last week of the month is La Gran Festa de la Calçotada. You’ll find people eating the vegetable with their hands- and eating a lot of it. As mentioned before, a normal meal consists of 20 to 35 calçots.

 

Where to eat calçots in Barcelona?

It is possible to find places to celebrate the beloved calçot inside Barcelona, but to get the full, authentic experience, it is recommended that you try one of the barbecues in the countryside, such as Castelldefels, Sitges, or Valls.

 

Barcelona

Can Travi Nou

At Can Travi Nou, you’ll find not only a classic and high-quality Calçotada, but a beautiful 17th century farmhouse to eat it in as well. It’s a bit on the expensive side, at anywhere from 25 to 70 euros a meal, but the beautiful setting and amazing food more than make up for it. Reservations are required, and they fill up fast, so make sure to sign up ahead of time!

Restaurant Carmen

Restaurant Carmen is a rustic restaurant in the heart of the city, located by Sants Station, and one of the most popular calçot places in Barcelona. You can also find great paella, and meat cooked over stone and charcoal. And if you’re wanting the full Calçotada experience, 30 euros per person will get you calçots, meat, potatoes, and mongetes (the white beans). This isn’t one to miss!

Countryside

Masia Nou Can Martí

In the mountain of Collserola, the Masia Nou Can Martí offers a traditional Calçotada experience, similar to that of the original Catalan celebrations. The average price per person is around 22 euros, and typical dishes include butifarra, calçots, skewered cod, assorted toasts, tripe with chickpeas, and broken eggs. They also have live music often. Even better, you don’t have to travel far to get this nature, countryside feel. The Masia is only about 30 minutes from the heart of the city. 

Can Borrell

A 20 minute drive outside of the city and a 15 minute hike through the forest from Sant Cugat, Masia Can Borrell offers a cozy farmhouse and inn, with a warm fireplace and an expansive array of Catalan cuisine. The trek is more than worth it, for the authentic and and delicious Calçotada. They are known for their top-notch calçots and grilled meat in the second course, and the ambiance of the forest adds to the full Calçotada experience.

Can Jané

Can Jané is special because all of the vegetables are grown in their own orchard. Located 10 minutes outside of Barcelona in the Serra de Collserola, next to the Ermita de Sant Medir, the Masia is a perfect place for your ideal Calçotada. Similar to the other places, Can Jané’s specialty is Catalan cuisine, and their grilled meats are especially good. 

Recipe

Want to organize your own calçotada? For tips and tricks on how to prepare, cook, and serve calçots, try this recipe! There are plenty of recipes for the rest of the Calçotada components online as well. We recommend looking for recipes from local Barcelona blogs or websites for the most authentic results!

More about Catalan food

More Catalan traditions

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