A guide to food in Spain


calçots (Catalan): is a variety of scallion known as Blanca Grande Tardana from Lleida.

There’s really no way to eat calçots without having a calçotada! Calçots are giants among spring onions, as big as a small leek and grown specially for the purpose. They are barbecued whole in their dozens (they are sold in bunches of two dozen) over a slow fire so that they steam in their charred skin. One grasps the centre and pulls out the steaming soft centre and then dips the calçot into a specially nutty romesco sauce (this is so it sticks to the unctuous flesh) and, tipping one’s head back, drops it whole into the upturned, waiting mouth. Bibs are essential but utterly useless, one gets covered in charred skin and sauce after the first one. It’s almost impossible not to get through two dozen, with the expected consequences the next day. A calçotada is a winter thing. In the coastal districts of Tarragona, where the dish originartes, the calçots are ready in January and February, but in Lleida the calçots take all winter to grow due to the cold so they are eaten there late into the season.

By Simon Rice

Calçots are a Catalan speciality. The Calçot from Valls in Tarragona enjoys registered EU Protected Geographical Indication, no less. A calçot is actually a variety of giant scallion known as Blanca Grande Tardana from Lleida, grown covered in earth so that the edible part remained white and the vulva does not develop. The action of covering the scallions is known in Catalan as ” calçar ” (to put shoes on), hence the name “calçot”. It is commonly accepted that they were first cultivated in this way at the end of the 19 th century by Xat de Benaiges, a farmer who lived near Valls.

The traditional way of eating calçots is at a calçotada, a popular feast held between the end of winter and March or April. The calçots are cooked on roof tiles over a charcoal vine barbecue, and are cooked when they start to ooze a milky sweat. Hunks of meat, lamb and pork chops, botifarras and other embutidos such as chorizo are roasted after the calçots have been removed from the embers. The calçots are then very messily peeled, burning fingers; the charred outer leaves make everybody’s hands filthy and are discarded in piles on the table or ground, while the long slim white firm fleshy phallic vegetables are dipped by increasingly frenzied revellers in a delicious variety of gooey glutinous orange romesco-style tangy pepper, almond and hazelnut sauce to then be lowered dripping into the mouth in a manner reminiscent of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at its most decadent and depraved. The action of engulfing a crunchy calçot is undeniably sensuous, and with the accompaniment of gallons of red wine and cava drunk from porrons, these occasions tend to degenerate rapidly into unseemly Dionysian orgies. Participants wear bibs over their oldest clothes, and soon find themselves farting a lot, which is why calçotades are usually held outdoors, in olive groves, hidden from the eyes of puritanical onlookers. Catalans at a calçotada indulge their famed rauxa, an infectious form of collective madness and hilarity. By the time the cooked meats have been consumed, followed by coca, carajillos and licores, the sated feasters are purring like pussycats. Great fun and highly recommended.

By Francis Barrett