If you have read all my posts about Catalonia then you may be of the impression that I am anti Catalan. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only the fanatical Catalan separatists I do not like.
I spent a fantastic 2 years in that part of the world and came to know and love some of the local traditions and customs. One of these is the calçotada.
Dani’s favourite auntie books the Calçotada
It was the birthday of Dani’s “favourite auntie” Natalia and she had booked a table in a Catalan restaurant just around the corner from Real Madrid’s stadium.
It had been a long time since I had eaten calçots. What almost seems like a lifetime ago when I worked in Valls the Catalan town where the calçot was made famous.
A calçot (pronounced cal zot) is part of the onion family. If you have never seen one, I can best describe it as looking somewhere between a spring onion and a leek. They are traditionally flame grilled so that the outer layers burn while the inside stays soft, moist and almost sweet tasting.
March is typically the time of year for the “calçotada” – the name given to the festive meal where the calçot is the main dish.
The meal – which may vary slightly from place to place – traditionally consists of tomato (and garlic) on toast as a starter, meats including butifarra and morcilla, salt cod and then finally the calçots. Finally, some postres or other. By that time however I am usually too full to bother. This particular meal was served with a very nice Catalan red wine – of which I had my fair share.
Eating the things…
I recall from my time in Valls that there is an odd technique whereby you slide the burnt outer skin off the vegetable with 2 fingers. They even gave us plastic gloves for the task. In this particular establishment they suggested simply peeling the outer layer off which was in fact very easy. Then the calçot is dunked into the special salsa (apparently called “salvitxada”), but basically a “romesco” sauce. The only way to then get it in your mouth is to tilt your head right back and raise it high then finally lowering it in. A bit like hand feeding fish to dolphins. They even give you bibs to wear as it is easy to splash yourself with the sauce eating in this style.
It all sounds bizarre and not very appetising. But I can assure you that once you start these things are very “more-ish”. Some say it’s the sauce, but I could eat them on their own. (As I can with any onion)
A final thought…
As we sat just yards from the Santiago Bernabéu stadium eating a very Catalan meal I wondered…
What if the boot was on the other foot? What are the chances of a typical Madrileño restaurant surviving so close to the what can be described as one of the homes and symbols of Catalan spirit – the Camp Nou stadium? The home of Barcelona football club. I seriously doubt that such a restaurant would survive. Not only because of a lack of customers. Does anyone think that it would not be repeatedly vandalised as to render it totally uneconomical? Sadly I think we all know that this would happen. That is not to say however that everyone who saw such a place would be that way inclined. But there are more than enough of them for sure.
Incidentally – and in the interests of neutrality – the typical Madrid equivalent to the calçotada is cocido. Generally called Cocido Madrileño. It consists of… Well; maybe in another post.