Now that it’s spring, I think back to a time when I first experienced a seasonal meal that is the epitome of the phrase “eat, drink and be merry.” A calçotada, also known as a Catalan barbecue, is an annual tradition in the small town of Valls, Spain. With an excerpt from a post that originally appeared in my @iesabroad blog, here is my account of this special cultural encounter.
As our bus drove past endless stretches of vineyards, we finally pulled up to a little restaurant for Sunday’s lunch. As soon as I stepped outside, I could smell it. Sweet and smoky, the aroma teased my palate as wafts of it entered my nostrils. That’s when I knew we were in for a real treat.
The hearty feast began with the famous calçots, cousins of spring onions but milder and caramelized to perfection under a tenderly charred skin. The calçots were complemented by romesco sauce, a savory blend of roasted red peppers, garlic, almonds and tomatoes, native to Tarragona. To eat one, you simply hold the scallion end, slide off the blackened top layer, dip it in the tangy sauce and dangle it over your mouth.
A bib is necessary for the consumption of this appetizer, but also for the red wine that accompanied it. We were shown how to drink from porrons, which are glass pitchers with long spouts. Wine was spilling everywhere, but it was a great deal of fun.
Next, the main course was a mix of lamb, seasoned potatoes, artichokes, sausages and white beans with a light creamy garlic sauce. Then, a very typical dessert of Northeast Spain, crema catalana, was served. It’s like a crème brulee, but infused with orange and has the scent of roasting marshmallows at a bonfire. A café con leche and sparkling glass of cava topped off the two-hour meal of good food and good company.
At the end of the meal, Spaniards were congratulating us as we caressed our protruding bellies.
“Yay, your first calçotada,” they cheered. This Catalan tradition may have been my first, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last.
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