Spain is like a big ol’ onion that has layers and layers of fun stuff to uncover. We found out last weekend that one of those layers is very literal — an onion festival. Nope, not kidding. In the northeast of Spain, in and around Tarragona (near Barcelona), during February and March they have a special treat called a Calçotada. The star of the show is a giant green onion, called calçot, as chubby as a baby’s wrist.
Just like regular onions, when you roast calçots they become sweet and tender. This is where it gets messy — and fun! You grab a calçot with your hands and strip off the outer, burned layers. Then you swirl it around in Romesco — a thick sauce made with red peppers, garlic, almonds, and olive oil (and sometimes hazelnuts and tomatoes — there are dozens of variations). OMG OMG OMG!!! This alone is enough to make me completely happy for a week. But that’s not all.
In addition to the calçots you also get roasted baby artichokes, butifarra (white Catalan sausage), lamb, and white beans. Oh! And I got so entranced with remembering the food that I almost forgot — if you’re lucky you’ll also combine your day with a visit to one of the many wine regions around Barcelona. We drove to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, home of Spanish sparkling wine, where we toured Freixenet, the famous Spanish champagne maker, and then went to a local “masia” (farmhouse turned restaurant) for the Calçotada. Incredible!
So here’s a tip — whenever traveling in Spain, be aware that you could stumble across something interesting at any minute. Don’t be shy about talking to the locals because there are often activities, festivals, and food that are unique to that area. Since we experienced the Calçotada we’ve told the story to several Spanish friends who live further south, and not one of them knew what calçots are!