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What are calçots? Discover this tradition of Catalonia

What are calçots?

Origin and history

Characteristics of calçots

Calçots season: when is the best time to enjoy them?

How to prepare and east calçots

Traditional sauces for calçots

Where and how to enjoy a calçotada

Exclusive culinary tours

Each region has its own gastronomic products that are an essential part of its culture and identity. In the case of Catalonia, one of its most distinctive culinary symbols is the calçots. This is a peculiar variety of spring onion that has been granted a PGI Protected Geographical Indication.

During the winter months, calçots are very popular and become the main dish of the “calçotadas”. A festival in which people gather to grill these vegetables and enjoy them with a special sauce.

Origin and history

Calçots have their roots in Valls, in the province of Tarragona in the region of Catalonia. It is said to have been discovered by a farmer, named Xat de Benaiges, at the end of the 19th century.

Apparently, Benaiges noticed that calçots grew more abundantly and tastily when planted in high rows and protected from the sun. He also discovered that they had a more intense and delicate flavor when roasted directly over the coals. Soon, this form of cultivation and cooking spread among the local villagers.

In the middle of the 20th century, they began to be recognized throughout the region due to their characteristic taste Little by little, the tradition of “calçotadas” also spread. That’s how it became a dish intimately linked to the culture and gastronomic traditions of Catalonia.

Nowadays, they are cultivated in several Catalan regions. In addition, they are widely consumed during winter throughout Catalonia and increasingly in the rest of Spain.

Characteristics of calçots

They are a variety of onion characterized by their elongated shape and white color. As they grow, the outer layers tighten, forming a long, thin cylinder, and can measure between 15 and 25 centimeters in length.

As for their taste, calçots are very delicate and aromatic. They have a slight sweetness and a pleasant softness that increases after roasting. Their texture is crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Nutritionally, they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and other antioxidants. They also contain vegetable proteins, as well as potassium and other minerals. Their caloric content is low; around 30 kcal per 100 grams. This property, together with their taste, makes them a highly appreciated ingredient for the Mediterranean diet.

Calçots season: when is the best time to enjoy them?

The perfect season to enjoy calçots is from mid-January to April. It is during this time when the buds reach their ideal maturity point.

Thus, the high season is between February and March. This is when there is a greater supply and the calçots are more tender, juicy and aromatic.

However, it is also possible to eat them at the beginning of the year, in January, or almost at the end of spring, in April. This means that there is a period of approximately three months to enjoy this typical Catalan delicacy.

How to prepare and eat calçots

Calçots, una tradición culinaria

Once harvested, they are carefully cleaned to remove soil and residues. The roots are cut and the driest outer layers are removed. They are then placed directly over the live fire resulting from burning the vine shoots from the recent pruning of the vineyard, and turned occasionally so that they are roasted equally on all sides.

They are cooked until the outer layer is completely charred. This results in a crispy exterior while the interior becomes tender and juicy. When they are ready, they are wrapped in newspaper, in batches of approximately 15 to 20 calçots. This step is crucial because it allows them to continue cooking in their own heat, which intensifies their taste.

After a few minutes, they are ready. They are served in large clay tiles and are eaten by initially grabbing them by the green part. Then, with the free hand, the burnt part is removed until the edible part remains. The next step is to dip it in the sauce.

There is a peculiar way of eating calçots. It is the use of a bib. This bib is wrapped around the neck to protect the clothes from the slash from the sauce and the onions during the typical way of eating them.

Traditional sauces for calçots

Sauces are an essential companion in the tasting of this dish. Among the most outstanding are Romesco and Salvitxada. Both have regional and personal variations, but are bound together by common ingredients such as nuts, tomatoes and olive oil.

Romesco

This sauce is known for its versatility and its capacity to enhance the taste of various dishes, from fish and meat to pasta. Its main ingredients are hazelnuts, almonds, tomatoes, peppers, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and fried bread, with the option of adding chili for a spicy touch.

Besides its taste, Romesco sauce is a healthy and natural alternative that, due to its ingredients, provides health benefits. It has antioxidant, diuretic and antibacterial properties. It also provides fiber and healthy fatty acids.

Salvitxada

It is a typical sauce from Tarragona that is characterized by its use of chorizo peppers. This ingredient gives it a sweeter flavor compared to the ñora used in Romesco sauce.

Its main ingredients include tomatoes, garlic cloves, hazelnuts, olive oil, white wine vinegar, bread, salt and black pepper. This sauce traditionally accompanies not only calçots, but also grilled meats and fish.

Both sauces share the base of nuts and roasted tomatoes. But they differ in the type of bell pepper used and in the proportions of their ingredients. While Salvitxada contains choricero bell pepper, Romesco uses ñora, which results in different flavors.

However, this, as in most recipes, has its controversy. According to some recipes, Salvitxada is also made with ñora peppers. Moreover, the choricero bell pepper is not grown in Catalonia, so many do not use this recipe.

As you can see, there can be different versions. It all depends on who you talk to or the traditional recipes that are made in each house or restaurant.

Where and how to enjoy a calçotada?

If you want to live the experience of a calçotada, there are different places where you can enjoy this culinary tradition in Catalonia.

The Calçotada Festival in Valls is a very popular option, since it is celebrated in the very place where this tradition was born. Moreover, many restaurants offer special menus with this vegetable during the season, which is celebrated at the end of January.

Restaurants where you can experience the calçots tradition

Masía del Pla

Located in El Pla de Santa Maria, Tarragona, this restaurant is known for its commitment to this tradition. It offers a variety of dishes, including calçotadas.

Can Borrell

Located in the Parc Natural de Collserola (Barcelona), it offers an unforgettable calçotada experience. Its calçotada menu includes a variety of side dishes. It is also known for its great atmosphere on weekends.

Cal Ganxo

Located in a small village near Valls, it is known for being the pioneer of calçotadas as a unique menu. It offers an authentic experience in a more rustic and traditional setting.

Can Cortada

This elegant restaurant is located in a beautiful farmhouse in the heart of Barcelona. It offers a calçotada experience in an urban setting, with a touch of history and tradition.

You should also know that in an authentic calçotada, the calçots are just the beginning. Along with them, you can also enjoy a grilled meat, usually lamb. They are also accompanied by mongetes del ganxet, very fine beans from the Mareseme area, and alioli.

And for dessert, you can taste delights such as Catalan cream or “mel i mató”, a traditional Catalan dessert based on cottage cheese and honey.

Calçotada is usually accompanied by a variety of wines. The most recommended wines to pair with calçots include young red wines with a good presence of tannins. But also crianza red wines with smoky notes, whites with powerful wood, rosés and cavas.

Some specific recommendations include wines from the Priorat, Montsant and Terra Alta regions. These offer moderate structure, soft tannins and subtle oak notes to complement the flavors of calçotada.

The diversity of options suggests that there is no single answer. So the choice of wine may depend on the personal taste and preferences of the diners. Although, the most typical thing at calçotadas is to drink the wine of the year directly from the “porró”, which is shared with the rest of the table.

Exclusive culinary tours

If you join one of our gastronomic tours through Catalonia during the calçot season, you will be able to enjoy them in the best way. As part of our exclusive expeditions, we can’t miss the opportunity for visitors to taste this traditional culinary delicacy of the region.


As you can see, calçots are more than just a variety of onion. They represent a culinary tradition rooted in Catalan culture that comprises fascinating history and a unique way of preparation and tasting.
So, if you have the opportunity, don’t hesitate to enjoy an authentic calçotada and immerse yourself in this delicious tradition. Bon appétit!

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