Calçotada: The Unique Catalan Celebration of the Humble Calcot (Onion)

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What you need to know about calçots and about going to a Calcotada. Hint, you’re celebrating a type of green onion found only in Catalonia, Spain!

First things first, what is a calçot?

Calcotada is a type of green onion found only in the Catalonia region of Spain. It resembles a regular green onion, but is milder tasting and less bulbous. This type of variety is unique to the region. So much so that it’s a registered EU Protected Geographical Indication.

Next, What is a Calçotada?

It’s a gastronomical event in Catalonia that equals both waves of laughter and… bad breath! But what else would you expect from an event that is all about eating and celebrating calçots (onions)…yep onions?

fresh calcots

The Calçotada starts with getting the calçots ready, then stringing them on a metal wire. It makes them easier to turn, explained our calçot chef for the day, Lee Pennington. But first, it was time to have some fun.

Dali had his fun with eggs. While my adventures are usually more adventurous like hiking in the Pyrenees, accomplishing a via ferrata with cool views or doing a coastal hike in Costa Brava, or hiking in Spain.  I do enjoy food, especially Spanish food. I even know how to make a Spanish Omelette – Catalan style.

Still, I had to have my fun with calçots, wearing them as a necklace. But enough playing around, I’m hungry!

Time to grill the calçots – 5 minutes per side.  Not to worry if they’re black. You’ll peel off the outer layer anyway.
grill calcots before eating them

The Best Part of a Calçotada? The Eating Competition

This is where it gets really fun. Not to mention competitive. You predict how many calçots you can eat, and how many each other Calçotada guests will eat. Then, of course, you egg each other on and tease each other mercifully. This is where Catalan culture really shines. I love the playful insults. 

Guess how many calçots I could eat?

6. yes, a grand total of 6. But the average is 10. So not bad considering that it was my first time attending a Calçotada.

I enjoyed the calçots, but they weren’t something I could gorge myself on. Although they were milder tasting than I had anticipated!

But still, I was surprised that they were celebrated so much. I mean a cake festival? That I’m I’ll about. But the humble calçot?

What’s It Really Like?

making a necklace from calcots at a calcotada

In many ways, a Calçotada reminded me of a North American-style BBQ. It’s a casual get-together at someone’s house. All the guests bring something, hang out, eat grilled food and enjoy the good weather.

The main difference is that an invitation to a Calçotada can be hard to score, especially as a tourist.  Several days after the Calçotada I mentioned in passing to someone from Madrid that I had been to a Calçotada.  “You’re so lucky!  I’ve been living in Catalonia for 5 years and still haven’t been to one.”

I decided now was not the time to tell her that the Calçotada hadn’t been held at just any old house, but had been held at Can Grau, a luxurious villa in rural Catalonia with stunning old-world charm.

So if you want to attend a Calçotada, the best way to get invited is to make friends with locals. Offer to bring lots of wine, or something else that will add to the jovial atmosphere. 

Also, unlike at a BBQ, where guests pound back beer, at a Calçotada guests take their turn pouring wine down their gullets.  I made a feeble attempt by holding the vessel close to my mouth. But still managed to dribble red wine all over my face and down my shirt.

It appears that I had a lot to learn about being a Catalan.

Make Calçots Yourself

If you find yourself lacking a Calçotada invitation. Not to worry.  If you have a BBQ, you can do it at home and hold your own.

No BBQ? Head to a “merenderos” (picnic areas) and invite your friends who also didn’t receive an invite so that you can all experience it together. Check out this recipe that shows to make them. 

Whether you do it at home or in a picnic area, remember to have lots of wine on hand and ask people to bring something.  Just as the Catalans do. 

My calendar is always open for any Calçotada invites that come my way.   I won’t eat too many calçots.  I’m a cheap drunk. And perhaps most importantly, I’ll bring chewing gum for all your guests!

This post was updated in 2021.