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Barcelona diaries 3 – the calçots

by Oliver Benet

In the south of Catalonia, near the historic city of Tarragona, we find the small city of Valls, a city that when you hear its name, at the moment two images come to your mind: The Castellers – “the human towers” – and the calçots.

The calçots, a variety of spring onions, are a delicacy and one of the most appreciated dishes by Catalans.

As in many gastronomic discoveries, by chance or by error, it has created real wonders. One of the hypotheses behind the calçots is that in the 19th century, a farmer from Valls, named Xat de Benaiges, put by error a handful of these onions on the embers and, curious about the aroma they gave off, stripped its charred skin and tasted its white meat, tender and extremely tasty.

This tasty discovery was confined for decades in the area of Valls and Tarragona. You don’t have to go back many years, maybe yes, “I’m my age”, to remember crowds of citizens from all over Catalonia, travelling at winter weekends, to the south of the country, to enjoy these onions. Onions that involved a whole ritual while eating them. You must stand up, with a bib, soak them in an excellent sauce, and especially as a prelude to a large tiberius of grilled local meats, it accompanied by some good wine from the country.

Calçots – photo snapped by Eli Ramirez

As I said, it was not, until the beginning of the 21st century, “with exceptions” that the explosion of calçots did not approach the rest of the country’s homes and restaurants. And today, it is not uncommon to find them in places as far away as the Pyrenees, the Costa Brava or in the crazy Barcelona.

Obviously, the strength of the city of Valls remains intact, and it is an obligatory pilgrimage for those who like to eat calçots in their original place.

*Oliver Benet is a Catalan cook and writer of the book “Per què odiava en Ferran Adrià?”


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