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It only took me 8 years of living in Barcelona before I actually tried the most famous of Catalan dishes, calçots.
They’re a type of green onion, long, thin and mild in flavour. Cooked over a flaming BBQ. I must admit I was intrigued to know how a simple vegetable could be such a talked about food item for the region.
A delicious, thick, orangey dipping sauce called Romesco, made with garlics, almonds, peppers, tomatoes, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, vinegar and oil.
The calçots season runs from November to April. During this period friends and family get together to grill calçots on their BBQ’s all over Catalunya, and restaurants and masias (country houses) in the Catalan countryside serve them.
However, there is a hidden gem of a Masia called Can Cortada that is actually in Barcelona itself. Almost at the end of the green metro line, close to Mundet station, which is great if you don’t drive. Approaching the impressive building, in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo, it really does feel like you could be in the countryside, far away from the centre of Barcelona.
Can Cortada serves traditional Catalan dishes heavily focused on meats, like butifarra (Catalan sausage), various steaks and the house specialty of 12 hour slow cooked veal. That being said, during calçots season (roughly Nov – April) they offer an incredible menu deal called Calçotada, that offers you the full Catalan food and drink experience for around €40pp. Be aware that this menu must be booked in advance.
You get unlimited calçots, romesco sauce, a bottle of local Catalan wine, Catalan tomato bread, a selection of grilled meats, including lamb, chicken, sausage and more, white beans and a traditional crema catalana for dessert.
The castle like setting within Can Cortada felt like the right place for me to be trying calçots for the first time. Our waitress handed us our bibs and plastic gloves (things are obviously about to get messy), and proceeded to tell us what to do next.
Pull back the charcoaled outer layer, by pinching it at one end, and then pulling the whiter part out. Then dip the white part into the romesco sauce, hold it above your head, lean back, and lower it into your mouth. Certainly, a messy, yet fun experience.
I was pleasantly surprised. The onion doesn’t have a strong flavour itself, and has the texture similar to white asparagus. However, the romesco sauce has a very moorish taste, almost like a Thai peanut butter sauce, and complements the calçot perfectly. I really loved them, we requested seconds, and I can see why they are so loved in this region.
It’s a great way to try something really traditional and something that is so important to the Catalan people.
Getting your hands dirty is a part of the whole experience.
If you’re in or around Barcelona between November to March, I highly recommend a trip to Can Cortada for their Calçotada deal. The setting is wonderful, a piece of the Catalan countryside in Barcelona, the amount of food and drink you get is great value…and those calçots…they are boníssims (very good)!