It’s a beautiful calçots mess.
It was messy. It was difficult. And it was worth it. I got to take part in one of the most beloved culinary traditions in Catalonian region of Spain: feasting on calçots. These long, sweet cousins of the green onion are harvested in just a small window of the year, roughly from January to March, but when their season comes around, it seems that everyone loves a good calçots meal! Although they are celebrated throughout the Catalonian region, I would advise finding a more rural location for a truly authentic dining experience.
On a day trip out of Barcelona, my group and I stopped at a restaurant called Hostal del Senglar (about an hour and a half west of the city), where we treated ourselves to a very traditional, meat-heavy, delicious lunch after visiting the Poblet Monastery. Although every bite of the four-course meal was unforgettable, and left me full for the following 36 hours (I kid you not). Standout of the day was eating delicacies that were calçots.
When we walked into the restaurant, my friends and I had no idea what to expect. We were ushered toward long tables lined with paper bibs for us to wear, as well as special carafes of red wine to pour into our mouths, which was another way of embracing Catalonian dining customs. While we were attempting to gracefully waterfall the wine without spilling, waiters began bringing out giant platters of what appeared to be oversized leeks, their outer layers charred black, as well as small dipping bowls filled with what we learned was a romanesco sauce made with tomatoes, nuts, and oil.
Then came the fun. Those who were used to using napkins and eating tidily were shocked to realize that the correct way to go about eating massive calçots was to peel out the blackened outer layer, dip the ends into the sauce, then lean over, tilt your head, and lower the entire monster into your mouth! As I had my first mouthful of the sweet, mild onion and nutty romanesco sauce, it was inevitable that my bib was immediately stained with drops of tomatoey red. Within five minutes, everyone had some combination of the calçot juices, red sauce, and wine on their faces and bibs! Never in my life had I seen this type of messy, uncoordinated eating by so many people in a restaurant; we were all laughing together while eating this fantastic dish.
To anyone in Catalonia, Spain between January and March (or April, if the season extends long enough), I highly recommend letting go of your previous dining etiquette and finding a place that gives you a bib and a big plate of calçots. This may mean making a trek out of the big city of Barcelona, but it will be well worth it to experience the authentic taste and invaluable laughter brought on by a true calçots meal.