Flames up. Calçots on the grill. Roll up your sleeves and put your paper bib on. Today is not the day to wear your brand new white shirt. I’m warning you… this is going to get messy. Welcome to Valls! Welcome to the Calçotada!
Every winter season, a handful of towns from the Catalan province of Tarragona celebrate the Calçotada festival, an annual event in which friends and families come together to eat giant spring onions and drink red wine poured from the heights of a ‘porrón’. Today, we’ll visit the town of Valls to learn about the most famous of all the Calçotadas.
For anyone not familiar with this tradition, the scene might feel surreal to say the least. Imagine a crowded square with half a dozen of open fires cooking what it seems to be like tons of XXL-sized spring onions. Surrounding the grills, thousands of people all wearing paper bibs await patiently for the next batch of onions –there is also plenty of grilled meat– to get ready. In most cases, their hands appear blackened –it’s the result of eating the chargrilled calçots with bare hands– and their eyes start to show the effects of the generous jars of red wine being shared all around. Whilst some elders keep cooking on their old traditional farmer costumes, a brass band sets the ambient music playing local folkloric tunes. Two human towers –the famous ‘castells’, also original from Valls– are forming up on both extremes of the square. A tiny girl starts climbing all the way up to what it looks like seriously risky business. Everyone cheers her up until she reaches the top and puts her hand up. At that point, the crowd burst into madness.
We are not describing one of Goya’s ‘Caprichos’ etchings nor we are a film by Peter Greenaway. This is the Calçotada Festival, an intense full day of festive activities to celebrate the peak of the calçots season. But also an opportunity for both locals and outsiders to gather together with their friends and family after all the hard work gone into the last few months. This is a time to enjoy and have fun. And in a town making a living thanks to the calçots, I can’t imagine a better way to do it!
Oh… and did we mention about the calcot eating contest happening during the day? In 2014, Adrià Wegrzyn –8 times champion of the competition– established the world’s record of calçot eating by gobbling up the incredible amount of 275 pieces accounting for 3.8 kg! Can anyone beat it this year?*
* The ‘Great Festival of the Calçotada’ always falls on the last Sunday of January and this year (2016) it will be celebrated on the 31st of January.
More info (in Spanish): http://www.festadelacalsotada.com/