Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Calçotada and Catalan Cultural Curiosities

by : 
Freddie Hodgson

Catalunya is famous for its cultural diversity and its eccentricity. It is what makes this part of the Iberian peninsular such an interesting place to visit. Going on a trip to Barcelona or any of the other beautiful towns and villages in the region can open your eyes to some extraordinary and surprising traditions.

The Catalan people take pride in building castells. Men, women, and children as young as four years old climb onto each other’s shoulders to create human towers. This amazing spectacle is a test of strength and courage since the towers can reach the height of ten people.

Elsewhere, locals gather to enjoy processions of giant figures (gegants) that parade through towns and cities retelling important stories from Catalunya’s history. It can be quite a shock for tourists and unsuspecting visitors to stumble upon these realistic 10-foot-high moving statues!

At Christmas time, Catalan children are given their presents by a tree trunk with a smiling face called the Caga Tio. Kids gather in a circle, sing a traditional song and hit the trunk with a stick until it gives them sweets and turron (Catalan chocolate).

The 23rd April, the day of Saint Jordi, is the Catalan equivalent of St Valentines Day. On this day lovers (and friends) traditionally give each other red roses as presents. However it is also the custom to buy your loved one a book. So, during the day the streets of Barcelona are filled with bookstalls and you can ask your favourite author to sign the novel you have just bought.

However, one thing that Catalan people love as much as anything else is good food and drink. Drinking/eating cups of thick melted chocolate accompanied by melindros (Catalan cakes) is a popular way to start the day and is sure to give you a real buzz! Lunchtime is more often than not a three-course meal that stretches over two or three hours and includes some wonderful delicacies like Cap I Pota (literally head and leg of pork!) and of course Crema Catalana (a deliciously sweet dessert made of egg and sugar). 

Indeed, perhaps the most perfectly Catalan of all their traditions (it’s eccentric, but wonderful!) shows off this love for food. The Calçotada is a popular festival dedicated to eating calçots – a sweet onion produced exclusively in Catalunya. Posters are put up around the village weeks before the event. As the day gets closer, the excitement grows. When the date of the Calçotada arrives, whole villages gather together around a huge open fire in the local square.

The calçots are strung together on a long wire and roasted over the fire until the outer layer is burnt black. The cooked calçots are then wrapped in newspaper and handed out to the villagers. One by one they dip their calçot into a special sauce called romesco, tip back their heads and lower the dripping onion into their mouths. It’s a messy lunchtime but the locals wear bibs to avoid getting too dirty! Glasses of red wine, slices of pa amb tomaquet (bread and tomato), and one or two botifarra (traditional Catalan sausages) make the Calçotada a real banquet!

However, this festival is not just a chance to eat a delicious local delicacy but also to catch up with neighbours, friends and relatives. In fact, socialising at mealtimes is such an important pastime in Catalunya that the locals have a word for it that is almost impossible to translate into English: sobretaula (literally, ‘over the table’). The Calçotada can last all day and only as the sun is setting does the crowd finally leave the table to go home, their appetite for food and conversation satisfied!

The Calçotada is a festival that shows off all the fantastic aspects of Catalan life. Good food enjoyed with friends makes for a healthy and happy lifestyle, a lifestyle that makes visiting this part of Northern Spain such fun!


What cultural curiosities do you have where you live?