Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spain Trip Part 2: Calçots Somewhere in Catalonia

Part 1: Brussels Layover

The main reason for my trip was that I've never had calçots, a Catalan tradition and world-renowned foodway. After some twenty trips to Catalonia (a semi-autonomous region in Spain with its own language; best known city is Barcelona), I'm around five percent Catalan, so my friends there finally decided to resolve this shameful deficiency by dragging me out into the countryside (calçots are traditionally eaten outdoors and out of town) and feeding me a multitude of charry onion shoots.

I'm not sure exactly where we were, but calçoterias are apparently all pretty much the same. A bad one wouldn't last long. We drove a couple of hours to get here, but the trip's more about a traditional weekend afternoon getaway than about pursuing a particularly good venue.

Below, a musician friend elegantly models his stylish tie-on calçot bib. He's blessed with the most sensational name a drummer could ask for: Pau (pronounced "Pow") Bombardo. I'm not kidding. Pau is not often seen in daylight; notice how his eyes have crinkled into bleary slits:

Meet bassist Nono Fernandez (alas, seated) and pianist Ignasi Terraza. We all hope that Nono will one day form a nine piece group titled "The Nono Nonet".

Ok, time to eat. The bringing forth of the calçots is such a weighty, ritualized process (repeated a great many times to accommodate my ravenous group) that it requires several angles of perspective:

A closeup:

You rip out the relatively uncharred inner portion, and swab generously in Romesco sauce:

The remarkable thing about eating calçots is that this most Catalan of meals is also the least Catalan of meals. Catalans are a fastidious lot; they sit up straight at the table, eating daintily - and never, ever with their hands. Catalans consider me a barbarous wild man for doing things like eating pizza while driving. But with calçots, and only with calçots, they eat with their hands, which become blackened from the char. You might even, gasp, get up and walk around during the meal. In general, all conventions are jubilantly cast aside. I kept flashing back to the episode of Star Trek explaining how Vulcans get totally emotional for 24 hours every seven years.

This chaotic tableau would be unimaginable for any other sort of Catalan meal:

When you've had your fill of charry onion shoots, inside you go for the rest of the meal, eaten with cutlery, clean hands, and all other conventions fully restated. The vibe in these places is bourgeois hunting lodge:

The table naturally includes all i oli, the Catalan garlic mayonnaise (which preceded French allioli). There'll be much more about all i oli in a subsequent installment:

Butifarra blanca, butifarra negra, y mongetes secas (fatless meat sausage, blood sausage, and white beans):

Listen to the correct pronunciation via the 5 second movie below. You'll notice that Catalan sounds nothing like Spanish:

Artichokes and skinny lamb chops cooked over the same charcoal as the calçots:

..and, finally, individually plastic-wrapped fruit (Catalans have a keen flair for anticlimax):

Continue to Part 3: The House of Garlic Mayonnaise


Pat said...

I've only read of this celebration, but it sure looks like messy, delicious fun!

Kirk said...

Calçots con Romesco, Butifarra y Catalunya ...


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