The post-Christmas festivities, although tinged with sadness at leaving loved ones back on the island, are not tainted in Barcelona by the January blues. The welcome light and sun that greets you after 8 days of constant grey and drizzle in northern England lifts your spirits, as does the realisation that once again the calçots season is upon us.
Now I have written about calçots many times but I thought the ‘Festa de Calçots’ in Valls was worth a mention. The people of this sleepy town an hour inland of Barcelona claim to be the creators of the calçotada and as such hold an annual festival on the last Sunday of every January to celebrate their wonderful invention. As such, we decided to hop on the one bus that day heading out to the town to see what they were cooking up.
A cold wind was whipping through town so we took initial refuge with some too-thick-to-drink hot chocolate and churros doughnuts whilst the town got warmed up.
Tucked away in various corners of the town were judging contests for calçots growers and sauce makers and the judges were taking it all very seriously.
The crowds were also scrambling to sample the product from the demonstrations in national dress of how to make this rich, mouthwatering nutty and garlicky sauce.
As with all Catalan festivals the gegants (giants) were out in force and paraded through the town followed by a band which always includes quite possibly the worst sounding reed instrument, the shawm, which evoked memories of the unwelcome Sunday morning wake up call I used to get when living in Poble Sec. What Catalonia has in abundance in good food it lacks in its folk music and incredibly dull national dance la sardana. Thankfully the tradition of building castles from people, castellers, is much more impressive, even when in this case it’s a simple pilar of one column of brave souls.
Holding off for those tasty onions a little longer we went to observe some less wise folk than us who’d volunteered themselves for the calçots eating competition and were looking to eat the usual 2+ kilos winning quantity. I don’t envy the inevitable stomach cramps and wind that must follow that hefty portion.
With Catalan flags flying proudly more locals in national costume roasted the calçots on open fires and wrapped them in foil for visitors to enjoy.
For our 8€ tickets we snapped up our bag containing the onions, bread, nuts, a half bottle of red wine and fruit, standard fayre at any calçotada, and grabbed a few steps to tuck in with bibs round our necks, also standard calçotada practice. This is messy work.
However, although quite bursting from the contents of our goodie bag the highlight of the day for me were the locals making the most of the open fires when the calçot roasting was over with. Not wanting to feel left out we nipped into the butcher’s shops doing a swift abnormal Sunday trade and snapped up some morcilla and botifarra sausages and lomo pork loin for the barbeque. Definitely not something you’d find happening on the streets of England in January.
The other highlight of my day was being interviewed in Spanish for Catalan television for my thoughts as an outsider on the festival. Sadly I didn’t make the final cut but the film gives you a real feel for the festa even if you don’t understand a word they’re saying la-gran-festa-de-la-calcotada
As we whiled away the remaining time for the one returning bus to Barcelona we took a stroll through the now suddenly eerily deserted town in a poor effort at burning off the days eating, sank a few boozy carajillo coffees and cava in a local bar and were bid farewell by what now seems to be an obligatory Catalan sunset at the end of a heartily good day out.
Festa de Calçots in Valls, last Sunday of every January. Buses run from Sants Estació.
**This article was originally posted on my former blog http://moonrakermorsels.wordpress.com/