Calçotada, A Valencian Spring Tradition.





There is  much to do in Valencia over the Easter weekend. With 80% of hotel beds occupied the city may have appeared busy but actually, many Valencians retire to the countryside or go to Seville to see the Semana Santa processions.

Valencia itself has such processions, the `hermanadades´and `cofradias´ parade all week in Semana Santa Marinera.

Or of course many of those staying at home in Valencia will decamp to open spaces such as the dry riverbed for the traditional  family picnic.

But those in the know will head for a calçotada!

Held from the end of  Winter and throughout Spring, when the calçot is in season, the calçotada is a fiesta  with its own traditions!

The humble calçot is a member of the onion family and is grown especially for this type of festival. Historically it is linked originally with Valls, near to Tarragona, but many Valencians regularly participate in such fiestas…they are after all party people first and foremost!

So yesterday, Easter Sunday, I was lucky enough to be invited to enjoy a day in the countryside, participating in just such a party!

In the Orange Groves!

In the Orange Groves!

Collected from a point on the road between Vilamarxant and Pedralba we were driven off-road into the orange groves, down twisty, turny tracks, over dry water courses and gravel roads until we reached a casita, nestling in a knot of pine trees in a concealed valley !

Here several cars were parked beneath the trees and a crowd had assembled…party time!

The heady scent of orange blossom filled the air to the point that you might have been forgiven for thinking you were in a perfume factory! It is easy to see why sailors named this part of Spain the Costa de Azahar, ( orange blossom coast) as the perfume must have rolled out to sea especially at night-time!

Putting on Bibs Around the Table.

Putting on Bibs Around the Table.

Looking like a small leek, the calçot ( puerro tardio) is around 25cm tall and about 5cm in diameter.  A fire of vine-cuttings is lit and when the flames die down the onions are laid on a grill and cooked directly above the ash until the outer leaves are charred black! By now, the inside white part should be golden, tender and juicy!

The kitchen in the casita….( apart from storing tools it has no other purpose)  was full of local women, arms whirring away with pestle and mortar making allioli, the garlic sauce, and salsa romescu….the traditional accompaniment in which the calçots will be dipped! The allioli was for later.

The Calçots arrive.

The Calçots arrive.

The calçots had by now all been cooked ( 500 of them) and wrapped, in accordance with  the tradition,  in newsprint.

The trestles were mounted, the sheets of mdf and melamine boards laid over them……an impromptu table around which the assembled guests now congregated. Bowls of romescu sauce, pickled cucumber ( pepinos) guindilla peppers ( hot long chilis pickled in white-wine vinegar)  and olives appeared and the beer and wine started to flow!

Salva shows how to do it!

Salva shows how to do it!

As if to ease  a tangible sense of anticipation the calçots arrived in their wrappings and were spread down the centre of the table.

There is a proper way to eat them as well. Pinching the root end and selecting the centre of the plant at the top end the cooked onion is withdrawn cleanly from its blackened outer leaves. It is then rolled in the romescu sauce and eaten by tipping the head back and swallowing it in the manner of the Dutch `nieve haaring´!   For once the table went very quiet for a few minutes as the sweet onions were quickly consumed  – the outer skins neatly piled into empty orange crates!

Mobile BBQ and Meat Course!!!

Mobile BBQ and Meat Course!!!

This of course is just the prelude! In Tarragona the calçots  would then be followed by plates heaving with `butiffara´ and ` embotits´.

This was also to be our second course! The time of year and a very dry winter means the ban on bonfires and open air bbq´s in the countryside has arrived early . Both Pedralba and Vilamarxant have experienced their first wild fires of 2014.

At this moment Antonio, our host, drove in with the mobile bbq! It seems the ban does not run to putting the traditional cement mixing pan in the trailor attached to the back of your car and lighting the fire in there! Large stainless steel grills were groaning with morcilla, chorizo, longaniza and pancetta…the meat main course to be eaten in bocadillos with the allioli! The wine and beer continued to flow whilst we all cut our bread, opened it out and made our hearty sandwiches selecting directly from the grill!

Outside the Casita.

Outside the Casita.

Conversation flowed and new friendships were made….this is a very Valencian type of day out and immense fun!

And in the Valencian tradition the coffee followed and the cubattas…gin, brandy an paxaran…a Spanish sloe gin which is excellent over ice!

The afternoon over the crowd quietly slipped away and the orange groves returned to their normal peace! If anyone ever invites you participate in a meal in the middle of nowhere eating chargrilled onions and sausage…..don´t say no! Now you know what you would be missing!!!!!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro  y Rojo!

Bocadillo de Blanco, Negro y Rojo!





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