During the last weekend of every January in the town of Valls they celebrate the great Calçot with a jam-packed festival with events such as Calçots sauce demonstrations, traditional dances and the infamous Calçots eating competition.
What are Calçots?
Calçots are a type of onion specific to Catalonia, a mix between a spring onion and a leek with a sweet taste. To grow these delicious onions there is a special technique. As the onion grows in length, soil is continually added to the trunk. This process is called ‘calçar’ in Catalan, hence the name Calçots.
They are eaten between December and March. The traditional way to cook them is on an open fire or barbecue until black. You then peel back the black outer layers to reveal a white centre which you dip into the famous Calçots sauce. The combination is perfect. The process can be very messy as the charred bits get all over your hands and face but it is a fun and sociable affair.
Calçots are also typically eaten as part of a meal called Calçotada where a selection of grilled meats is eaten.
Valls and Calçots
Valls is a typical Catalan town located inland close to Tarragona, approximately 80km from Barcelona. Calçots originate from Valls and during the last weekend of January they celebrate the great vegetable with a festival.
There is a lot to see and do at the festival and with one event following the next it can be difficult to keep up with everything. The main events take place on a Sunday including competitions such as the best grower, the best Calçots sauce and the increasingly popular Calçots eating competition.
You can see a team hard at work making the infamous Calçots sauce and of course roasting the Calçots themselves. It is quite an operation as you see countless Calçots laid out on numerous grills, ready to be devoured.
There is also a market where you can buy Calçots and Catalan foods. I even tried a Calçots croissant which is absolutely delicious and disappeared all too quickly.
Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the giant and slightly creepy Calçot. Dancers dressed in traditional costume and a small band make their way to the main square, dancing through the crowds. As the main square gets busier and busier, the excitement builds as everyone awaits the famous Calçots eating competition.
The grand finale of the festival is the Calçots eating competition. The brave competitors are given Calçots sauce, a porró of wine (a special vessel to drink wine from), slice of bread, water and of course a ton of Calçots. They have to consume as many of these as they can in 45 minutes.
As one spectator told me, the current winner has the best technique. He takes only a little dip of the sauce, nothing more, so as not to fill up. At the end of the competition he is the clear victor and surprisingly the cleanest of them all at the end with no trace of charcoal or sauce all over his face, unlike the others!
The festival is a truly Catalan affair with Castellers (human towers), traditional dances, music and food all rolled up into a fun and family-friendly event.
How to get there
It takes about an hour and a half by car but you may have trouble finding a parking space if you don’t arrive early enough.
You have a few options with public transport which depend on availability and your budget. The cheapest option is a bus from Barcelona Sants station which takes about an hour and a half. However, at the time of writing there is just one leaving at 9am on Sunday and that soon fills up. If you don’t get there early enough like me, take the train.
You can take the train to Tarragona or Camp de Tarragona (Tarragona being the cheaper option through the Rodalies service) and get a bus from there to Valls. The whole journey is a bit less than 2 hours.