Discovering the Mesmerising Catalan Culture
From dipping charcoal-grilled calçots into romesco sauce to watching Catalan fire festivals, a particular highlight of the Meddeas Program has been experiencing some Spanish traditions. I chose to live with host families, and I have been living in a small town just outside Barcelona called Caldes de Montbui. My host families have all been incredibly welcoming and made me feel really at home, and they have given me an immersive cultural experience. In particular, I have tried a bunch of foods and seen plenty of Catalan cultural celebrations. Here are some of my top meals and fiestas from my year in Caldes de Montbui!
Calçots are long green onions. They are traditional in Catalonia and eaten with romesco sauce. In calçots season (around February), we had a calçotada —my host family invited friends over, and we cooked the onions over a fire, wrapped them in newspaper to allow them to cool and continue cooking slightly, and then peeled them and dipped them into romesco. They are delicious, and the way you eat them is also really fun: standing and dropping them into your mouth from above!
Correfoc or ‘fire runs’ are a stunning visual display and a fascinating experience. People are dressed up as devils holding fireworks, and there also are dragons and monstrous figures with fireworks attached to them. Then people run and dance through the fireworks. The one in Caldes followed a fixed route through the town, and the sight and sound of fireworks everywhere was breathtaking —I had never seen anything like this before!
These ‘human towers’ are a typical Catalan tradition where people build human towers several stories high. In Caldes, they were held in the main square of the town. They were spectacular to see! It was impressive seeing how they all worked together to build the structure. The motto of Castellers is ‘Força, equilibri, valor i seny’, which means ‘strength, balance, courage, and common sense’. You can take a look at this video to better understand what Castells mean for Catalan people and culture.
Pa amb tomaquet
This is a simple and delicious dish, and I have eaten this a lot this year! It is just bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil. Sometimes salt is added, or it is eaten with jamón. They also have special tomatoes grown specifically for this that have more water inside and thinner skins. A simple Spanish tradition, but yummy!
Sant Jordi or Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia, and its legend is celebrated on the 23rd of April. According to the tale, a dragon terrified the villagers in a small town in Catalonia called Montblanc. They decided to offer a person by drawing lots, and the princess was chosen. However, a brave knight, Sant Jordi, slayed the dragon and saved the princess. A rose bush emerged from the blood of the dragon, and Sant Jordi gifted it to the princess. This coincides with the Day of the Book that commemorates the death of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Hence, people give roses and books on this day; and the streets are filled with stalls selling books and roses. It’s super pretty!
Mel i mató
This is a traditional Catalan dessert of fresh mató cheese served with honey. Sometimes it is also served with sugar or jam, but my favourite is with honey! The combination of the creamy fresh cheese and the sweet honey is really good!
This dish is similar to crème brûlée but made with milk rather than cream, and flavoured with lemon and cinnamon. The combination of the hot toffee and cold custard base is delicious! I often struggle to decide whether to order mel i mató or crema catalana… Spanish traditions are hard to choose from when it comes to food!
This festival is a local celebration of farming and agriculture in my town. A procession of horses and donkeys carrying products such as bread, milk, eggs, and beer paraded through the town on a set route as people lined up on either side to watch. This year was also the 150th anniversary of the festival, so there was a second special parade to celebrate this milestone.
This is another simple and delicious dish of red peppers, aubergines, and onions. In this case, it is the cooking process that really gives this dish its flavour. First, red peppers, aubergines, and onions are chargrilled on an open fire until they are blackened on the outside. Then they are put into tupperware containers and left to cool overnight, and the insides of the vegetables continue to cook. Finally, they are peeled and served drizzled with some olive oil either on their own or on top of some bread. Delicious!
Finally, this is a traditional soup of caldo (stock) with meatballs and pasta. The caldo is made by boiling vegetables, meat, and bones. Then this is served separately on a tray after the soup. We ate this a lot in the winter months, and it was a great meal to warm up with! A similar dish is eaten here on Christmas day with special pasta called galets.
Spanish traditions: truly recommendable
I recommend all these foods, cultural celebrations, and Spanish traditions. Have you ever seen or eaten any of them? Or maybe others that have not been covered? If you decide to try any of these dishes, then as they say before meals here in Catalonia, bon profit!
And if you want to learn more about Spanish traditions, you can also take a look at the Top Spanish Christmas Traditions or read about A. Page’s story, a current Meddeas Language Assistant, on how she fell in love with Barcelona.