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Ruta del Xató

Xatonada season is here! During the months of February and March, Catalans enjoy festivals celebrating this unique and delicious dish native to the coast south of Barcelona.

Photos from the Vilafranca del Penedès event this year with five different salads on offer from the surrounding towns. (Calafell, Sitges, Vilanova i Geltrú, and El Vendrell and Vilafranca)


In the previous blog about Xató from October, you will find basic information about this dish. In this new blog entry, we will go more in-depth to uncover the traditions, history, and learn more about the specific renditions of this wonderful salad.


In the Catalan language, many festivals and celebrations related to food and ingredients have the suffix in common "-ada" - for example: Calçotada, Carxofada, Xatonada.

Xatonadas are the festivals highlighting Xató and the salad's very nomenclature gives you a clue to what time of year it happens, in early spring. The phrase "aixetonar la bota" means to tap the barrel, and this salad is meant to be the perfect accompaniment to the new or young wine tapped in early Spring at the beginning of Lent (Quarasme).


Xató ingredients are traditionally available during winter and early spring. Escarole, the curly endive is used, because bitter greens have the ability to grow slowly and consistently without too much daylight, surviving the colder temperatures and moisture of winter.

On the Catalan coast, many fishing communities preserve their catch in tins or jars throughout the year- as in the rest of Spain and Portugal, there are canned and tinned seafood products of the highest quality in the world.


Anchovies (anxoves) for example, are the most famous product from l'Escala on the Costa Brava, about 2 hours north of Barcelona on the rugged and beautiful Mediterranean coast. Salt cod (bacallà) is one of the Iberian peninsula's most traditional products, and the preserved and salted tuna (tonyina) is also of the finest quality.


The three preserved fish - anxoves, bacallà and tonyina are also main ingredients in Xató. In winter, it is customary to eat preserves and food saved from other seasons rather than attempt to find new catch or waste precious few resources during the leaner months. Since Xató season also begins as Carnaval is finishing and goes through the beginning of Lent, this dish contains seafood rather than any meat to be in compliance with the ancient custom of consuming less/no meat during this part of the church calendar (Catholic).

The other ingredients of Xató are readily available year-round or are at least easy to store from the previous autumn, for example: nuts (hazelnuts, almonds), dried Nyora (Ñora peppers), olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, etc.


This month, the main centers of the Xatonada tradition have held their parties on consecutive Sundays in a row. There is a website devoted to the Ruta del Xató which posts the dates for each town, and has information about the corresponding xatonadas. To check out the official website you can click here: https://rutadelxato.com/en/dates/


The 5 main cities boasting their own variety of Xató are located within the geographical boundaries of the wine region DO Penedès: Vilafranca de Penedès, Sitges, El Vendrell, Vilanova i Geltrù, and Calafell. While it seems this relatively simple salad to prepare could not possibly differ from place to place, it is confirmed that each recipe produces a very distinctly different version. For example, Vilafranca's Xató calls for a lot more garlic than the others, and it is noticeable. It also features large chunks of tuna while for example Sitges' favors shredded small pieces of tuna. One sauce is more almond-forward and creamy in texture due to more bread crumb, while another may have less greens or more cod in the salad. Tasted side by side, all five are definitively their own style.

How did the Xatonadas begin? It is unclear when the original celebration or salad was created, but there is documentation in writing as early as an 1850 edition of El Sol, a periodical in the area. By the 19th century, famous writers, artists and society folks were hosting their own private xatonadas one of which was a very famous party thrown by Santiago Rusiñol in February of 1896 in Sitges. It is probable smaller local celebrations with xató were held earlier than this since the tradition of tapping the young wine pre-dated these newspaper articles.


Usually, the common wine to drink with Xató is a young, possibly aged for about 6 months white wine of the varietal Xarel·lo (which is pronounced Charelo, not the same as Chardonnay). In the DO Penedès, the three most common grapes in cava and other white wine production are Xarel·lo, Macabeu and Parellada. However, red wines can also compliment this salad such as Merlot and Ull d'Llebre (Tempranillo in Spanish) also found in the Penedès. Whether you prefer your wine to soften the garlic, punch up the spice of paprika, perfectly compliment the salty tuna, or tame the bitterness of the greens, both the white and red wines of the region pair perfectly depending on your palette.


In closing, if you're ever in the Barcelona or Tarragona region between February and April, the xatonadas are well worth exploring for the interesting and delicious salad and not just the fact they're in a region known for excellent wine tourism. Try Xató because it's a unique winter salad that uses fish and a peppery, nutty sauce for a fresh take on a filling but healthy entreé.






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