El Xató is the most famous food of Vilanova, and all the Comarca del Garraf. Each town (in fact each chef) has its own recipe, but basically it is a mix of "cabell d'àngel" curly endives, preserved cod and tuna, anchovies and olives. The character of this meal is its sauce (the "xatò"): special dried peppers (nyoras), almonds, hazelnuts, garlic and vinegar, everything mixed in the mortar with olive oil.
It is a typical plate of the carnival, when is accompanied with different omelettes, local sausages, etc. The meal ends with something sweet: the meringue dessert (be careful, after drinking a few glasses of the excellent local "cava", people tend to start "meringue wars"!!!)
There is even a "gastronomic route" of El Xató, and some popular events and festivals around it.
At this link you can find some traditional recipes: www.vilanovageltru.com/guia310.htm#GASTRONOMY
Being the 3rd seaport of Catalonia, obviously the most traditional dishes from Vilanova are based of fresh fish and seafood, just arrived from the sailing boats. Some traditional meals are:
- bull de tonyina (fresh tuna stew)
- l'all cremat (casserole of fish and seafood with roasted garlic, tomato and potatoes)
- rossejat (noodles with seafood)
- ranxos de peix (traditional casseroles the fishermen used to made)
- sípia a la bruta (cuttlefish dish),
But of course you can find excellent vegetable and meat dishes too.
There are some autochthon products as well:
- Escarola de cabell d'àngel (kind of curly endive)
- Espigalls (kind of cabbage, similar to broccoli but with smoother taste)
- Gambes de Vilanova (prawns)
- Cargols punxencs (kind of shellfish)
The signature dish of El Garraf area is el Xató, a delicious salad made with local ingredients.
Vilanova i la Geltrú is one of the few towns in Spain that could resist Franco's prohibition of Carnival celebrations (others were Tenerife and Cadiz, maybe a few more) Therefore, Vilanova has not re-invented this festival after the return of democracy. The Carnival you can enjoy here is (more or less) as my great-grandparents celebrated! It is the last remaining Catalan-Antillian carnival (once celebrated all along the coastline).
The festival begins on Saturday with the Dance of Shawls. The "Xatonada" is a social and gastronomic town ritual (see my other tip) but on Maundy Thursday the dish is brought out into the street to allow all visitors to participate in the tradition. On Friday arrives the King of the carnival, Carnestoltes with their "Arrivo"(parade). They continue on Saturday with the parade of the Moixó Foguer (character covered totally of feathers that appears and disappears from a box), and parties of funny costumes at night.
Sunday is the big day with "les Comparses": couples throwing candies (almost 100 tons, no kidding!!) to each others and to the viewers.
After a few more traditional activities on Monday ("Vidalet", children's carnival, and the Carnestoltes Choirs), and on Tuesday ("Vidalot", groups of disguised adults throw grains of corn and barley on people) the festival ends on Wednesday with "the sardine funerals" (simulation of the death of the Carnestoltes King... till next year!)
There is an old tale about a peasant of La Getrú, who, on a full moon nigh, wanted to catch with a basket the moon reflected in the water of a pool. Since then, when someone wants something impossible, people say “vol la lluna en un cove” (he/she wants the moon in a basket)
Other said that we Vilanovins tend to be “lunatics”, pretty unpredictable and a bit crazy people... :)
In any case, you can buy some Llunes de Vilanova (Vilanova's moons) as sweet souvenir. These are cookies made with flour, hazelnuts, lard, sugar, cream, lemon zest and cinnamon.
Vilanova i la Geltrú celebrates its main summer's festival on August 5. This tradition came from more than a century ago, as the result of a promise made to the Virgin of the Snows (verge de les Neus) in return for saving the town's vineyards from a summer hailstorm.
You can enjoy the traditional parades and processions, with characters and other dramatic elements from the ancient Catalan festive tradition: giants, big-heads, mythological mules, "castellers" (human towers), dragons and devils playing with fire, and a long list of other dances and traditional entertainment.
The festival last a few days, always around August 5 and the closest weekend.
Of course, there is as well modern-day music live shows and dance at night, and great fun all over. Do not miss it if you happen to be in the area!
The festivals' season begins in Vilanova with Tres Tombs ("the three turns") festival, on January 17.
It is a parade of horses and carriages, which represent how people and goods were transported in the past. They do 3 turns around the town in honor of Sant Antoni Abat, benefactor of the domestic animals (and saint patron of Vilanova).