Calentita This is a baked pancake-like dish, the Italian farinata, also known in Genoa as fainá. It is made with chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper. The word calentita is the informal diminutive of the Spanish word caliente which means “nice and warm (or hot)”.
Visitors to Casemates Square early on last weekend couldn’t fail to spot the signs that something interesting was about to happen. The Calentita food festival is now in it’s 11th year and after a hiatus of six years, we decided to pay it a visit this time. On our return to Casemates on Saturday evening it was clear that many others had decided to come too.
Back when we had our first Calentita experience, seven years ago, it was a much smaller event to the one we visited this weekend. It featured a number of food stalls selling a wide variety of foreign food choices and was centered around a stage in Casemates Square.
On the night, we joined some friends on a large table at one of the nearby restaurants and made an odd foray towards the food tents. With two small children (one in a buggy) the whole thing was an assault on the senses, loud, crowded and really not the best or easiest environment to steer little people through, and the long queues at the food tents put us off waiting to try the various delicacies on offer.
That said, many of our fellow festival goers had a thoroughly good night. Those with older children (who revelled in being trusted to head off to the stalls without parental supervision and buy their own dinner) and those who came without children had a great time.
We tried one more time, the following year, and gave it up as a bad job. Fast forward to 2017 and we had three children to bring with us and they were all a good deal older. The venue itself had changed as much as our family in the intervening years – it had grown bigger.
Now the event not only covers Casemates Square (albeit in a less crowded way and with a less densely populated tent arrangement) and spills over into the area beyond the Grand Casemates Gates and into the Market Place, Bus Station and beyond. My word, what a difference that means for overcrowding – a huge improvement for us to start with.
This next photo isn’t very clear but you should be able to make out the large stage at the far end (complete with performers) and a very long table in the foreground. It was busy with people but there was room to move – what a huge improvement.
Now down to the nitty gritty – food! (Well it is a food festival after all.) There were over 40 different food tents to choose from catering for all tastes from hot dogs to hog roasts, Pad Thai to popcorn and Calentita to craft beers.
We decided that the best way to deal with the queues and three hungry boys was to split up, I queued for Margarita pizza slices (we have one Little Postcard who isn’t overly adventurous in the food stakes) while Mr Postcard headed to an Asian stall and returned with a lovely samosa for me (below) and quite possibly the best onion bhaji ever to have tickled my tastebuds.
We headed out of the Square and into the Bus Station area beyond, which now had craft stalls standing where the buses usually wait. All along the road were many more stalls on both sides.
I was on a mission; one Little Postcard was adamant he wanted noodles. I joined the queue at the Phillipino food stall and waited for my turn only to discover they had run out! I got a couple of pork kebabs though and they were delicious. One kept the wolf from the door for our noodle lover as we continued on our quest.
There was even a cocktail bar sited atop the old sea walls which encircle this part of town (below). Needless to say we didn’t visit and made do with a rather nice lager in a plastic cup.
Heading back into Casemates Square, and the crowds were growing. A number of local bands took to the stage to entertain the Calentita-ites and the atmosphere was buzzing. We did sample other culinary delights but I can’t for the life of me remember what they were – suffice to say, we didn’t go home hungry.
As the sun began to set, we took our leave of Calentita for 2017. Little legs were wilting and it was time for our exit.
Calentita 2017 was by far our best Calentita to date as a family. As an event it was barely recognisable from our previous encounters and overwhelmingly for the better. Hats off to the organisers who clearly have honed the festival over time.
As a family with young-ish children, this year’s event doesn’t compare to our previous failed attempts at gastronomic family unity. I would recommend anyone who hasn’t tried it before to give it a go next year.
PS I have one shameful admission… almost eight years living in Gibraltar and I have yet to sample actual Calentita (hangs her head in shame). I promise I will put that right.