Who gave that guy a plate of burning booze? This is clearly no English restaurant brought to its knees by the demands of Health and Safety. Absolutely not: this is a cremat, served up at a lovely restaurant in Calella de Palafrugell.
Had that burning bowl lost control and erupted over the tablecloth, I had nothing to fear because the Mediterranean Sea was lapping almost at my ankles, and I could have thrown the whole fiery dish into its waves. Obviously trying to avoid the holidaymakers out for an evening stroll along the shore. For Calella is a gorgeous little seaside town on the Costa Brava.
Cremat is a drink that you can only get on the Costa Brava, and Calella de Palafrugell is particularly renowned for it. They usually serve it in cauldrons on the street, but you can order it in restaurants too. It is served at the end of the meal, whereupon they bring out a terracotta dish. Some places ignite it close enough to frizzle your nasal hair. At our restaurant, it was already merrily ablaze when the waiter brought it to our table.
Hypnotised, I stared at the flames for a moment. Finally, I asked the waiter, “what do I do now?”
Cremat is not like a Christmas pudding that is lit and extinguished in a moment. Far from it. You have to stir this potent brew with a ladle for ten minutes before you are allowed to drink it.
Depending on how much of the liquor you sweep into the air, it will either flare up blue or orange. The flames leap up quite high, which I would have found quite alarming, had I not previously fortified myself with a bottle of the local wine (“a bit raw but drinkable with a meal”, as my guidebook assured me).
As you stir the potion, its various potent ingredients spice up the air. Inside the dish, I could see lemon peel and cinnamon sticks, and I think that both rum and brandy were swilling around in there too. After the ten minutes have elapsed, you take a little cup of espresso and then pour it into the pot. This bonds with the other ingredients as well as extinguishing the flame. Then at last, you can finally sup the concoction that you have so carefully prepared.
Cremat is very potent indeed and two people can ladle out plenty of of cupfuls from the bowl. It wasn’t cheap at €18, but that was probably €3 for the alcohol, €1 for the coffee and €14 to cover the company’s fire insurance.
Sharing a cremat is an experience that is popular with tourists and locals alike. When we left, we saw an elderly couple gazing over their own blazing dish. The woman was stirring, while her wild-eyed husband egged her on with a firm cry of “fot-li canya!”, which could be translated as “give it some stick!” Leaving them behind, we saw the fire flickering from blue to orange and back again, as it flared up against the night sky.