Canelones de San Esteban

San Esteban Canneloni, the star dish of Christmas

Christmas is coming and with it, numerous delicious dishes that we enjoy once again with our family, our friends and our loved ones.

Among all these dishes in Catalonia, one very particular stands out which, only by thinking about it, makes our mouth water. Indeed, we are talking about the delicious canneloni of San Esteban, a very traditional dish of the Catalan cuisine for which, every December 26th, Catalans meet to consume this typical dish of Italian origin.  

To understand this tradition, we must first take a look at the origin of San Esteban and the popularity of the canneloni on this date.

Canneloni of San Esteban

Why San Esteban is celebrated in Catalonia

Like most Christmas holidays, the feast of San Esteban has a religious origin. San Esteban is considered the first martyr of Christianity and was stoned to death after being accused of blasphemy.

To discover the origins of this festivity, we have to go back to the Carolingian Empire (800-843), when the Catalan counties were part of the Marca Hispanica of Charlemagne’s Empire and depended religiously on the archbishopric of Narbonne (now France).

Within the empire, the family unity was understood as a clan. For the Christmas feast, on December 25, all family members had to gather at the house of the family patriarch (also known as Pairal House), no matter how far away they lived from it.

In order to give everyone time to return home after Christmas Day, December 26th was established as a holiday to give the rest of the family members time to return home.

For this reason, December 26 is a public holiday in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and other regions of Europe such as the Czech Republic, Ireland, England and Italy.  As a curious fact, the Easter Monday is a holiday for the same reason.

It is not known when this holiday, which was established to return home, became more festive in nature, but it is believed that this change of traditions was introduced during Industrialization, at the beginning of the 19th century.

However, this tradition explains why we still gather as a family for the Christmas holidays and why we go to one person’s house or another.

Extension of the Carolingian Empire. Image extracted from Wikipedia

Where does the Canneloni tradition come from?

As mentioned above, the tradition of eating on San Esteban is relatively recent, as this change was not introduced until the arrival of industrialization.

Although it may seem to Catalans like eating canneloni for San Esteban is the most traditional thing to do, this tradition was introduced practically at the end of the 19th century.

Some Italian cooks had been serving the first canneloni in restaurants for a long time. However, this dish became popular at the end of the 19th century, when Charles and Michel Pompidor, two French chefs, owners of one of the restaurants most frequented by the Catalan bourgeoisie, the Maison Dorée in Barcelona, began to change the recipe for canneloni to differentiate them from the typical Italian canneloni, adding béchamel sauce and gratin cheese.  

The reason canneloni were prepared and served for San Esteban was all the leftover food from the Christmas meal.

Until the first canneloni dishes were marketed in 1911, this delicious dish could only be tasted at the Maison Doirée, which is why its fame and popularity grew so much, even though the restaurant closed its doors years later.

Dance in the Maison Doirée (1905). Photo taken from Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona

San Esteban Canneloni at Agust Barcelona

At Agust Barcelona, we have incorporated the canneloni of San Esteban as part of our group menu, a new service which is available for groups from 8 people, that we have launched to cater to all those families or work groups which gather to dine, share and have a good time, as was traditionally done for the Christmas holidays in the time of Charlemagne. Are you going to miss it?

 A fresh and local product, with lots of bechamel sauce and lots of grilled cheese, which we know you will love.

We wait for you at Agust Barcelona!