Cultural Fundamentals: El Porró
How do you normally drink your wine? Straight out of the bottle can be a little unappealing, indeed, so most of us use some kind of vessel, normally a glass. In Catalunya, a glass is optional. Why? Because there is a messier, more fun way to consume the elixir of the vid: el porró.
El porró (porrón in Spanish) is a glass instrument that’s shaped a bit like pitcher or something you’d use to water your plants and real traditionalists swear that drinking wine from a porró is the only way to do it. I won’t argue with the traditionalists, but I will say that it is the messiest way to do it if you are an inexperienced American porrón drinker like I was. The first couple of times I tried this is what happened:
1.) I actually put my mouth on the porró, a (disgusting) faux pas, in an attempt to get closer to it
2.) Wine went all over my face
3.) Wine went all over my face
4.) Wine went all over my face
I actually can’t say that I’m any further along in my skill at this point, but luckily I haven’t been made to drink from this little glass devil very often.
While it may be frustrating for non-Catalans, the tradition of drinking wine from a porró is indeed a lovely and uniquely Catalan cultural phenomenon. The history of the porró — like the history of most great cultural jewels — is hotly debated. While there is mostly a consensus that it originated in Catalunya (with the first mention of the vessel dating back to medieval times), others (namely Valencians) will tell you that it is actually a Valencian invention. In any case, the porró is considered throughout Spain as a Catalan symbol, and is something people tend to want to try (and subsequently fail at) when they visit Catalunya. Even George Orwell had a few choice words for the porró:
…and drank out of a dreadful thing called a porron. A porron is a sort of glass bottle with a pointed spout from which a thin jet of wine spurts out whenever you tip it up; you can thus drink from a distance, without touching it with your lips, and it can be passed from hand to hand. I went on strike and demanded a drinking-cup as soon as I saw a porron in use. To my eye the things were altogether too like bed-bottles, especially when they were filled with white wine.
The above video will give you an idea of what George and I are talking about.And this photo from the EatCatalunya Flickr group shows us how it’s done with skill. Attempt at your own risk.
Like I said, it’s a symbol of Catalan culture, which means — as with many culinary traditions in Catalunya — there are cultural things built around it: dances, superstitions, etc. The Catalan version of Wikipedia tells us that if you break a porró, it’s good luck (but not if you break it intentionally) and that historically, in the town of Sant Feliu de Torelló, there was a dance named after this singular drinkware which involved eating dancing across the town square eating coca and drinking from the porró. Sounds like fun.