- Try pulpo a la gallega and empanada
- Drink some albariño wine
- Visit the cathedral
- Buy a box of tarta de Santiago
The city of Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the community of Galicia and located in the province of A Coruña. You may have heard of the Camino de Santiago – well this is where it ends….this is the destination. While I am not entirely sure of Santiago’s original goal was, I know that my goal in arriving there was to enjoy me some Galician food and drink! Santiago is home to the large Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the final point on the camino. Surrounding it are several small streets where you can enjoy all the amazing food that Galicia has to offer.
A brief history
Originally founded in the 400s after the collapse of the Roman empire, it eventually was under the control of the Visigoths along with all of Galicia and Portugal. During the Napoleonic war, the region was even captured by the French. When the remains of the apostle Santiago el Mayor (or Saint James the Great) were discovered in the 800s, the city became accepted as a holy city and became the destination of holy pilgrimage, only second to Rome. Whether the remains are indeed those of Santiago is up for debate, but regardless, it remains a spiritual destination for many.
What to eat
In Galicia, there are several very specialties – particularly because they are favorites of mine. The first, and potentially most off-putting, is the pulpo a la gallega….octupus. Don’t be afraid friends! Pulpo is heaven, and I’ve yet to find a weary traveler who hasn’t come to enjoy it. Pulpo a la Gallega is simply sliced octopus served warm with olive oil (por supuesto!), a little bit of potato, and sprinkled with sea salt and paprika. All served on a quaint little wooden tablet. Be brave and try it!
Also incredibly delicious in Galicia is the empanada. You have probably tried this in one form or another as it is one of the few Spanish dishes that migrated to Latin America. Galicia is the mecca for empanada, so don’t think you can pass on it since you can get it at home at the local Mexican restaurant. In Galicia it is often made with either tuna or meet, and includes other yummy ingredients such as chorizo, potato (oh the Galician potatoes!), and bell pepper (pimiento).
Be sure to order anything on the carta that is seafood, particularly the shellfish. A shellfish that you won’t see at home, but that I guarantee you will love, are the berberechos, which are basically mini clams. They are SO fresh and delicious that just a splash of lemon will suffice to make them a dish from heaven. What makes the shellfish in Galicia so special, at least in my opinion, is the culture around harvesting them. The job is primarily done by older women, called mariscadoras (I have a secret dream of doing this job – after all, I have the skills after growing up clam digging), who go out 15 days of every month, four hours a day, raking the shallow waters of the beach for shellfish. It’s a respectable, but hard job, and one which carries years upon years of tradition. It’s amazing to eat a simple little berberecho knowing the effort that went to acquire it.
Last, but certainly not least of the list of must try Galician foods is particular to Santiago – it’s the tarta de Santiago. Now, I always say Santiago was a very good man because his tarta is awesome. It’s a simple almond cake, incredibly light by American standards, but moist and full of flavor. No frosting, just a sprinkle of powdered sugar, with the cross symbol of Santiago vacant of sugar in the middle. If you are walking through the streets of Santiago, you’ll find several shops offering samples – my best advice is to eat, eat, eat!
Ok, that wasn’t the last – you need to wash this all down with some Albariño! Albariño is the famous white wine from Galicia. It is often served very cold and has the most crisp flavor that of course mixes perfectly with the delicious seafood.
I think it’s obvious – you should come to Galicia with an appetite!
What to see
I suppose before I put you into a food coma with the above recommendations, I should have told you to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This is the ultimate destination for the pilgrimage and home to the remains of Santiago. After visiting it, just go and stuff yourself silly with food and wine. Really, it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do. Cheers!
Experiences from my blog