Spanish Coastal Bounty — The Best Dishes of Galicia
When you want to experience the a country’s culture there is no better source than the local food. Spain is divided into seventeen autonomous communities that each represent their own unique flavors and twists on Spanish cuisine. Galicia, in the northwest corner of the country, features a rugged and rocky shoreline that spans from the Cantabrian Sea to the cold waters of the Atlantic. Its proximity to the coast provide Galician residents access to some of the freshest seafood in all of Spain. In addition to its booming fishing industry, the area is also home to farmers who produce some of the best Spanish beef, pork, cheese, and dairy products. Over the years, the combination of local ingredients have been developed into some of Spain’s richest and delicious dishes that every traveler to the area should take the time to sample. Here are some of Galicia’s best dishes.
Pulpo a Feira
This is one of Galicia’s most popular dishes and showcases one of the coast’s best catches, fresh octopus. Like much of Spain’s authentic cuisine, Pulpo a Feira is often served tapas style, served on a wooden platter for several people to share. First, the fresh octopus is thoroughly pounded to tenderize the normally tough meat. It is then boiled whole, then cut into pieces and seasoned with fresh Spanish olive oil, sweet Spanish paprika, salt, and pepper. Served alongside boiled potatoes, Pulpo a Feira uses only a few simple ingredients that feature some of Spain’s most bold flavors.
One staple of every cooking culture across the world is an inexpensive and hearty soup. In Spanish culture, soup is called caldo and Caldo Gallego is Galicia’s regional version. There are many different varieties of this soup that highlight the area’s fresh fish and meat. Sometimes it contains a fresh catch from the sea while other versions use beef, pork, or chorizo. Each variety features a rich broth made from potatoes, cabbage, and beans like garbanzos. You can find Caldo Gallego at most of Galicia’s restaurants and marketplaces for a warming meal on one of the coast’s many cold and wet afternoons.
Empanadas are a mainstay in many Spanish cultures and make for an affordable and quick snack that you can take on the go. The Galician version of this meat, fish, or vegetable pie uses whatever ingredients are fresh and abundant. The main ingredient is then minced with onions, combined with local spices, and baked into a portable pastry. Varieties could include fresh cod with peppers and tomatoes or pork with garlic and herbs. Galicia is home to Santiago de Compostela, which is the endpoint of the famous Spanish El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, where travelers have been relying on these filing treats for centuries.
Pimientos de Padron
This is another Spanish tapas dish that showcases a fresh Galician-grown ingredient. The small village of Padron, outside of Santiago de Compostela, is where local farmers cover the hillsides with greenhouses containing tiny green peppers to be featured in this classic Galician starter dish. The peppers are pan-fried in Spanish olive oil and served simply garnished with sea salt. Pimientos de Padron make for a great bar snack and eating them is kind of like a guessing game. About one out of every dozen is moderately spicy and can make your eyes water, but for the most part they are mild, harmless, and tasty. These peppers are considered a delicacy by Galicians but can be found on tapas menus throughout Spain for tourists to sample.
Lacon con Grelos
Lacon con Grelos is one dish typical of Galicia that highlights the area’s quality pork meat. Traditionally, the recipe calls for the front shoulder or leg of the pig to be used as these are the best meats for roasting. The grelos are the greens from a parsnip or turnip and are the secondary ingredient in this dish. The pork is salted and boiled along with chorizo, potatoes, the greens low and slow until tender. The dish is somewhat of a Spanish pot roast but less stew-like and served with slices of the pork topped with the stewed vegetables. Lacon con Grelos takes a while to cook but is worth the wait to enjoy a unique preparation of Spain’s finest pork.
While Spain is often considered one of the Mediterranean nations, travelers should not overlook the northern parts of the country where mountains and ocean meet and make a unique gastronomic climate. Galicia is a region with deep Celtic roots that combines pieces of Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Scottish cultures. Through centuries of invasions, pilgrimages, and times of war and peace, Galicia has picked up different elements to give it its own distinct culture and tradition. The area is unlike the rest of Spain in its terrain, weather, and way of life, all of which have contributed to the style and taste of Galician cuisine.
In addition to Galicia’s rich pantheon of regional dishes, the area is also a producer of unique wines and spirits. Orujo is a liquor distinct to northern Spain distilled from grape skins that is often served after meals or with dessert. Galicians enhance their orujo with bits of citrus peel, coffee grinds, and sugar that turn it into a separate beverage called Queimada. Galicia also produces a fruity, white wine called Albarino that makes a great accompaniment to the areas specialty fish and seafood dishes.