Myself and Peter recently completed the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St.James as it’s known in English. It was an exhilarating experience and the highlights included among others, meeting some really interesting people, beautiful landscapes and of course, trying out local cuisine and specialties.
Never having visited Spain before and not knowing much about Spanish food except for tapas, Rioja wine and paella, our journey through various provinces provided us with a good insight into local eating traditions and we sampled as many of them as we could.
And of course, I had to try out the famed paella on our very first day.
There was an extensive menu for only paellas (similar copies of which we clater came across in all big towns on the way) and included all possible versions of the dish. Since I’d only recently rediscovered an allergy to shellfish, prawns in particular, I had to settle for a less harmful version that included chicken and vegetables. Although the rice was moist and well flavoured, I was a bit disappointed that the pieces of chicken were more bone than meat and the portion size could have been a bit healthier too but this seemed to be the norm wherever we tried paella.
However, our very first dinner happily cleared any apprehensions we were beginning to have about the local cuisine. For a mere 18 euros, we could have a starter, main, dessert along with bread, wine and water! This of course was part of the ‘peregrino’ menu or pilgrim menu that local restaurants and cafes design especially for pilgrims walking the Camino. Brilliant!
Coming back to our first dinner, I had a starter of peppers stuffed with sausage meat and cooked au gratin. I later found out that the meat used to stuff the peppers is from the morcilla sausage, a kind of Spanish blood sausage that happened to be a regional speciality.
This was followed by sardines grilled with Padron peppers (another specialty of the region). These little green peppers tasted lovely roasted with a sprinkling of rock salt over them and in combination with the fried sardines.
Peregrino menus were always generous with their portion sizes. Usual starters included soups, platters of cold meats (consisting of lovely Spanish ham) and cheeses, pastas etc followed by mains commonly of cuts of meat served with fries and more often than not, a couple of fried eggs. Not entirely sure how this combination was supposed to work but it featured highly in many joints. Another common item was ‘ensalada mixta’ or a mixed salad made by throwing together a range of vegetables with hard boiled eggs and canned tuna on top.
Of course, once in a while we’d tire of these usual meals and spoil ourselves with something different. A memorable meal we had was at a Mexican restaurant where I tried the chicken mole and a mango icecream with tequilla for dessert – a good break from our usual peregrino menus!
And we did go off the beaten track and try other regional specialties such as ‘pulpo’ or octopus cooked in red wine and served with potatoes found widely in the Galician region. Must say, it’s not something I’d readily order again 😉
I was delighted to discover that wherever we were, there seemed to be a good patisserie tradition and there would be an entire section dedicated to all things sweet in most stores and supermarkets. We had our fill of Tarte Santiago or Santiago tart – a moist almond cake with a cross outlined in icing sugar on the top and also tried out other delicious pastries such as churros with hot chocolate – crispy rings of pastry dusted with sugar very similar to doughnuts.
And last, but definitely not the least, I do have to mention the innumerable cups of humble coffee con leche (rich coffee topped up with ample milk) that gave us an excuse to take a break and kept us going.
This trip was definitely an eye opener to Spanish food culture and lifestyle overall and although, am sure it varies from one region to the other and we only covered a little of it, it has left us with great memories of food and people that’s definitely worth revisiting!