Lobsters and cornbread: a culinary journey on the shores of Galicia

Remote and extra-ordinary – compared to her Spanish neighbours, Galicia lies on the furthest north-west borders of Spain. Mostly renown for her capital Santiago and the famous “camino”, most of the beautiful spots in Galicia are still left relatively unexplored by the hordes of tourists that for now remain obsessively focused on the south of Spain.

Proud of some romantically-acclaimed Celtic origins, Galicia’s shores do remind us of beautiful Brittany, breathtaking Cornwall and eternally-green Ireland. At the same time, the gorgeous Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) running roughly from A Coruña to Fisterra preserves some beautiful beaches with caribbean colours.

Its culinary tradition is rich and abundant, with seafood reigning undisputed and uncontested on the Galician dining tables. I will therefore bring you on this concise but colourful journey through its dishes suggesting also a couple of addresses, should I be able to convince you to travel through the region.

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Seafood Paella at Restaurante Lecer

Depending on where you are from originally, some dishes might sound more or less close to your culinary knowledge. But what I personally believe is the jewel of Galician cuisine is “percebes”. This is a peculiar shellfish, with a long callous body and a funny dragon claw at the end of this. Percebes are difficult and dangerous to fish, hence very expensive, and the bigger the size, more the money. They purely taste like the sea. They are very delicate though, hence do not expect a mussel-like taste but something way more sophisticated. Their preparation is shockingly easy: simply boil them for few minutes (possibly in sea water) and if you want to go traditional, pour them out on the table when ready and dig in!

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Percebes

Another contestant for the first place on the Galician tables is Pulpo a Feira – a nice, fresh boiled octopus, prepared in huge copper pots. The octopus is progressively dripped in the boiling water, starting from the tentacles. Once ready, this is cut with scissors onto wooden plates and dressed with paprika (you can choose whether hot or sweet),a pinch of coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil. If you want to experience the real thing, go the food market in Santiago at around lunch time, get a portion of octopus and buy a bottle of white Galician Ribeiro wine…we even had this for breakfast!
Alternatively, the octopus can also be served on a bed of sliced boiled potatoes, obtaining the well-known Pulpo a la gallega.

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Pulpo a Feira at Santiago food market

I cannot travel to Spain and not mention paella. But…beware! Paella in Galicia will be like no other you had in the rest of Spain. This is obviously due to the freshness and abundance of seafood. We had a delicious paella at Restaurante Lecer – Rua Real, 40 – behind Fisterra castle. The beautiful dish listed langoustines, razor clams, calamari, mussels and baby squid. I personally think there had been an addition of saffron, that beautifully brought together all the flavours. Even more delicious though, was a jaw-dropping paella or “arroz” we had in a small family-run taberna outside the little town of Merexo, Muxia – Casa Carmela (Rua Merexo 22, 15125, Muxía). The astonishing seafood dish was served with huge chunks of lobster majestically sitting on the bed of rice. We literally could not have enough. Sometimes I think the whole trip to Galicia was simply worth this only dish.
The same taberna offered a simple but enticing menu, so we also indulged into razor clams, prawns and a juicy tray of paprika cod with potatoes and onions.

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Lobster Paella at Casa Carmela

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Paprika Cod at Casa Carmela

The extraordinary variety of fish in Galicia also gives you the chance to cook and experiment. We ordered a magnificent spider crab from the local fishmonger – also in Rua Real in Fisterre – and prepared a juicy spaghetti dish with crab meat served in the crab shell. Prepared by my mother’s golden hands.

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Spaghetti with crab meat

Galicia is also the birthplace of empanadas. Different from their Latin American cousins, these empanadas are flat, resembling more of a pie rather that a pasty. Baked in huge rectangular trays, empanadas are stuffed with any kind of meat or fish and eaten literally at any time of the day. Also, they can be made of wheat or corn pastry. In Fisterra we had a very rich tuna empanada and a luscious corn empanada of variegated scallops.

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Prawn at Casa Carmela

The journey could continue for pages and pages, but I am sure you will want to explore the corners, tavernas and little culinary jewels of the region as much as we did. I therefore leave you to the discovery of a compelling land. With its seafood marvels, light, fresh, white wines, aquamarine waters, dropping cliffs, fascinating lighthouses and enchanting beaches, Galicia is a delightful destination for all the senses.