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A guide to Galician food

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

By Patrick Morrissey

When Spaniards think of Galicia in terms of food, they automatically think shellfish , a list of which reads almost like the ABC of a mariscada : thus, we can enjoy almejas (clams), berberechos (cockles), bogavantes (lobsters), centollas (spider crabs), langostas (rock lobsters), mejillones (mussels), nécoras (small crabs), ostras (oysters), percebes (goose barnacles) - see barnacles- , and finally, the very symbol of Galicia - vieiras (scallops).

The above list necessarily excludes fish and a whole range of local names for other weird things in shells.

Special mention, however, at least in my book, goes to pulpo (octopus). I must confess that I had for many years considered it a vastly overrated dish - Spanish friends forever taking me to successive places where they served "the best pulpo in town" and having to chew my way through the slightly-to-very-rubbery blubbery flesh, texture merely depending on how lucky I was that day.

And then my brother-in-law married a young lady from Galicia and his mother-in-law had prepared some 20 kilos of the stuff for the banquet in the garden. Out of pure courtesy I took a forkful of the stuff when she shoved the wooden platter in my face, and it was a turning point in my gastronomic experience. For those of you who have yet to experience it, I can assure you that a well-prepared pulpo is the tenderest of meats. In those days, everyone had their own folk version as to the best way of preparing it so as to ensure tenderness (I'll spare you the details).

But my mother-in-law-by-marriage insisted that the only way to guarantee results was by freezing the pulpo . This has since become standard practice and it is now possible to enjoy a decent-to-excellent "pulpo a la feira" (served with cachelos - thickly sliced, boiled potatoes - and sprinkled with paprika, coarse sea salt and streams of olive oil) in many places.

Climate, together with natural resources, indubitably plays a major role in a country's natural choice of diet. Damp, cold Galicia is no exception and the potato mentioned above is another example of the produce of the land. Normally boiled, it is an essential part of most Galician dishes: "pote gallego", a stew made with pork, chicken, chorizo , panceta (thick, fatty slices of bacon) and potatoes, among other ingredients.

Cachelos also typically accompany "lacón con grelos" - boiled ham (front legs of pork) and tender turnip shoots/leaves.

And then we come to the "empanada gallega", a simple flat pie which can be stuffed with, typically, pisto (Spanish ratatouille), tuna or meat, or cockles, or just about anything that can be mixed with Spain's omnipresent and delicious sofrito , a base of lightly fried onions, green peppers and tomato, which ensures that the pie is never dry. Can even be stuffed with lamprey.

And while we're on the subject of the lightly-fried, don't forget the "pimientos de Padrón" - "unos pican e outros non", also served sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

And then there's xouvas (sardines), "cazola de fabiñas (beans) cordeiras con chipiróns", and "caldereta" and ...

All of the above can, of course, be 'washed down' with any of the five Denominaciones de Origen that Galicia boasts: Ribeiro (which Alfonso X 'The Wise' referred to as "bon viño d´Ourense"), Valdeorras, Rías Baixas (typically the Albariño), Ribeira Sacra and Monterrey. Although almost exclusively known for their white wines, each of the above also produces red wines.

And then it's postre time:

Queso fresco gallego , "filloas" - pancakes stuffed with honey, sugar, custard or jam, and the typical "tarta de Santiago" a dry cake made with almonds.

All of which we might wish to round off with a "queimada", a strong spirit poured into a large shallow clay dish and to which is added loads of white sugar, some lemon peel and half a dozen grains of coffee. The whole lot is then set alight, and kept alight by stirring slowly till the blue flames die, suggesting that the alcohol content has been reduced to a minimum. Tourism obliges an incantation to be made during the ritual to protect those present from the meigas , Galicia's homegrown witches: one doesn't of course normally believe in such folkloric twaddle, but as they say "No creo en las meigas, pero haberlas, haylas".

Read the forum thread on this article here

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice



A guide to food in Spain