GASTRONOMIC GALICIA

Pulpo freind 1

Getting attached

Remembering how I looked into the eyes of an octopus in A Coruña I think it is time to talk about the food of northern Spain.   Octopus, “el pulpo” is said to be “the iconic dish of Galicia”.   It is on sale everywhere you look in the ubiquitous “pulperías”, the local bars serving up this popular delicacy.  I, however, had communed with a fascinating live specimen in A Coruña’s “Casa de los Peces” aquarium and had no stomach to eat one afterwards.   Neither did they look very appetizing to my mind.

Pulperia

Poor Pulpos

A Coruña sits on the north west tip of Spain and was my last port of call before reaching Santiago de Compostela slightly to the south. The coastline of this corner of Spain is ominously called La Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death, because of all the shipwrecks that historically occurred here on its unprotected rocky shores directly exposed to the Atlantic.

The Costa da Morte extends round the north west coast and down to Cabo (Cape) Fisterra, from the Latin for “Land’s End” even though the most westerly point of Europe is apparently in Portugal.

Galician A Coruña (officially La Coruña in Spanish) is a large shipping city with a busy dockland and extensive urban sprawl, as such not my cup of tea. It has several modern industries, especially in textiles, and is the home of the Zara fashion company.

Though I was not attracted by its modern streets, there is a pleasant historic centre, the heart of which is a large square, the Plaza de Maria Pita, with the formidable Museo de Relojes building dominating it.

El Museo de Relojes in the Plaza de Maria Pita

El Museo de Relojes in the Plaza de Maria Pita

The square at night

The square at night

Around the square are atmospheric cobbled streets packed with restaurants and lively bars, and behind it one can climb up to a quiet old town district.

One of the most attractive parts of A Coruña was the high ocean-front promenade where the rumbustious Prussian-blue Atlantic thrashed the coast.

The A Coruña seafront on La Costa da Morte

The A Coruña seafront on La Costa da Morte

Here many people walked on the cliff path, the Passeo Maritimo, which is overlooked by the distinguished UNESCO monument, the Roman Tower of Hercules, said to be the oldest lighthouse in the World in continuous operation for 2,000 years.   I understand one can climb its 239 steps but cannot vouch personally for this.

The enormous Tower of Hercules

The enormous Tower of Hercules

Walking this way one comes across the “house of fish” aquarium bordering the sea which makes a dramatic backdrop to the spacious natural outdoor seal enclosure. It was here that I looked into the eyes of my octopus and recalled documentaries describing how intelligent these creatures are.  I wondered what s/he was thinking, suckered to that glass front.   How strange to see people appreciating the beauty of the writhing octopus tank then seeing them eat so many of them everywhere else.

The beautiful and vibrant octopus tank

The beautiful and vibrant octopus tank

I saw so many pulperías in this area that I became seriously concerned that the octopuses had been overfished, though when I enquired one man told not to be concerned as many were imported.  Oh, that’s okay then?   The Galician guidebooks assert that the surrounding sea is NOT overfished, but is so fruitful with over 400 species of fish alone that its harvests are exported abroad.  It is in fact “one of the main fish and shellfish producers on the planet” and “Galician gastronomy is a veritable reference in Spain and the World” because “Experts claim the water conditions, temperature and tides of these seabeds give these crustaceans and bivalves a true sea flavour, and are a reference for the sector”.   So there.

I love tourist brochures and menus. Here is a quote from another Galician pamphlet about the food in another part of Galicia : “The undisputed king of the Sanxenxo’s gastronomy, as good fishing village, is the seafood and fish. In the village we can find in the fisch and in the fisch market, seafood and fish of excellent quality.”  Why do they never ask an Anglophone before going to print?

They are, however, correct to assert that the food in northern Spain is excellent. It is naturally dominated by fish and shellfish dishes at excellent value, especially if you take the menu de dia comprising several courses, bread and wine for less than 10 euros.  Perhaps naively trusting that the waters are not overfished I had an extremely cheap meal in the Galician town of Noia which commenced with an enormous pile of clams followed by a generous plateful of three different fish including Sea Bass – wine thrown in.

Clams 2 (2)

In the late afternoon the bars spread out their colourful pinchos on their counters, called “pintxos” in the Basque area. These are fabulous treats of sandwiches (bocadillos) and other tasty titbits for one or two euros each.  The word pinchos comes from the Spanish “pinchar”,  to pinch, because they are usually pierced with a cocktail stick. At some point small bar treats become tapas but the distinction is a little mysterious.

Mouth watering pintos

Delicious pintos

The Spanish also love their cakes and the numerous pastelerías always have mouth-watering pastries and biscuits on tempting show.   In one place I stayed at a wide selection of stodgy cakes was even available for breakfast.

20141102_144604

The Window of Temptation

I thought that the local delicacies must be tried, including the famous Empanada Gallega (Galician pie) usually filled with tuna;  Santiago cake of course; paella; and the snack that numerous people consume in the bars  – hot chocolate and churros.

Another appetizing Galician starter

Another appetizing Galician starter

My best memories of A Coruña, though, were the many bays and fishing villages to discover nearby, and it was divine to do so out of season as some lanes and little harbours would have been a nightmare in the height of summer.

Little Redes is a picture-postcard place, the houses on its quayside painted pretty seaside colours, and the nearby Ares is another charming fishing village.

Redes quayside

Redes quayside

Pretty Redes

Pretty Redes

Redes harbour

Redes harbour

The old roman town of Betanzos is a lovely, bustling place with its market traders in the square, beyond which you can find attractive historic buildings and gothic churches. It rises up on a hill above the Mandeo river where colourful boats sit beached by the water’s edge, waiting for the summer festival when they are decked out for a floral flotilla.

Busy little Betanos

Busy little Betanzos

Betanzos boats

Betanzos boats

Historic Betanzos

Historic Betanzos

Within walking distance of my flat on the outskirts of A Coruña was the cute Santa Cruz quayside with its castle on an island in the bay.   Further away at the deserted Malpica de Bergantinos beach I was once again blissfully alone playing on the sands for a long while until a couple of surfers joined me.

Malpicas 3

Malpica de Bergantinos bay

In fact Galicia has the biggest concentration of beaches in all of Spain. There are over 700 – some small coves, others wide white-sand spaces proud of their blue flag awards, yet others idyllic escapes on the many tiny islands which pepper the coast.   You could spend weeks discovering this part of Spain alone, but I had another important destination to get to and was nearly there – Santiago de Compostela.

Rua da Santiago

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Comments
One Response to “GASTRONOMIC GALICIA”
  1. Joan says:

    Oh Kingfisher this is lovely, you have excelled yourself. I would love to journey in that area and try the foods you describe.

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