You don’t generally think of Galicia in gourmet terms. It usually means mists, verdant pastures, bagpipes and clutches of pilgrims limping or striding towards their goal – Santiago de Compostela and the cathedral of St James. But there is another life in this windswept carbuncle that seems to hang off the edge of the Iberian peninsula. Less spiritual, more secular: food, more particularly seafood and even more particularly shellfish and molluscs. Having just returned from indulging in an obscene amount of it, my cup runneth over.
This one is tentactular – a cooked octopus, ready to be snipped up.
Divine little fellows that once clung to a rock, swam through the deep or simply emerged from the shallows are all displayed in glorious abundance at Santiago’s municipal food market, one of those places that you want to return to again and again – to buy every single item.
Weathered-looking country women may display meagre amounts of produce but the quality is first class – whether baskets of pimientos de Padron (those juicy little green peppers that just need a quick flick in a pan of olive oil, then a sprinkle of coarse sea-salt – eh voila below), label-less jars of honey from their own hives, homemade wine in coca-cola bottles, diverse seedlings, wild herbs and a salivating amount of ultra-fresh organic veg.
But back to the shellfish. Navajas (razor clams, below) just need light grilling, percébes (goose barnacles, second below) a quick dip in boiling water and clams a rapid shunt around a pan of garlicky olive oil, finished off with a few minutes steaming in added white wine.
And make that albariño from the Rias Baixas while we’re at it, rapidly becoming my all time favourite white wine – sorry New Zealand & Australia, yes I love you too but this Atlantic-side take on a Riesling stirs my palate more.
Back in a little tavern down a medieval back-street, I’m served young red wine from the Galician hills in a dinky white ceramic jug – with a matching white bowl to drink it from. How uplifting to find something so obviously centuries-old yet still in use – and not for tourists either. Here’s a blurred sighting…
Then comes the utter classic: a wooden platter (another Galician serving tradition) of pulpo a feira – the best mollusc ever to emerge from the deep. Yet again these Celts prove how to cook to perfection – the octopus spends a couple of hours gently simmering in a large, preferably copper pan, then is cut into pieces, dusted with paprika and a trickle of fine virgin olive oil. Succulent is not the word. Could I even say spiritual…?