In the old days – and I`m talking about a thousand years ago – pilgrims traipsed from all over Europe across northern Spain, up hills, down dales, across the plains of Castile then negotiated the undulations of Galicia before finally reaching their goal – Santiago de Compostela. This week I`m travelling in the reverse direction, heading east towards San Sebastian from Santiago and not on foot but on a luxury train, the Transcantabrico. Another lucky break.
The word Santiago (St James) refers to the legend of the disciple`s relics that allegedly sit in a cask in the crypt (a long story that I shan`t embark on here) – and the cathedral was built in his honour back in the 10th c. A few days ago, the full moon was lurking behind the spires, at the heart of a city that has to be one of Spain`s most welcoming, despite (or maybe because of) the huge influx of pilgrims it has seen over the past millennium. I always love diving into the narrow back streets, spotting nationalities and finding yet another architecturally sublime church or monastery or welcoming bar.
Because apart from the religious aspects, Santiago has a fantastic array of bars and traditional restaurants – pulpo (octopus) heads the menus, a tentacular feast simply prepared by simmering the beast for a couple of hours, preferably in a copper pan. It is then cut up and served drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika. It should be tender, not at all chewy – perfection.
And one of Santiago`s great assets is the bountiful food market where apart from pulpo you can find just about every other form of creature that has ever emerged from the depths of the Atlantic – from percebes (those claw-shaped goose barnacles) to navajas (razor clams) or, as in the pic below, ostras or oysters. They`re flat, similar to the belons of Britanny fame, only smaller, delicate in flavour & perfectly matched with the local Albariño white wine. Here are some I demolished standing at a little bar beside the market. Intelligently the bar people encourage you to buy your own food for appetisers and have a glass of wine to help them on their way – at 2€ a hit it`s not exactly a vast investment.
In restaurants, after octopus, it`s fish and more fish – and yes, the seas are emptying fast round here (read here) yet the market still overflows with tuna, monkfish, cod and hake. Here`s a plate of hake I ate that was cooked in classic Galician style, i.e. with potatoes and a trickle of tomatoey olive oil. Simple yet delicious – and that`s what`s Galicia`s about.
Then it’s time to slumber – after a stunning nocturnal skyscape over the estuaries.