Every year I find myself in the sleepy, unknown village of Rianxo, located just south of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia Spain. The landscape of Galicia is traditionally lush green, and dense fog usually hangs over the mountains that dot the horizon like donut holes. On any given morning, I tend to go for a run along the muelle. On this particular morning, the sky is gray, and there is a misty rain that seems to linger in the air before hitting the ground and my skin.
The local people call this rain orvallo — an affectionate name for this trademark moisture that leaves all Galician locals complaining during summer months. However, to me, the rain is no bother. Instead, I am reminded of the fertility of the land here and the way in which the rain helps enhance the flavour of everything that comes from this Northern Spanish region.
The fruits of the sea
It may come as no surprise that the locals of Rianxo are quite passionate about their food. Galicia Spain is well known for its cuisine and while I am no stranger to the fame of Spanish gastronomy, one cannot help but be enchanted by the less glamorous ‘food of the people’ as seen on the café tables and storefronts around town. But before Michelin stars and critic reviews, the inspiration for eating well has always come from terra madre.
My mother-in-law is a woman of the sea. Mercedes, a native Galician, can always be found swimming at the beach instead of tanning (a brave act, given the famously frigid Atlantic waters). She also always has a refrigerator full of fresh fish and mariscos. In Galicia, you must indulge in the fruits of the sea. Curiously enough, as with any seaside community, crustaceans were once considered the poor man’s meal, as this type of food was essentially free. However, through the years this perspective has changed, and there is no place where the quality and demand for marine life is more prevalent than in Galicia Spain. Parcebes — a type of barnacle and a delicacy of the local area — can go for up to 100 Euros per plate. Parcebes have built up a strong reputation, famous in recent years for their high price tag and purity of flavour. The scary price is due to the dangerous way in which they are collected as they live on rocks in rough in far-reaching corners of the sea. For something lighter on the wallet, zamboriñas are a must. They are scallops unique to the region with an explosive flavour. Berberechos, small water clams, are another good option and are most enjoyed stuffed into an empanada. The seafood from Galicia is considered some of the best in the world, which is why it is essential for any traveller to be open to indulging in what the ocean has to offer.
The trademark rainy weather in Galicia Spain also helps enhance the flavour of the beef and vegetables of the region. The beef here is considered the best in Spain and many restaurants around the country make note of this on their menus as a mark of quality. Lastly, no trip to Galicia would be complete without a slice of Almond Cake (Tarta de Almendra) usually presented with a powdery shape of the cross of the Order of Santiago as décor. This delicious and sweet, lemon and nutty confection is the perfect way to end any meal — paired with a small shot of coffee liquor, of course.
As we move off the streets and into the world of fine dining, there are many exciting experiences to be enjoyed. In my culinary voyage, I had the pleasure of eating at one of the finest restaurants in Galicia, Filigrana. Headed by Chef Federico Lopez Arcay, the restaurant is situated within the enchanting hotel of A Quinta da Auga. Filigrana, just a short distance outside Santiago de Compostela, seems decades away from any city. The scenery outside the restaurant is lush and secretive as if you’ve stumbled upon a forgotten garden waiting to be discovered.
The land of Pulpo
We began our meal with Pulpo a la Plancha: grilled Galician octopus with sautéed potatoes and San Simón cheese. Octopus is a must while in Northen Spain, and the grilled pulpo at Filigrana was tender and succulent. Next, my new favorite dish, Zamboriñas: bay scallops in their shell with garlic and parsley oil. These did not disappoint and were the sweetest and delicate I had ever tasted. Lastly, Empanada Gallega, with local greens and white fish. The greens were slightly bitter but offered a good balance to the sweetness of the fish and flaky crust.
For the entrée, we enjoyed Galician Squid with black rice and fresh lemon. The colour of the rice is given by the ink of the squid used to prepare the dish. The taste is creamy and light. Next, Galician Monkfish with prawns and rice which were perfectly cooked and accompanied by a sweet and savoury sauce that balanced the flavours. Lastly, Beef Entrecote with laminated potato and homemade mustards that were so juicy and flavourful the meat almost tasted caramelised.
To close the journey, we enjoyed a local favorite, Fiolla. This is a type of crepe very common in Galicia and is usually made at home. Here, we experienced Chef Federico’s version that was caramelised with creamy rice pudding filling. The caramelisation gave a pleasant crunch, and the pudding was so creamy and sweet I quickly gave up on sharing. It was an all around exquisite experience.
From the streets and local restaurants to the five-star dining experiences, it is no secret that one eats well in Galicia Spain. I highly recommend trying both sides of the spectrum, you will not be disappointed.