Santiago de Compostela
ABOVE: Front room of the ó 42 restaurant and tapas bar. INSET BELOW: Checking a wine's bouquet, bags of mussels from O Grove, and a place setting at Ex.
Can it be a coincidence that "Galicia" and "gastronomy" begin with the same letter? In this green and fertile region of farms, forests, estuaries, and seacoasts, there's no shortage of fresh local ingredients--or of Gallegos who are ready to break open a bottle of wine, sit down to a meal, or attend one of the more than 300 gastronomic festivals that take place in the four Galician provinces each year.
A Turgalicia press release describes the abundance of good things to eat: "More than 80 types of sea-fish and over half a dozen river varieties can be found in [Galicia's] restaurants and taverns. There are also nearly 50 different kinds of shellfish, 15 meats (or more, if we count game), one and a half dozen differet vegetables and pulses, and a wide range of delicious cheeses, fruit, and desserts."
Another Turgalicia publication, The Land and the People, describes such dishes as laçon con grelos (shoulder of pork with turnip tops), Galician stew (ham, beef, duck, and chorizo sausage, accompanied by cabbage, potatoes, and chickpeas), and empanada pies, which can be filled with anything (such as ground meat) and were taken to South America by Gallego immigrants to Argentina and Uraguay.
The brochure goes on to discuss seafood dishes such as fish from the nearby Atlantic and Bay of Biscay (including caldeirada, "a sort of casserole"), octopus á feira ("cooked, sliced, sprinkled with paprika and salt, and dressed with olive oil"), and the seemingly endless array of spider crabs, lobster, prawns, scallops, and cockles that populate local waters and tables.
But why read when you can eat? Santiago de Compostela is dotted with restaurants in every price range, and I can recommend several from personal experience:
ó 42, at Rúa do Franco 42 (see photo at top of page), is a friendly and atmospheric bar-restaurant where you can order small plates of local specialties at moderate prices. I've never been an octopus fan, but the octopus á feira changed my mind about eight-legged seafood, and the big scallops were as impressive to look at as they were to eat. (Tip: Try the "packed peppers," where a few hot peppers are mixed in with the marinated sweet peppers in a gastronomic Russian Roulette.)
Restaurant Carretas is in the Rúa das Carretas, a street just downhill and around the corner from the parador side of the the Praza do Obradoiro. Sole with white-wine sauce is the house specialty, but the veal is also a good choice.
Ex, the informal and moderate-priced restaurant of the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, is another good place to try tapas (mini-portions) or raciones (shared plates) of Galician seafood, pork, omelettes, and other specialties. The atmosphere is cheerful, daily specials are written on the blackboard next to the standard menu, and the food is up to Spanish parador standards.
Tip: Galician desserts are outstanding, so leave room for the moist almond-flavored Santiago de Compostela cake, cheesecake, "fried milk," and other sweets. (If you're lucky, you'll have a second chance to eat dessert at breakfast: My hotel's buffet had several kinds of cake every day, and the airport bar was serving Santiago cake when I arrived at 6:30 a.m.)
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