That first taste of Galician octopus will change your life. Forget about any previous experiences you'd had with chewy rubberiness. Galician octopus is prepared how it should be: simply, slowly and with utmost respect so each mouthful is nothing but bliss.
You'll see these giant cephalopods across Galicia in every restaurant and tavern window. They're giant, purple-y crimson in hue, and fascinating with their distinctive suction cups on each tentacle.
After my two nights in A Coruña last year (yes, I'm slowly catching up on my backlog!), I caught the local train to Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and the final destination of thousands of Christian pilgrims every year.
Pilgrim in Santiago de Compostela
My train trip was an easy thirty minutes but for many pilgrims, it takes weeks or months to reach their destination: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St James are said to have been buried.
Pilgrims must walk at least 100km or cycle at least 200km to earn a compostela or official certificate that confirms they have completed the Way of St James. In 2013 there were 215,880 who completed the journey. Numbers typically peak in holy years. In the most recent holy year of 2010, there were more than 270,000 pilgrims. The next holy year will be 2021.
Tourists at the rear of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
There are pilgrims everywhere in Santiago de Compostela, all carrying walking sticks and loaded up with backpacks. It's an inspiring sight, and there seems to be a great sense of community spirit and camaraderie between them all.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
A pilgrim's mass is each every day at noon in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, announcing each pilgrim's country of origin and their starting point. The building is dramatically impressive, Romanesque in structure with Gothic and Baroque modifications. The cathedral was completed in 1211 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
It's extraordinarily beautiful inside too.
Mercado de Abastos farmers market
Mercado de Abastos farmers market
It may have been wet and drizzly when I arrived, but that didn't stop me from heading straight to the Mercado de Abastos farmers market. Stalls have been setting up here since the late 1800s. The granite hallway buildings were only added in 1941.
Shops inside the market
A combination of the weather and arriving post-noon meant that there were only a few shoppers around, with several stalls already packed up for the day. Most of the shops close for the day at around 2pm.
There's still plenty to look at though. The number of seafood stalls is impressive, each proudly displaying the best catches of the day.
Fishmonger with distinctive curved machete
I was fascinated with the curved machetes that Spanish fishmongers use, a large blade with a curved edge.
I couldn't wait to eat more razor clams either.
Everybody's buying fish today
Tetilla cheese - yes it's supposed to look like that.
And it was hard not to giggle when I spied the tetilla cheese. It's supposed to look like a breast (tetilla is Spanish for small breast) and there's a reason. The story goes that an artist sculpted an extremely curvaceous female for the cathedral. When a strict bishop ordered that the statue's assets be reduced to a more modest size, locals protested by making tetilla-shaped cheese which suddenly appeared everywhere.
Tetilla cheese is now a local specialty, with much of the milk sourced from Fresian cows. You can buy the cheese in wedges and I was instantly enamoured with its rich and smooth creaminess. The cheese itself is almost pliable in the fingers, and there's a lovely buttery taste in each mouthful.
Bacalhau salted cod fillets
Fruit and vegetable stall
Pulpo a Gallega or Galician octopus
Food stalls at markets are always a drawcard, especially when you can see plumes of steam rising from a pot while you huddle under your umbrella. You could smell the sea from the cauldron filled with quietly simmering octopus. And how could you not stare at those tentacles, curled up on itself.
Adding salt, paprika and olive oil to the chopped octopus
There's a fantastic sense of ceremony as you watch the octopus being sliced with scissors and then piled in circles on a wooden board. A sprinkle of salt, a generous shake of smoked paprika and several glugs of Spanish olive oil complete the dish.
Pulpo a Gallega €8 (AU$11.80)
And that first mouthful. Wow. How can octopus be so amazingly tender? It's soft and yielding with just enough springiness to every bite. The salt, paprika and olive oil are all the seasoning it needs, enhancing the flavour without over-riding.
This dish is most commonly eaten at taverns as a tapas plate, but I'm so much happier I ate it standing in the drizzle of rain, fresh from the pot as shoppers milled around me.
Leche frita or Spanish fried milk
And for dessert I hoed into my purchase from a bakery stall, leche frita or Spanish fried milk. Traditionally it's a homemade sweet for kids, made from a custard that's cooked down until it forms a dough. Piece of dough are dipped in egg and flour and deep-fried.
It's a bit like eating a deep-fried vanilla slice without the icing and pastry, warm and comforting with its heavy dusting of cinnamon.
Casa Elisa Restaurante
Casa Elisa Restaurante
Dinner that night was at Casa Elisa Restaurante on Rua do Franco, one of the main eating streets of Santiago de Compostela that's lined with tapas bars. I liked that it looked a little old-skool, with small tables that would suit a solo diner.
A primat bottle of red wine. That's 27 litres!
I resist the giant bottle of red wine and stick with Estrella beer.
Caldo Gallego €3.95 (AU$5.80)
with bread €1.1 (AU$1.60) and Estrella beer €2.50 (AU$3.70)
Galician soup is another must-do around here. I'm ticking off Galician specialities like nobody's business. It's a white bean soup that's packed with chunks of potato, cabbage and pork. The broth itself is aromatic and flavourful too, the kind of tasty goodness that comes from ham or bacon. I love rustic soups like these, the kind of soups your mum or Grandma would make on a cold winter's day.
Navajas €8.50 (AU$12.60)
The razor clams take a while to come out but they're worth the wait. Half a dozen clams have been grilled until lightly caramelised and then dressed simply with olive oil, garlic and finely chopped parsley. The clams are tender and succulent. I could have eaten a dozen more.
Chipirones frites €6.15 (AU$9)
Fried baby squid
And then there was my new Spanish obsession with fried baby squid. I ate these everywhere and was rewarded with crunchy deliciousness every time. Young baby squid, crunchy batter and a squeeze of fresh lemon will leave you smiling with happiness every time.
> Read the next Spain post: Five foods you need to eat in Madrid, Spain
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Restaurante Casa Elisa
Rua do Franco, 36-38, Santiago de Compostela, 15702, Galicia, Spain
Tel: +34 (981) 583 112
Monday to Friday 10am - 5pm and 7.30pm - 1am
Saturday and Sunday 12pm - 4.45pm and 7.30am - 12.30am
Mercadeo de Abastos de Santiago (Santiago Farmers Market)
Rua Ameas S/N, Santiago de Compostela 15704, Galicia, Spain
Tel: +34 (981) 583 438
Monday to Saturday 8am - 2pm
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5/22/2014 02:19:00 am