Like much of traditional Spanish food, Galician meals are often simple, hearty, and humble. Despite being one of the historically poorest areas in Spain, Galicia is rich in quality ingredients. It has over 1500 km of coastline, and seafood is quite prominent in dishes here. It is also the wettest part of Spain, nicknamed ‘green Spain’ for its lush valleys and countryside.
The fertile land means growing fruits and vegetables is simple, whether it’s peppers and potatoes, beets and beans, or nuts, corn, wheat, and mushrooms, among many others (and recently, kiwis!). Many animals are also raised for prized meat, among which are beef, eaten as veal, and also poultry and pork have a place in the iconic dishes. Cheese is also a pride of Galicia, with Tetilla, Ulloa, San Simón and O Cebreiro all receiving Denominación de Origen title protection. Finally, sweets and baked goods round out the buffet, and they are not lacking. The food tradition is strong with over 300 food festivals per year.
Spanish eating culture
A common way of eating lunch in Spain is the Menu del Dia, a fixed three-course meal whose tradition originates from the time of the Spanish dictator Franco. Though each restaurant is slightly different, most will serve appetizers and bread, then a first and second plate. This is followed by a dessert or coffee. With a price typically between 10-14 Euros, this is an excellent way of filling yourself up on tasty food for cheap.
In Spanish culture, large lunches are typically eaten around two in the afternoon, and smaller dinners sometime after nine. As this can be off-putting to many differently-accustomed foreigners doing The Way of St. James, many eateries are open earlier, so feeding yourself won’t be a problem. The only difficulty will be deciding what to try! Compiled here are iconic, authentic dishes in Galicia, worthy of trying during your trip.
Pimientos de Padrón
These are small, green peppers grown south of Santiago de Compostela (those doing the Portuguese way will pass through the town named Padrón, where they are grown). The peppers are said to have been grown in Galicia since the 16th century and are harvested each summer. They are typically eaten in small portions, sauteed or blistered and covered in flaky salt. They are similar in size and shape to the Japanese Shishito pepper, and likewise most are mild but some are decidedly not. Pimientos de Padrón are less grassy in taste.
Ubiquitous in Spanish-speaking countries, empanadas originate from Galicia. Meaning wrapped-in-bread, empanadas offer a moist filling covered in soft, flaky pastry. Galician empanadas are huge–they’re cut into squares or slices before being served. The filling typically includes meat–classically tuna, but also pork, cod, and beef. Accompanying the meat in the filling are sauteed onions and tomatoes. Empanadas work well as a mid-day snack, or may be included as the first plate in a fixed-menu lunch.
Queixo, or ‘cheese’ in the local language of Gallego, is typically eaten with honey or a paste made from quince fruits. The most famous are Tetilla and Ulloa, which are mild and soft cow’s milk cheeses. San Simón is an aged cheese with a smokier taste and O Cebreiro cheese is cured and even firmer.
The Galician approach to seafood is simple, with few ingredients that let the fruits of the sea shine. Fish, crustaceans, and molluscs all have a place in the dishes of Galicia. The best way to sample the variety is to order a mariscada, a large platter of seafood. Though they can be pricey, they let you sample the available diversity.
Scallops are symbolic in Galicia, being associated with The Way of St. James. Many pilgrims carry a scallop shell with them. The sweet, tender scallops are a regional delicacy and are typically served in one of two ways. The most simple way to prepare them is steamed and served in their half-shell with a splash of wine or lemon juice. They can also be topped with breadcrumbs and baked in a gratin style.
Mexillons y ameixas
Mussels and clams are often steamed in a white wine until the shells open, then finished in a sauce of tomato, olive oil, and herbs.
Octopus is a key ingredient in this part of Spain. Octopus is an interesting food in that it must either be cooked fast and hot, or simmered for a long time, to avoid a rubbery and chewy texture. In Galicia, both methods are used for different plates. The most iconic dish is polbo á feira, or fair-style octopus. The octopus is traditionally beaten to tenderize, then cooked in a copper pot with paprika, olive oil, and potatoes. It’s served cut into medallions on a wooden board. The grilled octopus is called polbo á prancha and not as widespread.
Served as merluza a la Gallega, merluza (also known as hake) is a flaky white fish. It’s boiled with potatoes and served in a garlic and paprika sauce.
Meats and Stews
Lacón con grelos is a hearty dish of pork shoulder with greens. Salted pork and chorizo are cooked with turnip tops and potatoes.
Caldo gallego is a winter stew of broth packed with potatoes, beans, turnip tops or cabbage, chorizo or other pieces of pork, and creamy pork fat.
Churrasco is the Galician take on barbecue. A recent influx of immigrants from Argentina has brought the tradition of grilling pork or beef.
Filloas are often served sweet, but need not be so. Like French crepes, they can be stuffed with honey or jam, or eaten savory with chorizo or accompanying another dish. The batter is versatile and can be made with milk or blood.
Tarta de Santiago is another iconic Galician food. It is a dense, crumbly cake, sweet from the ground almonds and sugar. The cake dates back to the middle ages. The top is decorated by powdered sugar sifted around a reverse stencil of the cross of St. James.