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Guide to Spain’s Galicia’s gastro galaxy- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

Far from touristy Barcelona and the party beaches of Ibiza, Galicia is the ideal place to start your own Spanish gastronomic pilgrimage. An autonomous region, it is tucked away in the north-western corner of the country, with Portugal at its southern border and the wild Atlantic crashing on its shores. It’s also the end point of Camino de Santiago, a network of ancient routes to the shrine of Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

After visiting the monumental cathedral, head over to Mercado de Abastos (food market) in the old town. While a market has been at this spot for three centuries, the current building dating back to 1941 comprises a series of long, light-filled halls with soaring ceilings. Its stalls are filled with the region’s freshest fruits and vegetables, meats, and—given Galicia’s long coastline—plenty of seafood. You will also find Galician DO (designation of origin) cheese like the creamy Cebreiro, smoky San Simón da Costa and the buttery Queso Tetilla, named for its pear shape with a pointed top (tetilla is Spanish for nipple).

It is likely that the produce you see in the market will be on your plate at one of the many eateries in town. In the bright and cheerful A Noiesa restaurant, try delicacies like pimientos de padrón (small peppers blistered in oil with a sprinkle of sea salt) and empanada (savoury pie stuffed with meat or seafood). “When in Galicia, don’t ask for paella,” says guide Ruben Araúxo; instead order arroz con mariscos, a rice casserole with assorted seafood like mussels, clams, scallops, etc. Unlike paella, the dish comes to the table with some stock still in the pot.

seafood platter

As you eat, the liquid gets absorbed into the rice giving it a rich flavour. If you’re keen to see where the shellfish comes from, an hour’s drive south of Santiago de Compostela will bring you to the coastal town of O Grove, where the Rías Baixas estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean. Hop on a catamaran to visit the shellfish farms that dot the waters; round off the experience with on-board lunch—either a huge shellfish platter or all-you-can-eat mussels.

An iconic dish of the region is pulpo a la Gallega or Galician-style octopus. It’s a traditional street snack; fishermen would cook freshly netted octopus in large copper pots. Try it at Casa Gazpara in O Carballiño where it’s prepared in traditional style, albeit in a stainless steel vessel. The octopus is slowly boiled in water, sliced and generously drizzled with olive oil, and finally dusted with salt and sweet paprika. It’s usually eaten with boiled potato and crusty bread on the side.

When it comes to Galician desserts, there’s no escaping tarta de Santiago or cake of Santiago. A rich cake made with almond flour and dusted with powdered sugar, it often features the elaborate cross of Saint James on top. Most restaurants serve it, and your hotel will certainly have it on the breakfast buffet. If you want to bring it back home, visit the Casal Cotón store in the old town.

Mercado de Abastos

Galicia produces excellent wines across five DO regions—Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei. At Pazo de Rubianes in Rías Baixas, successive generations of the same family have been making wine since the 15th century. The manor house’s extensive gardens and vineyards are open for visiting, followed by a wine-tasting of their crisp, aromatic white wines made from Albariño grapes.

At the other end of the spectrum are the elegant, fruity reds from Ribeira Sacra made with Mencía grapes. Here, they practise ‘heroic viticulture’, making wine against geographical odds. The vineyards stand on steep mountain slopes (an average of 45 degrees) overlooking the Sil River. Harvesting is a manual and strenuous process. The best place to witness this is at Regina Viarum, which offers an immersive winery tour followed by a tasting session on a glass balcony with spectacular views of the river canyon.

As a by-product of the wine-making process, many wineries also produce a distilled grape spirit called orujo. It is often flavoured with herbs or coffee beans and consumed as a digestif. It is also used to make the fiery punchqueimada. Orujo, sugar, coffee beans, lemon zest and cinnamon are mixed in a large clay bowl, and then set on fire while chanting Gallego spells. In a land where superstitions rule supreme, it’s a delicious way to ward off evil spirits.

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