Of course, that’s not to say it’s only fish that they serve, but I can’t promise you can avoid it easily either! At the corners of every street, you are bound to see deep, vibrant hues of lobster, hake, as well as the unnerving tentacles of an octopus proudly flailing in the wind in the rainy, buzzing streets of Santiago. Bienvienido a Galicia, mis amigos.
I’ve decided to tell my culinary adventures in Galicia in a series of anecdotes, because that usually sticks in the mind better. The first cultural shock I received in Galicia, was when my dad came to visit me, and asked the waiter if he could have the chicken fully cooked. His meat then arrived filled with blood. They proudly insisted on the richness of the ‘cociña gallega’, then proceeded to bombard us with free shots of coffee and whiskey. As a non-drinker, I found these shots pretty strong, and I was then kicked out of the restaurant for not finishing it! So, tip one, they’re very proud of their cuisine and be sure to respect it!
After that infamous ordeal, we then went to a sandwich shop for dinner. In Galicia, locals go to these sandwich shops around five or six o’ clock, the ‘merienda’ period, to have a filling early meal before having a light dinner at around ten o’ clock at night. I liked the sandwich shops as one can have toasties, pita bread or sourdough bread with olives, anchovies, garlic or alternatively, just a simple cheese and tomato sandwich. They feel more homely than the chains that we might go to in capital cities within Europe, because usually the waiters are very willing to cater to specific dietary needs or desires. My dad and I were about to pay and leave the restaurant when they said ‘that was just your starter, that was free, the food is actually coming now!’ We received these massive baguettes which we really struggled to finish, but we didn’t want to offend! The thing about Galicia is that they love giving free food with any drink you buy, or even more food with your actual food, which can be nice but also very filling. Like a visit to your grandma’s house. I felt like I was visiting my very own Greek grandmothers a lot of the time.
I would say though one of my favourite parts about Galician cuisine, be it controversial or not, is the incorporation of jelly inside an octopus. Yes, it is an acquired taste, and I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to demand you flee from my restaurant if it wasn’t to your liking, but I found it hard not to appreciate the richness of the octopus’s flavour combined with the smooth, succulent texture of the jelly. I mean, it depends on the flavour really, maybe it wasn’t jelly and this is my British infused ethnocentric interpretation of Galician cuisine, but whatever it was, it surely was good!
I then went to visit my friend Andrea in the outskirts of Vigo, and was kindly invited to a dinner of bagpipe Celtic music and Galician cultural presentation by her parents. I certainly want to live in Galicia again at one point in my life, the hospitality of the people is phenomenal. They made me a very fancy fish platter with trays of salmon, hake and muscles! But what confused me is that they offered this dish with cola-cao (a sort of chocolate milk which is very popular in Spain). I can’t say it was something I would have put together, but they are very appealing separately! The rice pudding with cinnamon is also a very famous dessert, but it can also be very filling after a large meal, and very good for a sweet tooth.
I encourage you to visit Galicia, as I certainly haven’t the space to give a complete overview of the culinary fantasies that may tickle your taste buds. It’s different, revolutionary and beautiful, the food is not just food-it is love.