Spanish Regional Cuisine of Galicia

Octopus Galician style
Getty Images/Manuel Alvarez

Galicia is located in the extreme northwestern corner of Spain. Galicia’s west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean while the north coast is on the Cantabric Sea. It is a cold, wet climate, with rugged terrain and over 700 miles of rocky coastlines and historically one of the poorest areas of Spain. Small family farms of an acre or two exist growing vegetables, but many families live from fisherman’s catches. The people of Galicia are descendants of Celtic people, whose myths, legends and belief in the mystic are strong even today.

Famous Dishes

This area is known for sauces, although there are many fish dishes and popular stews, made with beans and vegetables. In this region, cuisine does vary from province to province, so we’ll discuss the famous dishes of each one.

  • Shellfish & Seafood
    Galicians or Gallegos as they are called in Spanish are not rich people and because of the rugged landscape and rough weather, they use every bit of what they grow or catch, including using shells as fertilizer for the soil. All sorts of fish are caught and eaten in Galicia, including gooseneck barnacles, called percebes, oysters or ostras, scallops (vieiras), mussels (mejillones), clams (almejas), razor shell clams (navajas) and heart clams (berberechos) to name a few. Learn about all different kinds in the article about Spanish seafood.
  • Vegetables
    The region of La Limia is known for its potatoes. Several varieties are grown there, but most people simply call them either la roja, red potato, or la blanca, white potato. La blanca is soft and mealy and is used to make the famous dish cocido gallego, as well as other stews.
  • Octopus
    Octopus is popular in Galicia. Prepared a feira, the octopus must be pounded well to make it tender. Then, it is cooked whole and cut into pieces and seasoned with olive oil, paprika, and salt. It is traditionally served on rustic wooden plates. This tapa is popular all over Spain and outside of Galicia is called Pulpo Gallego, or Galician Style Octopus.
  • Empanada Gallega
    The empanada, which in English is called a meat turnover, “pasty” or meat pie. There are lots of different fillings, including meat, fish, and vegetables. The ingredients of the fillings are chopped finely and mixed with lots of onion and some spices, then spread between two layers of pastry. Finally, it is baked and served hot. It is said that even in the XII century, pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela had already heard of empanadas and asked for them by name. Since they are an easy meal for a traveler to take with them, and empanadas are filling and tasty, this makes perfect sense.
  • Lacón con Grelos
    This may be the most famous dish of Galicia. Lacón is boiled meat from the front leg of a pig. Grelos are the leaves of turnips. The lacón and grelos are then boiled together and served with sausage and potatoes.
  • La Vieira
    Vieiras or sea scallops are abundant on the shores of Galicia and their shells are worn by pilgrims on the Way of St. James, who make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. First, a mixture is made of onion, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Then, the scallop, still in its own shell is covered with the mixture and baked. Finally, it is served in its own shell.
  • Caldo Gallego (Galician Broth)
    This soup is a very common dish in Galicia. Cabbage, potatoes, and beans make the basic version of the broth. Many times ham, sausage, and pork are added to make a filling main course.
  • Pimientos de Padrón
    Pimientos are peppers and pimientos de padrón are tiny peppers about 2 inches long that are considered a delicacy by not only the Galician people but many tourists who taste them as a tapa, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. 
  • Tarta de Santiago (St. James' Cake)
    This cake is named after St. James, the patron saint of Spain. It is a rich, heavy cake made of ground almonds, decorated with powdered sugar and the sword of St. James or a cross. Although the exact origin of this cake is unknown, it is thought that a pilgrim may have brought the recipe to Galicia during a pilgrimage.

Wine & Liqueur

Wines from this area of Spain vary greatly from province to province and Galicia is no different. It is best known for Albariño, a fruity, white wine that is often served with fish dishes. However, Galician Ribeiro wine is also known throughout Spain. The taste is a bit sour and is served traditionally in small bowls of porcelain.

Galicians have a long tradition of making strongly distilled liqueurs. Locally produced orujo is a strong liqueur (between 37 and 45% alcohol by volume) that is used to make the popular and very traditional drink called queimada. Orujo's basic ingredient is the residue from wine production -- grape skins, seeds, and stalks. Locals carefully guard their recipe and distilling secrets, which are passed down from generation to generation. From orujo, Galicians make queimada, in which bits of lemon peel, sugar, and ground coffee are put into a clay pot, then the orujo is poured on top and the pot is lit on fire, in a Celtic Queimada Ritual.