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; it's also historically one of the poorest areas of Spain. Small family farms of an acre or two grow vegetables, but many families live off of fishermen’s catches. The people of Galicia are descendants of Celtic people, whose myths, legends and belief in the mystic are strong even today.
This area is known for its sauces, although there are many fish dishes and popular stews made with beans and vegetables. In this region, cuisine varies from province to province, each with its own famous dish:
- Shellfish and seafood: Galicians, or Gallegos as they are called in Spanish, are not rich people. 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, oysters, scallops, mussels, and various types of clams.
- 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 (Galician stew), as well as other stews.
- Octopus: Octopus is popular in Galicia. Prepared a feira, or "fair-style," the octopus must be pounded well to make it tender. It is cooked whole and then 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: There are lots of different fillings for this turnover, 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 12th 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 bread crumbs. Then the scallop is covered with the mixture, baked, and served in its 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, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. They're considered a delicacy by not only the Galician people but many tourists who enjoy them as a tapa.
- 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 and 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 percent alcohol by volume). Orujo's basic ingredient is the residue from wine production—grape skins, seeds, and stalks. Locals carefully guard their recipes 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.