Spain: Eating Galicia

Bar Transito Dos Gramaticos
Bar Transito Dos Gramaticos

 

Eating Galicia: Tapas to die for

By Paul Shoul
Photos by Paul Shoul

We spent our first night at four delightfully crowded bars that had guest chefs from Grupo Nove at the food conference. Some of the standouts were O Catro that had a perfect rib and chickpea tapa by Gonzalo Rei and Rafael Centeno. At La Viura we had a lightly cooked egg with pured potatoes, chorizo and ham by Hector Lopez and Javier Gonzalez.

But all the tapas we had that night were extraordinary. After a while I started to feel that all the little places in Santiago were part of one large extended family, tentacles of the same giant thriving party.

From the Bottom to the Top of the Tapas Heap

Maria Esclavitud Pose Corral and her famous snails.
Maria Esclavitud Pose Corral and her famous snails.

We started the the next night at a small restaurant and then cruising some of the student bars. Ah youth! The energy was frenetic. When you buy a drink it usually includes a small tapa all for a euro or two for a small beer or the house wine.

At Abella, they threw down a good sized plate of fried potatoes and grilled pork. At Bar Trafalgar we had spicy tigers (“tigres rabiosos”), smoked mussels in the shell with a mustard sauce.

Down the street at bar Orense, they serve home made wine from traditional ceramic cups, and they pour a fine pint of beer at Casa das Crechas as the Celtic music plays. It is all a really cool scene.The food keeps you sober as you move on to the next place.

One of my favorite places was Caracoles, famous for their snails served in a deep smoky paprika red sauce. I could not charm that recipe or the one for their spicy “Zorza,” a dish of fried pork paprika and garlic, out of the lovely owner and chef Maria Esclavitud Pose Corral, or her son-in law-manager Manuel Ameneiro. They were tight-lipped about their secrets but more than generous with their wonderful food. A great place.

The Gran Finale

The “Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos originally provided shelter for the pilgrims flocking to St. James Cathedral right next door on the Plaza do Obradoiro. It is considered to be the oldest hotel in the world and one of Spain’s premier “paradores” luxury hotels located in castles, palaces, monasteries and other historic buildings.

Tapas at La Cocina de Paradores.
Tapas in a massive formation at La Cocina de Paradores

This was the setting of the first of ten concept dinners called “La Cocina de Paradores” under the direction of Emilio Gomez. It represented all of Spain’s 18 regions and will be offered at Paradors around the country.

A herd of chefs put together 18 unique tapas served with wines from their region.

Examples were displayed beautifully in long room on pedestals in glass boxes. Some were even spinning as they glistened under the lights.

Waiters appeared acompanied by the music of a classical pianist with tray after tray of glasses of the best regional wines and hundreds of tapas served at standing tables to give the feel of a tapas bar in an elegant setting.

This was by far the most elaborate food presentation I have ever witnessed and one that I will talk about for years to come. The tapas were delicious little sculptures; some had small tubes of olive oil or other sauce protruding from them to be squeezed into your mouth while you ate.

A tapa at the La Cocina de Paradores
A tapa at the La Cocina de Paradores

What an experience! I was honored to be present at this dinner, but to be honest, it seemed like a gilded cage. They had captured these creatures against their will and locked them up for display.

Although they were spectacular, when taken out of their traditional surroundings they paled in comparison to their brothers running free in their natural habitat. I would rather be out on the streets with the rest of the crowds at night, stalking the wild tapas of Santiago de Compostela

Where to stay and how to get there:

I flew on Air Europa from NY to Madrid and then on Iberia to Santiago. Both airlines are outstanding.

I stayed at the Hotel Monumento San Francisco, one block away from the cathedral and all the action. To stay here was to be immersed in the history of Santiago. It is attached to a church, has a museum and part of it is still a functioning monastery.

The rooms are very comfortable with free Internet. The restaurant is world class and the breakfast buffet was overflowing with homemade Galician classics. My only complaint was that it was too good! I struggled every morning not to eat too much and leave room for the rest of the day.

More info on Santiago can be found at: Santiago Tourism

More info on Spain can found at: Tour Spain

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Paul Shoul
Paul Shoul is a Northampton, MA-based photographer who doubles as a staff writer for GoNOMAD. For thirty years he's lived in the Pioneer Valley and chronicled life there though his work in the Valley Advocate and Preview magazines. He's also been seen in the Boston Globe, New York Times, BBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education and many other publications. Today as well as shooting around the world for GoNOMAD he works for local nonprofits, banks and advertising agencies.