Stalking the Wild Tapas of Santiago de Compostela, Page Two

Eating Galicia: Stalking the Wild Tapas of Santiago de Compostela - Page Two

By Paul Shoul
Photos by Paul Shoul


The Perfect Wines

Buying fish at Mercado de Abastos
Buying fish at Mercado de Abastos

I was totally impressed by my dinner at Yayo Daporta. It was served with a fine selection of local wines. Rias Baixas is an official Designation of Origin (DO) and well known for its Albariño white wines. Vineyards supported by ancient granite posts are everywhere. We visited Pazo Senorans for a private tasting.

They maintain their own vineyards and work in cooperation with local growers to harvest the finest grapes in the region. I have no great wine knowledge but I do know what I like and I loved their wine. Perfect for seafood.


Like cities all over the world the central market is the soul of Santiago. The Mercado de Abastos is where people go every day to shop and meet and greet.

It is loosely divided into separate sections of long old stone buildings of meat, poultry shell fish and vegetables and there are shops for amazing Galician bread, cheese, spices, flowers etc. The food here is as fresh as it gets.

Many of the stalls are filled with still wriggling creatures of the sea including the famous blue lobsters and percebes, the strange looking goose barnacles harvested by hand off rocks under heavy surf.

Octopus at o Celme do Caracol.
Octopus at O Celme do Caracol

Right next door we had a quick snack at a small standing room only place, Abastos 2.0. We had a bowl of cockles in broth and octopus, ever present on Galician tables, sliced thin, drizzled with olive oil and served on pieces of slate, washed down by a glass of local Rias Baixas wine. I was a happy guy.

The Best Octopus in Town

I ate a lot of octopus in Santiago; boiled in a copper pot, served in chunks on wood, grilled, adorned with molecular foam, and wrapped in a small delicate empanada presented as art spinning in a glass box at a gala dinner accompanied by a classical pianist. The Galicians are renowned for their consumption of octopus.

The best, in my humble opinion, is served traditionally, baked and grilled with olive oil paprika and garlic sauce.

Flavio Morganti chips in to prepare grass-fed beef for the grill at O Dezaseis.
Flavio Morganti chips in to prepare grass-fed beef for the grill at O Dezaseis.

The restaurant O Celme do Caracol was just better enough on the night I ate there to judge it as having the best octopus in Santiago.It was incredibly sweet and tender with a satisfying crunch on the surface from the grilling and a sprinkling of hard sea salts.

The sauce was deep, smoky and spicy. It was made from a mother’s recipe passed down through generations to her son and the owner of O Celme, German Gonzalez.

He bakes a five-pound octopus at 350 degrees for 50 minutes in a convection oven at 80% humidity. It is cut into 3-5 inch pieces, then grilled for about four minutes or until it starts to char on some of the edges.

It is served over potatoes that have been boiled with laurel, doused with olive oil infused with smoked paprika and garlic. Thanks to German for sharing this dish and his mother’s recipe with me.

O Celme do Caracol
+34 981 571 746
Rúa da Raiña 22
Santiago de Compostela

O Dezaseis: A Traditional Restaurant

Restaurant Abastos.
Restaurant Abastos.

My dinner at O Dezaseis was hands down my favorite meal in Santiago. A rustic setting in a room filled with people talking, arguing, laughing and eating at a fevered pitch at long communal tables. Waiters swerved in and out of the crowd with steaming trays of razor clams, small shrimp with roe, platters of empanadas and endless bottles of wine.

The kitchen was humming. Friends of the owner had come in to help butcher the beautiful local grass-fed beef into huge steaks. It was cooked rare, seared on a very hot flat grill pan just until the outer fat was charred.

Wow this was good. The food is so fresh in Galicia it only needs small yet skilled enhancements to bring out the full flavor. So fresh in fact that I was chastised by one of my fellow journalists, the infamous Gerry Dawes.

Grupo Nove chefs Gonzalo Rei and Rafael Centeno in the kitchen
Grupo Nove chefs Gonzalo Rei and Rafael Centeno in the kitchen

Being from Boston, Massachusetts, the home of steamers, I instinctively squirted the smallest amount of lemon on a razor clam.

"What are you doing?” he gasped. "These are Galician clams, the finest in the world; they need nothing. Do you understand? Nothing!!!"

For desert we had ricotta with honey, boiled chestnuts with whipped cream and chocolate sauce accompanied by coffee liqueur. Food in Spain still exists within a cultural dynamic, the good stuff cannot be franchised; it exists within and reinforces community, and you cannot separate the two.

To really appreciate it, you have to go there and eat it with a bunch of manic Gallegos. It tastes better. Galicians are definitely my favorite people to drink and crack a clam with. Here's a link to the O Dezaseis website

Tapa Talk


I have a Basque friend who calls Santiago the best tapas town outside of San Sebastian. That is high praise coming from the home of tapas.

The long winding streets of the ancient stone city come alive again after dark and late into the night as groups of friends make the traditional "Tapeo," a pub crawl.

In my town,we call it bar hopping. The difference is that in Santiago they are devoted to serving their own unique tapas and they are fantastic. There are hundreds of bars restaurants in Santiago that run the gamut from those that cater to university students to the elegant Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos.

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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.