I purposely waited to post anything about the food until near the end of our journey. We’ve crossed four to five distinct regions in northern Spain. The one region that was clearly different from the rest, was Galicia.
Keep in mind that having lived our whole lives in the Midwest (and more specifically Kansas), we’re pretty used to the same – for the most part. Although I do like to try new foods, Diane is not quite as adventuresome as I, and she likes what she likes.
I would add one more observation that comes into play – the Camino causes many of the cafes/restaurants to ‘commoditize’ what they offer. In other words, many offer a ‘menu of the day’ – basically a simplified menu, that tends to be rather standardized – a choice of three or four first courses, usually four main dishes (beef, pork, chicken, fish and or vegetarian), and three choices for dessert. (Keep in mind, we ARE pilgrims – I don’t think the pilgrims ate like kings!). Earlier on, especially in the small towns, there might be one or two or three places to eat – and some of these doubled as the local bar in town. What I’m suggesting is that the menus seemed to be kind of the same from cafe to cafe and town to town.
Having said all that, with some exceptions, we found the food to be somewhat bland and almost boring. Occasionally, probably if the cook was more talented, we’d get a more tasty meal.
Several things that stand out and are worth mentioning – in the larger cities, they typically have separate bread (pan) stores, pastry shops, meat shops, fruit stores, etc. Most of the time their breads are very hard crusted. In fact, when we’d walk past a bread store and smell that they were baking, we’d joke that it’s time to take the bread out! Of course both Diane and I were spoiled by mothers who made awesome homemade bread! Again it was hard crusted and very chewy – terrible for dentures! The pastries were very tasty! Breakfasts usually consisted of bread with butter and jelly, orange juice, and coffee. For a guy that grew up on a farm and liked big country breakfasts, I needed way more! Lunch choices were more varied, but the primary focus were bocadillas (sandwiches). Quite often it was a thin slice of meat and a slice of cheese on (yep, you guessed it) hard crusted bread. The dinners were large, as described above and usually served with the bread sliced, and a bottle of wine.
Sometimes the albergues (where we stayed) had communal meals. Honestly this ranged from different to really good. One evening we helped prepare the meal (vegetarian! – with lots of tomatoes – because we had lots of people 😉) to only go to the local bar instead and order the equivalent of a Jenos pizza!
You probably think this all sounds somewhat negative, but let me say I never starved – probably lost some weight, but that was more from burning calories walking versus not finding decent food. We did enjoy a large breakfast occasionally (usually only available after the restaurants/cafes opened late in the morning). Also, the farther west we got, we’d be able to get hamburgers, fries and a Coke. The burgers were large in size, but were never like Midwest beef burgers. Oh, ‘potatoes’ were always French fries. And the farther west we got, they were fresh cut potato fries. One thing I will say is that food prices were very reasonable in my opinion!
Looking back, two Spanish phrases I should have memorized: ‘Where is your favorite place to eat? and What would you suggest we try?’. Of course that may have required us to walk more at the end of the day, which we weren’t motivated to do very often.
A few meals do stand out as memorable. The first was our third night – six of us pilgrims with the host couple making a homemade goolash. The second was in a very small town west of Astorga, in the small rural ethnic culture known as the Maragato area. The restaurant owner made perfectly marinated sliced chicken breast with a really good fresh salad combination. The third was a Galicia communal dinner served family style. First course was a Galician soup. Main course was big chunks of stewed beef cooked with peas, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and a few pieces of other vegetables, in a semi-thick broth served over white rice. Again the thick sliced hard bread (but starting to get much softer in the middle) and wine. Still makes my mouth water! And the final would be eating calamari (squid) and octopus. The later was towards the end of our walk, but about 80 miles from the ocean – because we were told “it was prepared much better farther inland”. Both were good!
A late addition – on our last night, before arriving in Santiago, we ate at a recommended restaurant. Very reasonably priced and very excellent grilled steaks, salad and potatoes (and really good desserts. The steaks had seasoning on the side. Granted this was a meal more like we were accustomed to, but the seasoning and preparation were clearly a local Galician flare. We gave this one two thumbs up!
By the way, the wine served with most evening meals was usually a local variety. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I thought they were always good!!