Monday, April 09, 2012

Santiago de Compostela


As I mentioned in my last post, we came to Spain for spring break to visit my sister-in-law Amy, her husband, Jaime, and their two children, Javier and Edie. Jaime and Amy are living here just for one year. I haven't had a single conversation with either of my children since we got here, so absorbed are they with their cousins, so I don't know if they're having fun. But I am.

Jaime is from Santiago de Compostela, a small city in northwestern Spain to which people make pilgrimages. Did you see the Emilio Estevez movie The Way? That small city. There's a lot to write about Santiago, but I'll stick to the cuisine about which I knew nothing before we got off the plane and know only the slightest amount more after 36 hours.

1. A specialty here is octopus, which is called pulpo. I think pulpo sounds more delicious than octopus. Yesterday, Jaime took us to his favorite pulpo place -- dark, with stone walls, felt medieval --  for a midday snack. Sitting in a plate of oil and topped with paprika and salt, the chunks of pulpo were as tender as scallops. Superlatives apply.
brave boys, lucky boys
2. Contemplating the range of local cured meats and cheeses is a depressing experience for an American. We have salumi in San Francisco, we have crusty bread, and we have local cheeses, but not nearly as many, and not nearly as good, and we make a noisy fuss over all of it. Here they seem to take it for granted. You go to a bar in Santiago for a snack and they bring out a plate of 6 different kinds of cured pork and 6 different kinds of cheese. Then you go to another bar, a humbler bar, and they bring you yet another kind of local cheese. And then at the free hotel breakfast, there's another kind of cheese -- the soft white tetilla cheese -- plus the local almond cake, fresh orange juice, and croissants. I'm really having to pace myself.

3. Jaime's parents live on an idyllic little farm in the countryside just outside Santiago and they hosted us for Easter. Fruit trees in full flower, camellias, rhododendrons, a pool, a wisteria arbor, grape vines which produce the grapes from which Jaime's father makes wine, etc. I mean, this is Frances Mayes material. The meal, prepared by Jaime's mother, began with his father's special sherry and ended with coffee spiked with a neighbor's homemade aguardiente. In between there was wine. But it wasn't at all drunk-making because it was served in such modest portions and with food.

To start, there were big rectangular empanadas, one filled with tuna, one with tiny, tiny scallops.
I think I could make this.
Then there was  meat rolled around a stuffing of egg and ham and served with potatoes and peas.

I'm not sure I could make this.
Dessert consisted of delicious pastries, all but one type baked by Jaime's mother.

We really overdo the chocolate in the U.S.
I got a recipe for the fantastic cookies at top, which you can't really see. They're called melindres and are crispy glazed donut-shaped biscuits spiked with anis. I've never cooked from a recipe written by hand in Spanish. Having studied this one, I foresee challenges.

Over lunch, Jaime's parents were enthusing about a Galician specialty called lampreia, a parasitic eel-like creature that is cooked in a sauce of its own blood and various other ingredients, like chocolate. To quote the blogger whose account I just read and linked to: "There is something tribal and somewhat barbaric about eating lampreia. Faced with lampreia in blood sauce you should earn a medal just for trying it. This ominous looking dish is not dissimilar to a rattlesnake cooked in squid ink. It has the texture of monkfish and the livery funk of grilled shad roe."

I don't know. Maybe if we stumble across it, I'll try it. But I'm not going to bring it up.

It's a cliche to rhapsodize about Mediterranean countries, the civilized lifestyle and the food and wine and traditions and I don't love it when other people do it, so I'm going to stop right now.

I think they're too old for the Easter bunny, but he doesn't.


  1. So envious! Take some photos of the meat platters too!

  2. Oh, rhapsodize all you like, after all I am traveling to Spain vicariously through you. It all looks fantastic! I have never had octopus that was so tender, but I like octopus. I think we overdo chocolate here as well. I like my chocolate of high quality and straight up. For example, I think cheesecake and chocolate are wonderful; chocolate cheesecake, not so much. Uh, I don't think I would want to eat a lamprey either. I remember the pictures of them from my biology textbook in college. Keep us posted on your adventures!

  3. Rhapsodize away, and don't leave anything out!!!! I loved Spain but didn't go to people's homes to socialize. I did meet people and got invited to hang out, but only in public.

  4. Hi jennifer. My grandfather was actually from galicia. You should get some tarta de Santiago; caldo gallego and anything with grelos.
    (The New Spanish Table has the best recipe I have seen around to make the crust for the empanada gallega; leavened and with saffron). Enjoy your trip and have plenty of AlbariƱo!

  5. i think you are one lucky girl to have such an exotic family tree spread all over the world.
    but you are brilliant to take advantage of it while you have kids who will still spend time with you.
    what a fantastic easter photo for your old age (many years away).

  6. I admire your writing so much that I would gladly read anything you post. Truly. But among the book publishing, the diet, the travels, I really really miss the basic premise of your blog. I'm happy to read the other; just wish you would get back to the original purpose.

  7. Keep on truckin´, Tipsy!