Leaving Preguntoiro Street towards Praza da Pescadería Vella and Praza de Santo Agostiño, we come to the area of the present-day “Mercado de Abastos.” This large food market, now a regional landmark, arose in the 19th century in the former gardens of the Count and Countess of Altamira, to bring together the different markets scattered about the city. In acquired its present-day appearance in 1941, i.e. eight granite church-shaped buildings reminiscent of the Romanesque style.
“La Plaza,” as Compostela’s residents refer to it, stands out due to the striking colours of its fruits and vegetables that come from family farms, grown using artisanal methods and sold directly by the women producing them, so-called “paisanas,” who occupy the area outside the buildings; they also offer cheeses, rabbits, free-range chickens and eggs… Such women also include “pementeiras,” i.e. the ones that sell Padrón peppers, a product that came to stay in the 16th century, when Franciscans brought them from Mexico. Galicia also produces excellent potatoes, especially those of the Kennebec variety. They are best accompanied by two different parts of the turnip plant, a typical autumn and winter crop: “nabizas,” i.e. the first leaves (picked around October), an essential ingredient of “caldo gallego” (Galician soup); and “grelos,” which are the thick stems with their flower buds and leaves, which are used in “cocido gallego” (Galician stew), along with pork, beef and chicken, chorizos, potatoes, chickpeas or beans. All of this is sold fresh in the market.
But there is more. The crustaceans, molluscs and fish we saw in Rúa do Franco, offer a spectacle on ice here. And there is an entire building devoted to the region’s renowned meat, because Galicians eat a lot of beef and pork. Regarding the pig, as the saying goes, “nothing is wasted”: the slaughter takes place around the Day of St. Martin, and after quartering, the pork is selected for fresh consumption or making different types of cold meats: “androllas,” “botelos,” chorizos… Salted and cured meat is used to make Galician soup, stews, “lacon” (cured ham foreleg) with turnip tops and other dishes. There is also “cachola” (entire head, very popular around Carnival time), “orella” (pig’s ears) and even “unllas” (pig’s trotters), which have their own gastronomy festival in Compostela’s San Lázaro neighbourhood. In Compostela, fresh pork has two undisputed star varieties: roast ham and “raxo,” Garlic-flavoured loin cut up into small pieces.
In relation to beef, Galicia has the main protected geographic designation in Spain: “Ternera Gallega” (Galician veal), from animals less than 12 months old, raised on Galician pastureland and preferably from Galician breeds and crossbreeds. Restaurants and eating establishments frequently offer roast veal with potatoes and morron peppers, and “carne ó caldeiro,” cooked beef brisket dressed with paprika powder and olive oil.
If anyone wants to taste in situ the quality and freshness of the Plaza’s delicacies, the market’s bar cooks while you wait the produce you have just bought, for a small percentage of the total price.