Raíña converges with Rúa do Franco, its parallel both on the map and in its complete devotion to gastronomy. It is one of Compostela’s most famous and touristic streets, featuring traditional establishments that have been here for generations as well as modern ones.
This tradition goes back to the Middle Ages, when inns and taverns were set up here to cater for pilgrims. Today, this hospitality has been transformed into abundance: the windows are veritable still lifes made up of seafood, fish, large steaks, chorizos, cheeses and vegetables. Swimming in the tanks is a host of crustaceans, in full view of whoever wants to order them, while the platters feature heaps of mollusks.
Who’s who in this sea-flavoured region? In Galicia, travellers will find two well-differentiated types of seafood: good and unbeatable. Good is the seafood that comes daily from Brittany, Ireland or Scotland. But for the true essence of the sea, all the experts acknowledge that nothing in the world compares with Galician seafood. It is never easy to identify it, but there is an infallible rule: good seafood is never cheap. We will thus find the best spiny and clawed lobsters, shrimps, Norway lobsters, king crabs, spider crabs, goose barnacles, ox crabs and locust lobsters, which make up the main list of crustaceans. Among molluscs, it is worth mentioning oysters, clams, cockles, mussels, sword and pod razor shells, scallops, variegated scallops and truncate donaxes.
Seafood preparation is always simple: merely boil in water with salt for crustaceans. Spiny, clawed and Norway lobsters are also grilled or served in “salpicones” (seafood cooked and chopped up, with onion, parsley, red pepper and vinaigrette with egg yolk). Goose barnacles are also cooked and served hot, taken directly from the pot to the table. Clams are served “à la marinière,” or raw just like oysters. Sword and pod razor shells are suitable for grilling, the same as variegated scallops, which can also be baked, like scallops, or served in “empanadas” (pies). “Empanadas” are a world apart, with fillings ranging from tuna or cod and raisins to cockles, sardines, meat, cold meats or vegetables in infinite combinations.
According to an old Galician saying, seafood should be eaten in months containing the letter “r,” i.e. from September to April. Summer would therefore be a bad time for eating quality seafood, but this is not entirely true. Close seasons indicate the best seafood that can be eaten: summer is the time for spiny and clawed lobster, spider crab and variegated scallop, as well as goose barnacles and shrimps, which do not have a close season. We should not overlook the humble mussel, the first and only seafood in all Europe that has a Protected Designation of Origin. Galician is the second mussel producer in the world.
Another great omnipresent seafood is octopus. In Galicia, any traditional celebration worth its salt features “pulpo á feira” (octopus served with oil, cooking salt and paprika), which is the characteristic style of inland regions. It is also eaten cooked with potatoes, typical of the coastal region; grilled or in pies. And do not forget: always with wine and never with water because, according to an old tradition, octopus and water do not mix well in the stomach.
Fish cannot be missing from Galician gastronomy, which employs more than 80 sea varieties: hake, white sea bream, turbot, skate, conger eel, angler, grouper, black sea bream, goatfish, sardines and pilchards, red groupers and wrasses explain why Galicia has the largest fishing fleet in Spain. If you are offered “caldeirada,” know that you are going to eat fish (one or more varieties) cooked along with potatoes, onion, peppers, oil and paprika. When you ask for fish “a la gallega,” it will be served cooked, accompanied by boiled potatoes and bathed in “ajada,” which consists of good oil in which a few cloves of garlic are fried, with paprika being added afterwards.
Galicia is also, from January to April, a paradise for lamprey lovers. This strange fish (claimed to be the oldest vertebrate in the world, going back 500 millions years in time) is brought from the Miño and Ulla rivers to be consumed “a la bordelesa” or Bordeaux style (cooked in its own blood, with wine, species and vegetables).