Gastronomy is one of Galicia’s main attractions: the quality and variety of local produce, the lasting traditions and evolution while respecting the past form the basis of Galician cuisine. Local products, whether crops or livestock or, especially, from the sea, have their own special characteristics and are cooked in ways that are traditional and thoughtful, home-made, unhurried, plentiful and varied, giving rise to a special, highly-renowned and much-appreciated cuisine.
The importance of gastronomy for Galicians can be seen in more than 300 food fairs that are held throughout the year all over the Autonomous Region. These celebrations of produce from the land, which generate so much interest among visitors, originated from local or regional celebrations commemorating typical traditions, friends’ meetings, or are held to coincide with harvests or religious festivals, like the pilgrimages, where fulfilment of a promise to the Saint is completed with a traditional meal.
From the sea
Traditionally, Galicia, with 1,300 kilometres of coastline and a huge number of fishing ports, has been a region that lived from the sea and from fishing, one of its inhabitants’ main activities. Accordingly, Vigo is now Europe’s main fishing port and Galicia’s rias are the world’s largest producers of mussels.
The coastline’ exceptional conditions, alternating the highest cliffs in Europe with the calm waters of the rias, along with abundant nutrients from the Atlantic Ocean at these latitudes, have formed a unique ecosystem, which supplies the most exquisite culinary markets. Goose barnacles from the coasts battered by the Atlantic waves, Norway lobsters, clams, spider crabs, sea crabs, shrimps and lobsters from the rias, together with oysters, mussels and cockles, among other species, form part of the Galician coast’s treasure, alongside octopus, squid, turbot, red and white sea bream, sardine, wolf-fish and other many species that populate Galicia’s coasts.
The vast experience of Galicia’s fishermen has also meant that the Autonomous Region’s fish markets are well supplied with deep-sea species, such as tuna, hake, cod, pollack or tasty mackerel, among others.
These fish have been incorporated into Galicia’s cooking recipes and have earned a name for the produce of the sea. Who has never heard of and tasted hake or cod a la Gallega? Or octopus á feira, or a la mugardesa?
Simple recipes for top-quality produce. This is traditional Galician cooking, where what really matters is the basic ingredients.
From the land
And if the coast is rich in culinary produce, inland Galicia is no less so. Galicia’s varied climate, where, although the oceanic climate prevails, Mediterranean and Continental climates can appear, allowing harvests of a wide variety of pulses, vegetables and other produce of the land.
Peppers with denomination of origin, such as the ones from Herbón (Padrón-A Coruña), potatoes from Bergantiños, grelos (a type of cabbage) all over the Autonomous Region; bread from Carballo and Cea; corn; dried fruits like chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; not forgetting wild species like mushrooms, blueberries or forest honey, all stock an admirable larder. Galicia’s crop fields create such dishes as caldo gallego (Galician broth), based on vegetables, beets, cabbage or grelos, potatoes and beans.
This climate is also responsible for Galicia being permanently green, a large part of which corresponds to a vast extension of pastures that feed the region’s herds of cows, sheep and goats.
In Galicia, beef is the star product. It is cooked very young, as veal, and its maximum quality level is reached with the brand Ternera Gallega. This meat gives rise to hundreds of recipes, whether preparing the delicious sirloin, the popular carne or caldeiro or as part of cocido gallego (Galician stew). However, if you prefer your beef well done, don’t miss Galician ox, which has crossed frontiers and entered the recipe books of other Spanish regions, such as the Basque Country.
As for the cheeses, most of which are made with cow’s milk, Galicia protects its denominations or origin, including such marvels as Tetilla, San Simón and O Cebreiro cheese.
Among the meats, kid, the meat of a young, unweaned goat, is roasted and forms part of the finest dining tables and is used in celebrations.
Also, among the fowl, highlights include farm roosters and, of course, capons, free-range chickens reared with care and rigorous feeding for the finest meals, mainly at Christmas.
Pork, on the other hand, is prepared in Galicia in many different ways and no part of the pig goes unused. Lacón (cooked ham), is used to make the typical lacón con grelos (cooked ham with cabbage). In the inland provinces, sausages are highly appreciated, among which androlla and botelo are renowned for their originality, stuffed meats made from chopped pork ribs, marinated with paprika and spices, eaten cooked once they have been smoked. Chorizos and salchichones offer excellent quality. Other parts of the pig are also used for Galician stews (bacon, cheek, meat from around the vertebras, trotters…)
The diet of Galicia, an Atlantic, beautiful and enigmatic land, is a source of pleasure with a taste of the sea, which is now attracting attention from the world of nutrition thanks to its health-related qualities.
Galicians, along with other peoples on the Atlantic seaboard, such as Icelanders, are among the most long-lived, with lower rates of cholesterol and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
What these peoples have in common is being surrounded by the sea and their particular eating habits learned from childhood, based on a high fish consumption.
Such nutritional habits have been called the Atlantic diet. In the Spanish State as a whole, Galicia is the territory that consumes most fish.
One of the main advantages of this type of diet, or Atlantic diet, lies in the great variety of fish on offer, many of which have large concentrations of long-chain Omega 3 acids and high quality proteins, vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium and iodine.
The Atlantic diet stands as one of the healthiest ways of eating, in which top-quality produce combine with simple culinary techniques as grilling, boiling or steam-cooking.
Its basis lies in the sea, the crop fields and the livestock farms, complemented with moderate consumption of excellent bread, wine and potatoes.