Last July my friend Walter and I embarked on a great journey… to follow the steps of many pilgrims that came before us to reach on foot where the remains of the apostle St. James lie in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
Our interest in completing the Camino de Santiago, as it is called in Spanish, started back during our last trip to the north of Spain in 2007. We saw in almost every city the markers for the pilgrims, the pilgrims themselves carrying their belongings… and we were enthralled. We knew some day we would do it.
But as working professionals, we can’t take off a whole month for just walking across Spain from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. So we decided to just do what was critically asked of us, walk 114Kms from Sarria to Santiago in 5 days. We walked on average 20kms per day the equivalent of a ½ marathon 5 days back to back. We trained for the trek ahead, walking about 14kms from my house to El Morro and back, carrying backpacks, water bottles, snacks, etc. under the Puerto Rican Summer sun. If we could manage that, we would certainly manage the sun and potential heat in the north of Spain.
The experience was wonderful… there are certainly spiritual, religious and physical aspects to this pilgrimage. And it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to put into words. You are amongst company and by yourself all at the same time. You start alone yet by the time you arrive in Santiago you have developed so many wonderful friendships. We’re all in this experience together and the love and support you feel is incredibly special. We are so fascinated with the experience, we vouched to do it all over again, but try to start as close to Roncesvalles as we can… and if we can manage it, heck start at the beginning of the trail in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the reason why this most traveled route is called the French Way or Camino Francés.
My love for Spain is no secret to you who read me frequently… and I could not pass up the opportunity to document all the great things we ate in Galicia and experienced on the Camino.
This was my first time in Galicia… so I had to try some of the local delicacies to see if they’re as good as they say or as good as I remember. I remember my dad eating Caldo Gallego from El Ebro when I was growing up. Caldo Gallego is a hearty soup/stew made with beans, chorizo, vegetables. Growing up was never too find of it, and as an adult vegetarian I have not had it for the obvious reasons described just now. When we arrived in Melide for lunch we were told we needed to go to a Pulpería which are the most typical restaurants/taverns in Melide. Yes… Pulpería as in Octopus. We decided on Pulpería Ezequiel… where we later learned was visited just the day before by renowned Spanish chef Jose Andrés. He was walking the Camino just one day ahead of us!!!!! Of course I wasn’t going to eat octopus, I was pleasantly surprised to know the Caldo Gallego in Ezequiel is vegetarian – potatoes, cabbage, beans in a vegetable broth. It may have been simple… but it was perfect for the rainy day we were having.
Another Galician favorite are Pimientos de Padrón… Some of my foodie friends swear by these so I had to stop and try them to see if I loved them just the same. These are peppers grown in the town of Padrón in Galicia. They’re served fried and their peculiarity is that they’re mostly sweet, but there are several that are spicy and to eat them is like playing Pepper Russian Roulette… you never know when the spicy one will appear. Well, for me… it was the 4th pepper. It was sooooo spicy that it was enough for me not to want to eat anything else that night.
To cool off the spicy pepper sensation in my mouth… the Galician thing to do is to have a Clara de Limón, which is a combination of beer and lemon lime soda. It is refreshing and delicious… and when you make it with a non-alcoholic beer, perfect for someone that does not drink much and is planning to walk for 4 more days 4 half marathons. This is not the time to get a hangover.
The Camino is a trustworthy place to be… we are all walking, with our own obstacles and tribulations towards the same goal, reaching Santiago de Compostela. People are very accommodating to pilgrims. They know we’re walking under the sun sometimes, so they offer water, and sometimes food. Along the way on our 4th day of walking I believe in between Arzúa and Amenal we found this cute fruit stand. No one tended it… there was just a money box where you would deposit the money of whatever you took. Everything was 1 Euro. We decided to eat raspberries and to leave our message of appreciation. I love a place where people are decent, where people are trusting and believe the same of others. We should instill some of those feelings in our own daily lives I think…
I have told you about Empanadas Gallegas or Galician Empanadas… I have made a vegetarian version using tuno. We ran across a Galician Empanada and we had to try it… Walter ate most of it, but I had to take one for the team and give it a bite to compare with my own version. And for all of you who may have doubted if my tuno version was authentic… My tuno version tastes JUST like the originals made in Galicia. The dough is different, but the filling is just as delicious. The predominant flavor is the caramelized onions which gives it a creamy unctuous flavor. Feel free to make my vegetarian version… you will not be disappointed.
And to finish off our great pilgrimage… we enjoyed some of Spain’s most delicious contributions to the culinary world – CROQUETAS. We ate the most wonderful Spinach and Goat Cheese croquetas. It gave me the inspiration to tweak my spinach croquetas recipe and add some goat cheese to them to make an updated version.
Completing the pilgrimage from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela was an experience we will never forget. Arriving in Santiago under the rain, attending the Pilgrim’s Mass, joining all the other pilgrims who had completed the same journey as us… was an emotional experience. One that I am sure has changed us in more ways than we can express. I encourage you to embark on your own personal journey… the journey to physically and mentally getting to know yourself more. The journey where we find our true essence and where we can live every day those qualities we love most about ourselves.
Be it on the Camino de Santiago or in your own neighborhood… go out and inside all at the same time and find what you have always wanted that is right there inside your heart.