The Way of St. James: a culinary route

The Camino de Santiago is for any pilgrim a unique experience that puts us in contact with a large number of European cultures. Gastronomy could not be less and the Jacobean cuisine is an incredible showcase where we can enjoy the traditional flavors of the Atlantic in which some of the best chefs in Europe find their inspiration.

Let’s learn a little more about the origin of this cuisine.

1) The traditional gastronomy of the Camino

Given the length of the Camino de Santiago and the singularities of each region, it is difficult to speak of a traditional Jacobean cuisine as such. However, in the historical treatises of the time, in literary writings and even in the Codex Calixtinus, very interesting data are recorded about the eating habits of the pilgrims who walked the Camino. These were determined in part by the riches and types of cultivation of each region, but also by the influence of the flow of pilgrims from other parts of Europe, who from the Middle Ages left their mark on the typical cuisine of the towns along the route.

Historically, the main meal of the pilgrims was the so-called “caldo de peregrinos” (pilgrims’ soup). It was a soup based on vegetables (cabbage, turnips) to which legumes (beans, chickpeas) and rancid bacon could be added. It was accompanied by chopped stale bread and seasoned with vinegar and salt. The recipe could vary depending on the wealth of each family, convent or inn.

During their journey, pilgrims filled their sacks with bread and cheese, two foods that acquired great importance in Christian symbolism. According to José Carlos Cappel, the word “companion” came from the Latin word “cum panis”, those who shared bread.

Meats were almost always consumed salted and dried. Fresh meat came mainly from game and was an exclusive delicacy of the nobility. Fattened and greased geese were one of the most appreciated and revered dishes by nobles and bishops, leaving some significant toponyms on the Camino, such as the parish of San Esteban de Oca in the municipality of La Estrada in Pontevedra.

We cannot overlook the great variety of sausages (chorizos, morcones, botillo…), smoked or salted meats prepared with care to guarantee their preservation and which continue to be today one of the greatest culinary riches of northern Spain.

In coastal areas (especially in Galicia), the consumption of fish is also very important: cod, turbot, conger eel, hake… without forgetting the “Galician octopus”, one of our most famous dishes worldwide.

pulpo

The sweets were mainly prepared with nuts, egg yolks and sugar. Almonds are a common ingredient in desserts, as we can see in the elaboration of the Santiago cake, the most typical sweet of the destination city, made with flour, egg, chopped almonds and sugar. It has in its center the cross identifying the city of Compostela.

tarta-santiago

2) Wine: symbol of hospitality

Finally, within this cultural tour, we will make a special mention to wines. The Camino de Santiago has contributed to give a cultural accent to wine.

Wine became a symbol of hospitality towards pilgrims. Medieval monasteries had their own wine cellars to supply the pilgrim.

The monk Aymeric Picaud in the Codex Calixtinus praises the goodness of local wine, and wine iconography itself finds a place in the architecture and artistic heritage linked to the Camino.

Pilgrimages played a very important role in Galicia’s wine wealth. Some of its most famous wines come from variations of cultivars from other parts of Europe: for example, Mencia wine is thought to have its origin in the Cabernet Franc grape that was introduced in Galicia in the 19th century. Other wines such as Godello or Albariño are due to native varieties, although there is a legend about the latter that it was brought by the monks of Cluny who took the grape to the monastery of Armenteira.

uva-albarino

3) Pilgrims today

Although the Camino de Santiago has a long gastronomic tradition, it is necessary to differentiate between the traditional gastronomy of the places visited and the pilgrim’s usual diet. Logically, if you had a fabada for lunch when passing through Valdediós or a cocido maragato when crossing Astorga, you would hardly be able to continue walking. For this reason, it is recommended to enjoy the typical cuisine of those places where stops are established and make lighter meals along the way.

For the duration of the walk, modern pilgrims usually stock up on sandwiches, energy bars or dried fruits and nuts. Nutritionists recommend eating foods rich in protein and carbohydrates since the cardiovascular exercise involved in walking causes us to burn a high number of calories.

It is very important to drink water throughout the day. To keep it cool, it is best to have a thermos. Isotonic drinks are rich in sugars and sodium that help to keep the body well hydrated; it would not be bad to buy soft drinks of this type in the passing places to keep us in shape during the tour.

In our stops and moments of rest, we can take advantage to recover energies and offer our palate with the exquisite menus of the land: empanadas, scallops, octopus á feira, lacón con grelos, tarta de Santiago, filloas… Some restaurants on the Camino de Santiago that offer native menus have a distinctive logo as agreed at the III Meeting of Academies of Gastronomy in 2011. However, given the recent date of this initiative, the use of the logo is not yet widespread. A guided tour will allow us to forget about looking for places to eat and just enjoy the experience.

The capital of Galicia is the most representative example of the gastronomic tradition and richness of the Camino. Near the mythical Plaza de las Platerías is the “rúa da Raíña” full of old taverns and restaurants where you can drink the house wine in cups and generous tapas are served. This street also joins the “rúa do Franco”. Since the Middle Ages, inns and taverns for pilgrims settled here. Today we see in its windows the best offer of seafood and crustaceans of the Galician capital: langoustines, crabs, spider crabs, lobsters, ox of France and santiaguiños. Among the mollusks, scallops, clams, cockles, mussels, razor clams or scallops stand out. The mode of preparation is simple, they are usually cooked or grilled. The cooked and chopped seafood is also incorporated into delicious salpicones accompanied by fish, onion, parsley, red bell pepper and vinaigrette. And what about the pulpeiras? we can also find the most popular in this area where we will taste the typical “pulpo á feira”, cooked in a copper cauldron and accompanied by oil, coarse salt and paprika.

marisco

For those who wish to take home a souvenir of their trip, the Canton of Santiago de Compostela is an important bastion of Galician gastronomy. Its streets are full of grocery stores where you can buy the best preserves from our land and our estuaries (fish, seafood or canned turnip greens), herbal brandy, coffee liqueur, pomace creams or handmade chocolates.

The same could be said of the Abastos market, the second most visited place in the city after the Cathedral. It was built in 1837 to regroup the different markets scattered around Compostela and today it is a reference point for traditional Galician gastronomy, hosting fairs and gastronomic events where the best of Atlantic cuisine is on display.

For all these reasons, gastronomy is one of the reasons that encourage tourists to undertake the Camino (in addition to religious, cultural, vital … ). Undoubtedly, one more incentive that enriches our experience as pilgrims.

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