Thursday, 19 March 2009

Patatas, pulpo, pimientos de Padron ... not necessarily in that order!

If you look carefully at the statue of Jules Vernes sitting on an octopus in front of the Club Nautico down by Vigo harbour you will notice that it has only four tentacles instead of the usual eight.

Now this may be because the rest have been served up for someone's lunch or dinner. Pulpo is a Galician speciality; the tentacles are sliced into rounds and lightly fried and usually served on a wooden platter. I have stood at a wooden table in the market at Betanzos, near la Coruna, and eaten pulpo that way with a glass of cold red wine. It is, of course quite possible to go to a specialist pulperia, or indeed to almost any restaurant where you can have your pulpo as it comes or a la gallega, in other words, served on a bed of potatoes.

Which brings us, inevitably, to potatoes. It is said that Galicians feel that a meal is incomplete without this vegetable. I have been told by Gallego friends that Galician potatoes are the best in the world. And Manuel Rivas claims that a Gallego child's first word is not usually
Ma-ma or Pa-pa but, in fact, pa-ta-ta! Potatoes certainly feature in a large number of Gallego recipes. Furthermore, like the Irish the Galicians suffered from the potato famine in the 1840s, adding to the numbers of emigrants. It could be said that potato blight led to Gallego flight!

A couple of years ago I accompanied a group of A-level Spanish students to Cambre on an exchange visit. We arrived late one afternoon and the students departed with their various host families, not meeting up again until the following day at the Spanish school. The next morning I was greeted by an excited student who told me, "Anthea, I have eaten something amazing: little green peppers, fried and sprinkled with salt! What are they? They are
fenomenal!" He had, of course, eaten pimientos de Padron, a speciality of the small town of Padron, not far from Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela.

For years I have been wondering why these are not exported to the UK as I quite agree with my former student that they are delicious. Apparently there is even a special
pimientos festival in August in nearby Herbon. Most of the small peppers, despite their resemblance to chilli peppers, are not spicy but as the season progresses you have to be careful because very occasionally you will come across a hot one which tries to burn your mouth off! True pimientos de Padron can only be bought in the summer in Galicia but I have found (inferior) imposters during the winter, grown in Morocco! Like every other fruit and vegetable nowadays, it is possible to buy them all year round if you really want to.

Another speciality here is
pescaditos fritos. Now, when I have ordered this item in Malaga, for example, I have received a plateful of whitebait, quite literally little fried fish, delicious in its way. What is served in the Rias Baixas restaurant in Vigo is a different, more interesting item altogether. On your plate you find a range of small(ish) fish of various types, none of which I have really been able to identify (after all they eat tasty fish here that never make it to English markets) but all very good to eat.

No item on food in Galicia would be complete without mentioning
cocido, basically stew but one so heavy in meat content- beef, pork, lots of bones - that when you have eaten it you really do not need meat for the rest of the week. It also contains, of course, potatoes and grelos, young turnip tops. It is considered to be a great treat. One of my companions at the yoga class told me that she was making it especially for her husband on his birthday: his favourite dish!

Restaurants will but up notices announcing, "Hoy hay cocido". I suspect that if you really wanted to you could probably eat it every day just by seeking out different restaurants. However, this is not advisable. Even Gallegos, making gentle fun of themselves, will agree that it can be hard to digest at times and is definitely not to be over-indulged in during hot weather. And in that spirit, this cartoon appeared in the ADN free paper recently:

The poor, suffering man asks for alka-seltzer and the chemist replies, "Don't tell me, overdose of cocido!" No further comment needed!

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