Eating on the Camino doing your own cooking
So, you have decided to go low-budget. It’s possible, but don’t underestimate it. First of all, you will be tired after a long day’s walk: maybe you won’t have the energy to cook a good meal, so chances are you’ll revert to easy cooking which is not always healthy (you can’t live on pasta with can sausages)… well you can, but that’s not the experience we would like you to have on the camino! Secondly, it’s not always cheaper; a lot of supermarket products are at the same prices they have in the rest of Europe (don’t bring the subject up when you talk with Spanish folks).
If you are sure you have the energy and you know your way in supermarket pricing, read on.
The first place you see in the morning that looks like a supermarket: charge! Bread, cheese, a big tomato and some fruit is all you need to get you through the walking part of the day. I remember eating a big tomato without slicing it, just like you would eat an apple. I was sitting on the remains of a small Roman wall looking over the fields, watching Peregrinos passing by. That was the best tomato I ever had and many followed during the rest of the walks! Eating on the camino can be an experience in itself!
Once you get closer to the place where you are going to stay, charge another supermercado and buy whatever you want to cook that evening. If you need to ask for directions: ‘Donde hay un supermercado o tienda?’ [Is there a supermarket or small shop?]
Pots, Pans and Sporks
A lot of die-hard pilgrims carry their own cooking gear and cutlery/silverware. There are albergues where they indeed do not have any utensils available in their kitchen. However, most of them have. You can either take your chances to be in a situation where you can’t cook nor borrow another pilgrim’s utensils (and go to a restaurant where the food is not expensive at all) or you can carry all that stuff with you to avoid the risk. Most albergues (also the Albergues Municipales) have a kitchen, utensils, cutlery, and even sometimes some food in stock and a microwave. Enjoy your microwave meal but don’t forget to read on… just in case, you know?
Besides walking, sleeping and wandering around in the realms of your mind during both, you’ll be spending some time on searching for places to eat and deciding what you are going to eat. During the day our advice would be to either walk only until lunch and have a big, nutritious lunch (and take a simple, easy digestible dinner), or walk all day and take your lunch with you in the form of bocadillos de queso y jamón (ham and cheese sandwiches) and then have a good dinner well before you lay down to sleep.
Along most of the caminos you’ll be bombarded with signs offering ‘Menu del Peregrino’. Just like any menu, it depends on the place whether it’s going to be a delicious meal or not. So, people telling you not to order from that menu probably had bad experiences with a particular restaurant. Although, I must say, in the more crowded areas of the Camino Francés those restaurant experiences are becoming less rare by the year. Which is a pitty, because eating on the Camino should be a feast!
Just like in a lot of other European restaurants, they will have day menu’s (menu del día), menu del peregrino (which is basically a menu del día but with a name that will appeal to the main tourists passing by: pilgrims), and most restaurants will also have a la carte, which basically lets you choose what you want to eat.
Marketing: based on making the choice easier, offering only three prices to choose from so you will be glad you ordered without language problems and do it fast (the sooner you order, the sooner you eat and the sooner you’ll clear the table for the next customer).
Having said that, food should be enjoyed, and it won’t be the first time that we see Spanish folks get angry at the waiter because they felt pushed and hurried during their meal. Be Spanish: take your time. Eating on the camino can be one of the experiences you will most brag about when you return home.
Ask for refills
You’ve had your portion of water to stay hydrated during the walk. Now that you’re done walking, you deserve some other taste. Go easy on the alcohol folks… 1 or 2 glasses is just fine, but come on, getting drunk on the camino can only hurt your and other’s experience.
An important fact not a lot of people know about, and when they leave a restaurant, they say ‘the food was nice but the service was bad, we had to ask for new drinks every time’.
In Spain (excluding maybe the touristic areas on the Mediterranean coast where they consider making money more important than good service) it is in general considered very impolite if the waiter keeps ‘bugging’ you with the question if you want more to drink.
So, there you have it: Spanish restaurant etiquette. They ask you what you want to drink once at the beginning. They serve you, and they will only bug you once during your dinner with the question whether you are enjoying your food and whether there is anything else they can do for you. They will be in constant watch of people raising their hand asking for their service at the table. That’s exactly what you need to do when your glass is empty; call the waiter and ask for a refill.
Spanish conclusion: the restaurant has a bad service if it takes too long to get the attention of a waiter.
Sweet and Salty
You’re walking, you still have a couple of K’s to go, it’s hot, and there is no store or bar around. You start to feel a bit dizzy or nauseous. Stop, take that small bag of peanuts or other nuts/chips out of your backpack and eat them. Same counts for sugar cravings. Charge those batteries! Just make sure you have a small amount of something salty and something sweet with you along the way even if you have just been eating on the camino in some fancy restaurant.
Top Galician food that you don't want to miss on your way to Santiago
Food is important everywhere, but in Spain (like in many Mediterranean countries) it is one of the main moments of the day: to be eating on the camino, preferably in good company. Food is always influenced by culture, climate and history. There is a long food tradition in Galicia, and you’ll find the gastronomy very traditional, basic, but also very very tasty.
There are not that many spices or herbs used in Galician food. The taste of the main ingredients play a far more important role. It is amazing what you can do with garlic (ajo), olive oil (aceite de oliva), salt (sal), and parsley (perejil). A lot of traditional dishes find their origin in the times during the war. There was not a lot to spend, and people had to rely on what they could grow in their own garden, and the meat they could get from their own stock (1 cow and 1 pig if they were lucky). Nowadays it is still common to join with one or two other persons and buy a couple of piglets. Jointly, they nurture the piggy’s and when it’s time…. churrasco!
Not all menu’s come with nice pictures, so we have googled a bit around and took a selection of the main dishes you will find on the menu’s along the way.
Remember: if you order a-la-carte, and you stick to some of the cheaper dishes (usually they are also part of the ‘Menu del Peregrino’) there are a lot of places where you will eat better and cheaper as opposed to simply ordering the Menu del Peregrino for 10 Euros. Take a look at our selection below. We thought about vegetarians too by listing the non-meat dishes separately, so you are not disgusted with the looks of all the meat. We like meat very much, but we do understand and respect your point of view.
- Pimientos de Padrón
- Ensalada Mixta
- Empanada Gallega
- Berenjenas fritas
Also called ‘Tortilla de patatas’. A traditional dish that you will find anywhere. You can eat it as small tapa to go with your drink in the middle of the day, or you can order it as starter or main course. It can be eaten cold, warm or just off the frying pan. It goes very well with a nice glass of white wine. One thing to watch for: if it is served cold, and the egg is still very liquid you might want to second-guess the choice. Usually you will find that restaurants cook it until the egg is completely well done, just to avoid issues. Last but not least: the standard one is just eggs and potatoes (cheap), the better ones will contain peppers (not hot ones) and onion to add more flavor. You might want to ask if it contains ham (jamón) or sausage (chorizo) if you are vegetarian.
“Pimientos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non”, is a popular statement about these small, green peppers. It translates to ‘some are spicy and others are not’. Padrón is a village in Galicia, and is one of the last major villages you’ll pass before arriving (23K) in Santiago de Compostela, if you chose to do the Camino Portugues. The cultivation of these peppers was started by Franciscan monks of the monastery of San Francisco de Hérbon upon their return for The Americas.
As to their spiciness: if they fry you a batch of the original Padrón ones, yes, you have a Russian roulette with a 20% spicy risk. Don’t worry in other places though: most of them are from wholesale companies from other parts of Spain and their cultivation has been adapted in such way that chances are you won’t get a spicy one at all. The spiciness depends during cultivation on the amount of water and sun they get. Luisa’s mother used to say that they are specially spicy when it rains just before harvesting them.
They are delicious and go very well as individual tapa but also as a side dish with practically any other main dish. You just pick them by their stem with your hand and make sure you bite them off just before the stem (the upper part where the seeds are is the delicious part!).
There are many many types of Paella. First of all you have the one with white rice and the one with black rice. The rice itself is usually yellow due to the saffron they add. When the rice is black, it’s because it has been cooked with squid’s ink.
The other differences are the ingredients. We put this one in the Vegetarian section because the most common Paella dish will have sea food and fish. However, make sure when you order that it is clear what type of Paella it is: Paella de carne (with meat), Paella de pollo (with chicken), Paella mixta (usually meat or chicken with sea food). It also contains sometimes small pieces of chorizo (sausage) so make sure that you either know exactly what you are ordering by asking: ‘Soy vegetariana/vegetariano: la paella lleva carne’? [I’m vegetarian: does the paella contain any meat?].
With a nice glass of albariño or ribeiro wine…mmmmm! Buen provecho!
I remember a private albergue on the Camino Francés while writing this. It was in a small village called Ventas de Narón. The place is called Albergue do Cruceiro. We ordered empanada and a mixed salad with tuna. Priceless! Eating on the Camino is always a party!
Almost everywhere you will go, you’ll find this one on the menu. The tuna is what makes it special for us. Delicious and very nutritious. It goes well as a main course while you are walking (not so heavy on the stomach) or as a side dish or first course at dinner. Any time, any place really…
My first memories of empanada are the ones from my Spanish hometown when my parents and us were spending our vacations there. Back in those days you could order empanada in restaurants and buy it in the stores already, however this was not the usual way. My mother would prepare a certain amount of food for the filling (nowadays you can get empanadas in as many varieties as you like). She usually made chicken. Very early in the morning she would take the pot with chicken stew and walk to the local bakery. She would hand over the pot and order ‘Una empanada de 4 kilos de masa’. She would agree on a time to pick it up and voilá: a freshly backed empanada for the whole family! Yummy.
We put this in the vegetarian section because there are a lot of fillings available. The most common one is the one with atún (tuna). Again: a mall piece as lunch with ensalada mixta or a couple of slices as main course. Galician food is really all about any time any place, cheap and nutritious work food: exactly what a pilgrim needs! The locals will agree with me!
Grelos are the young leaves of a certain type of cabbage. They are used in the Galician kitchen in all sorts of dishes. The most common dish being ‘Lacón con grelos’ which is in the meat section, since Lacón is meat. However, vegetarians will be delighted to order a ‘Revuelto de grelos con gambas’, just to name one. Steer fright grelos with gambas… mmmm!
When you order these, just make sure you know if they come with meat or not. Want to ask if they have dishes with grelos without meat? Here’s how: ‘Tiene platos de grelos sin carne’?
Also popular is the Tortilla de grelos or empanada de grelos (see tortilla and empanada sections). Enjoy!
Often seen on the menu as ‘Croquetas caseras’ (home-made croquetas). If they are home-made, you are in for a treat. If not, they are usually not bad at all though.
Vegetarians: make sure again you know what type it is. ‘Croquetas de jamón’ or ‘Croquetas Ibéricas’ contain pork. Look for the ones that say ‘de patata’ (potato) ‘gambas’ or ‘verduras’. There are many many more, so you know the drill by now: ‘Soy vegetariana/vegetariano: tiene croquetas sin carne?’.
Sliced up in all different kind of shapes and fried in oil or grilled, it doesn’t really matter: delicious! The perfect side dish to complete a Veggie meal. Restaurants will usually have oil, salt/pepper and vinegar on the table…. poor it over them like you would with a normal salad.
Tip of Camino Comfort (we love to cook): when you get back home, buy them, fry them and…. poor some balsamic dressing on top of them… a culinary experience!
- Pulpo a Feira
- Gambas al ajillo
- More delicious Fish
This is probably the most popular dish of Galicia. If you go to a Spanish restaurant outside of Spain, chances are they have pulpo on their menu in the Galician variant: a la Feira. A ‘feira’ is the name of the traditional markets in villages in Spain. They occur usually twice a month. In Galicia, you will see ‘pulpeiras’ (the woman who cook, cut and sell your portion of pulpo) across the whole market and with stands near to bars and restaurants.
Two very popular places with regards to pulpo are Melide (on the Camino Francés) and O Carballiño (10K off the camino in the area of Cea – on the Camino Sanabrés (the extension of the Camino de la Plata once you get in Galicia). You can get it anywhere though!
Yep, you’re right! It’s the scallop shell you are carrying with you on the camino to Santiago. They taste as good as they look on your backpack!
The picture says it all right? Everyone knows gambas, usually called the same in many languages. Delicious as appetizer! You know all that bread that is served with your dinner in Spain? In the rest of Europe (with the exception of France) we don’t eat that much bread during dinner (maybe just as appetizer with some butter right?). Well, here is the main reason to keep your bread supply in order during the course of dinner: dip it in the sauce when the gambas are gone…
A small type of squid that is prepared in several ways. the most common one is in the first picture (grilled or fried as is). A less common one in restaurants is stewed (second picture). When they are fried in rings it looks like the third picture and that one is more in line with how normal squid rings look like (but smaller). Last but definitely not least, the very small chipirones fried in a coating of dough. If you can get those in a restaurant DON’T hesitate! The dish is getting rarer and rarer because of fishing legislation where the young ones are protected – I can’t blame them and I totally agree with these new rules, but gosh… they are so tasty…
Order ‘almejas a la marinera’ and you’ll get something that looks like the pictures above. You’ll be in heaven for the remainder of the dish. Accompanied by a glass of Albariño will make you order a second portion of the same dish!
Mussels are not only delicious in Paella, a plate of mussels in a nice sauce accompanied with bread and wine will work perfectly well as a complete meal. Enjoy!
Elver (baby eel)… not your typical dish at home right? They are not cheap. However, they taste great. They also come in a cheaper variant, where the eels are not actually eels but made of surumi / crab meat. Usually available in the supermercados. The ones in restaurants should be the real ones though. They give a very nice touch to a regular Caesar salad.
You won’t be able to enjoy fresh lobster in the rest of Europe for this price. Not the cheapest dish on the menu of course, but a lot cheaper than you are used to (if you are used to eating Lobster…).
Atún: as is, in empanada, in stew or as filling in any type of dish…
Bacalao, fresh or dried, in stew or grilled…
Jureles, the big ones, the young ones, fried with a slice of lemon…
Merluza a la gallega: simple honest food with a sauce to die for…
Sardinas, delicious little fishes, usually fried or from the BBQ (a la parilla)
There are a lot of fish dishes in Spain. We have restricted our selection to the most main stream ones in Galicia. Food is so important in Galicia, that they have parties (fiestas) around a particular dish. If you are on the Camino and you see those festivals announced, make sure you participate! Fiesta de la Sardina, Fiesta del Jurel, mmmmm!!!! Party & Food: why don’t all people live in Spain?!
- Chorizos Criollos
- Cocido Gallego
- Lacón con grelos
- Secreto Ibérico
There are no words for this ‘dish’. It doesn’t get better than this for the true carnivore to be honest. Although churrasco refers usually only to the spareribs part, when you order ‘churrasco’ in Galicia, you get more than the ribs. First of all you can order ‘churrasco de ternera’ (veal) and ‘churrasco de cerdo’ (pork) or, if they have both, you can order ‘churrasco mixto’. Besides the obvious spare ribs you get ‘chorizos criollos’ (sausages) and some other parts of the veal or pork. Basically we would call it a mixed grill. However, look at the pictures… you order ‘churrasco’ and you get a lot of meat. If you can eat more, it is usual to order bit y bit so the owners will not need to throw away good food. The only thing you need to go with this is homemade French fries (or chips as they would call it in the UK) and a nice mixed salad! Buen provecho!
You will find them in your churrasco, but they are also available as standalone dish, or sliced up and mixed in e.g. paella.
Meat balls are not what you call a Spanish dish. But just so you know how the Spanish ones will look like: balls of meat covered in sauce… but with a Spanish flavor of course! If they are ‘caseras’ – try them definitely: anything home-made tastes better. That’s just a simple fact!
One of the traditional dishes that proof that every part of the pork is used in the traditional Spanish cuisine: callos. Usually accompanied by ‘garbanzos’ (chickpeas) the ‘meat’ that is called ‘callos’ is beef tripe. We were told they are delicious. I guess it’s for the die-hard cuisine pilgrims. It just doesn’t sound appealing to us.
Accompanied by potatoes, chickpeas and grelos, you’ll get a variety of cooked meat from (usually) pork. Ever wondered where ‘Caldo Gallego’ comes from? Well, the water that is left over from boiling all these delicious ingredients is used as the basis for that dish (that you will find VERY often on the Pilgrim’s menu).
Another traditional meal. Boiled ham with potatoes and grelos. Yummy, and not only on a cold winter’s day. For peregrinos walking in colder months: it will keep you well nourished!
Raxo refers simply to the little cubes of meat. It can however be any meat. It will be specified on the menu and else, you’ll need to ask (or be surprised). Raxo de pollo (chicken), de ternera (veal) or de cerdo (pork). Stir-fried meat basically. Usually accompanied with… of course: French fries, homemade!
You will see it on most menus and it will look very appetizing. It is very very heavy on spices. Not spicy, but it contains a lot of sweet pepper powder. You know those home-made chorizo sausages, the red ones? Well, this is the same, but only the filling and cut up in pieces. Heavy duty for your stomach, so don’t even think about ordering this as a late dinner: you won’t sleep and the next day your stomach will keep reminding you what you had last night…
A selection of cured meats. If they have the extension ‘iberico’ you’re in for a treat. They are usually presented as selection on 1 plate and consumed with bread and wine as a starter dish. The best one we can recommend (if you see it somewhere on a menu, please e-mail us with the location!) is ‘Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, de Jabugo’. It literally melts on your tongue…
Ternera asada. Veil can be prepared in so many ways – but this is our favorite! You’ll see it in any menu, and we’ve seen it also as a choice on the pilgrim’s menu.
A delicious part of the pork (especially when it is a Cerdo Ibérico), that’s what Secreto is. The word means also ‘secret’ but there’s nothing secretive about it, as you can see in the pictures. Not cheap, but oh so nice…
- Caldo Gallego
- Potaje de lentejas
- Fabada Gallega
The most popular soup you will find on the Camino: everywhere. Usually one of the choices of the Menu del Peregrino. It’s cheap, but you are always at risk of restaurant owners who want to earn more money. Let’s put it this way: it can be very filled with potatoes, eggs, meat, grelos and other vegetables, or it can be simple liquid with an occasional floating ingredient. Also, caldo gallego can be bought in super markets, which is not good for the flavor if you know what I mean. The big restaurants that serve also ‘Cocido Gallego’ are the best ones to eat ‘Caldo Gallego’: you will be sure that the caldo is the result of cooking real meat with a lot of ingredients in it: best flavors ever!
Lentejas (lentils) are rich in iron. Iron is essential for a lot processes in your body. If the soup is more liquid it is called sopa, if it is more dense, richly filled with ingredients it is called potaje. The ones with lentejas is really nice and you’ll find it in a lot of places along the Way.
Chickpeas are very popular in Galicia and are used in a lot of dishes. In a soup/potaje dish it looks like this. Like the lentils, a very nutritious meal with a lot of nice flavors if prepared well.
Beans in all types and sizes, processed in a stew-like manner. Depending on the rest of the ingredients there are a lot of flavor varieties. However, think before you order: if you sleep in a dormitory with other pilgrims… they might not be very thankful the next morning. On the other hand, you’ll endure the same issues with others, so what the heck: buen provecho!
- Platos combinados
Available in most restaurants and all types of varieties. When the cook has a good timing (usually the best cooks are the moms and grannies) these combined plates compete very well with the Menu del Peregrino and usually are enough for an average eater. A little wine, a little desert and there you go!
- Tarta de Santiago
- Tarta de queso
- Leche frita
- Crema Catalana
- Cañas fritas
- Arroz con leche
It’s rare to find a Menu del Peregrino without this almond cake being a choice on it. Just as rare as finding a restaurant on the Camino without Tarta de Santiago anywhere on the menu.
There’s not a lot to tell about this delicious case. You’ll love it, the purer the almond selection the better the quality of the cake. You can even order them and take them back home…
Heavy stuff, but oh so nice… ordinary cheese cake, but somehow the cows in Galicia do not agree with that. It’s not ‘just’ cheese case; the good one is made of the milk of Galician cows who they call ‘vacas Holandesas’ by the way.
With your last glass of wine, you order a selection of cheese. There’s nothing to say about this really: just yummy and hail to all people who are cheese lovers. You know how to enjoy life!
You may run into the ones in the first picture. These are typical Galician ones and they call them ‘Queso de Tetílla’: Tit cheese. Very funny, even without the glass of wine…
This is not just egg pudding. When it is ‘casero’ you will know by its form (not so nice as in picture 1) and by its taste. Simple, great, satisfying.
What? Fried milk? How can that be? Well, we’ll share the recipe with you in another place and time, but believe us: YOU HAVE TO TASTE THIS!
Nothing Galician about this and available throughout the world – more commonly known as ‘Crème brulé’. We like it very much, so here it is!
Puff pastry filled with a pudding-like substance containing vanilla or other flavors. Go very well with a café con leche.
My mom makes the best but you’ll need to settle with what you find on the Camino, which will be just fine I bet! Porridge in its most traditional form.
We don’t think you need pictures of coffee. However, this might be useful:
- Café Americano – more water than coffee
- Café con leche – coffee with a lot of milk
- Café con leche, largo de leche – coffee with even more milk
- Café con leche, largo de café – coffee with more coffee than milk (the way we Dutch people drink it, but watch out: the coffee is stronger)
- Café con leche cargado – same as above
- Espresso – that’s the same as anywhere else
- Cappuccino – they either have it, and then it’s called the same, or they don’t and they will try to make it (you’ll get a café con leche, which is more or less the same to be honest).
- Wines of Galicia
“Vino de la casa” is the wine from the house. Can be anything, you’ll need to ask. If you don’t care a lot about your wines, that’s okay, just order it (it is the wine that comes with the menu del peregrino). They will generally put the whole bottle on the table. Don’t be surprised if they only charge you for what you have consumed. In the more crowded areas: don’t be surprised if they do charge the whole bottle. If you paid for the whole bottle, there is no problem in taking it with you if you didn’t finish it during dinner.
If you want to upgrade your wine experience try at least the Ribeiro and the Albariño.
Don’t drink too much: alcohol and walking do not go well together.
In Northwestern Spain we have a long tradition of making strong distilled liqueurs and the most famous one is orujo. Locally produced orujo is indeed a strong liqueur (between 37 and 45% alcohol) that can be drunk by itself or used to make the popular and very traditional Galician drink called queimada.
La Queimada deserves some attention. Galicia is Celtic and with a long tradition of ‘witch craft’ in its legends. La Queimada as you see below is a special recipe with the main ingredient being the highly flammable orujo (and some lemon rasp, coffee beans, sugar and cinnamon). Usually the lights go off to enjoy the wonderful magical experience and a spell is spoken in Gallego. With the spell the evil spirits are cast away and the friends in the room are invited to participate in la queimada. Although the only excuse one needs to make queimada is to be among friends, the tradition also says that one of the perfect days to make the “conxuro da queimada” is in Samhain, the Celtic New Year’s Eve. However, typically the Queimada ritual takes place during St. John’s night or ‘witches’ night’ on the 23rd of June. If you get the chance to participate, don’t hesitate. After burning a while, there’s not much alcohol left in the drink by the way.
This post is also available in: Dutch