We all have prejudices. We don’t think that we do but that is in itself the nature of a prejudice. I was anxious that this region might be another version of a Costa-something, and I was not quite sure what a visit to northern Spain might hold in store.
I have spent some time in Barcelona and I was impressed by its history, style, charm and I still dream about its food; but what was Galicia going to be like? Well, where was Galicia? Will there be anything to eat when I get there? I can now report that Galicia is a culinary paradise for any lover of food from the sea. What we consider as celebration foods or ‘special treats’ are commonplace here. But it’s always interesting to put those clams and cockles into context.
Galicia is found in the north-west of Spain and has the official status of a nationality within Spain. It comprises several provinces which include A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. It is bordered by Portugal to the south which can be reached by bridges at various points. The romantic-sounding regions of Castile & León and Asturias are to the east, the Atlantic forms the western border (next landfall: America), and the choppy Bay of Biscay is to the north.
Galicia has nearly 3 million inhabitants, with most of the population living along the north and west coasts. The capital and the most populous city is Santiago de Compostela, but our main port of call, Vigo, is the second largest with over 200,000 inhabitants.
Galicia has two official languages: Galician (or galego, a Roman language similar to Portuguese) and Spanish (castellano or Castilian). Galician is recognized as the lingua propia (“own language”) of Galicia. Tourists will find that even those locals who can only speak Spanish or Galician are always helpful; but a phrasebook and your willingness to make an effort will likely be appreciated.
The name Galicia comes from the Latin name for the region, Gallaecia, associated with the name of the ancient Celtic tribe that lived north of the Douro River. Ptolemy recorded that these people were the first tribe in the area to resist the invading Romans.
There are some well-preserved remains of this ancient castro (fortress) culture not far from the port of Vigo. One can see the foundations of their round huts and a couple have been completely reconstructed to show their thatched roofs. This group lived during the second half of the Iron Age and survived into the Roman era. Later, Galicia fell to the Suevi, and then the Visigoths; during the Moorish invasion of Spain (711-718), the Moors garrisoned Galicia, but never managed to have any real control, and were eventually driven out in 739.
In the 9th century, the followers of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela gave Galicia a particular symbolic importance for Christians who still, in the 21st century, take pilgrimages to the Cathedral there.
In 1833 the Kingdom of Galicia was merged into Spain with its single centralised monarchy. Galicia was spared the worst excesses of the Spanish Civil War as it remained in Nationalist hands for the duration (under General Franco – himself a Galician), although it is said that at least 4,200 people were killed after either a summary trial or no trial at all.
The Galician economy finally began to modernise when Citroën arrived in Vigo, and the factory now makes more than 400,000 vehicles annually. The modernisation of the canning industry and the fishing fleet have also been vital: the major economic engine of western Galicia is its fishing industry. Vigo is the most important Galician port; it is one of the world leaders, second only to Tokyo.
Galicia lands more fish and shellfish than any other region in Europe and these are considered as local staples. The long coast offers both fishermen and shellfish collectors an abundant larder. Galicia’s dishes use every kind of fish and seafood and they are prepared in many traditional and contemporary ways.
Our gastronomic tour of Vigo and the area around proved to be a rich and delicious education. We feasted on the bounty of the sea and visited spas to pamper the travel-weary. So keep visiting Mostly Food and Travel Journal over the next few weeks to follow our restaurant route and be tempted by the best seafood in Europe. This is as far from “Full English breakfast all day” and “Happy Hour from 12 noon till 1am” as one can get. A gem of an undiscovered haven for those who want a glimpse of the real Spain and to learn more about its culinary riches.
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Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018