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Santiago de Compostela is the latest destination which Lufthansa has launched just recently. It is the first direct flight from Germany to make it even more comfortable to travel. This city is most of all known as the final destination of the Camino de Santiago also known as the way of St. James. So I was very fortunate to be on the very first flight to Santiago to be given the opportunity to show you around town. Let me put one thing clear before: this town of course is a destination for many international pilgrims but it is clearly so much more than that. Santiago offers the one who dives into it a great mixture of traditional Galicia, modern art, great restaurants and beautiful welcoming people.
As Lufthansa is featuring different cities every month, I have been fortunately asked to be their protagonist for Santiago de Compostela. April´s feature was all about food and scallops in particular. The idea behind it was the journey of a scallop from the sea to the plate. To get an idea of the culinary scene in Santiago you have to dive in and see everything from the port to the actually cooked product on the plate. So come with me and discover the taste of this beautiful city.
To get the point of scallops, which are basically spread all over town, I have to explain the following: pilgrims come here every year to collect a scallop on their own and bring it back home as a sign of the mastered track. So if you wonder around town you will recognize the shells on walls, backpacks or on restaurants menus.
Where It All Begins
Our culinary journey starts at the port of Fisterra where fisherman bring their fresh products every day to be sold to chefs, locals or people like us. A nice little and pretty port village only an eighty kilometer drive from Santiago.
Amongst these goods of course are the scallops which then find their way into places like the Tira do Cordel. This place is a really honest and locally driven place right at the sea. Seafood lovers will not miss a thing here. Only the freshest fish will be grilled over charcoal to fair prices. The chef was so kind to show us the traditional way on how to cook the scallop. People here know how to transport the Galician flavor and just leave guests speechless. The products are not complicated at all, simply being fresh and reduced to their natural taste. I could not have imagined a better way to get a feeling for the Galicien cuisine.
The Galician Way
The way Galiciens eat their scallops is as simple and delicious as one could probably imagine. They leave the flesh and roe in the shell and top it up with a mix of olive oil, garlic, onions, white wine and salt. Once added, the mussels go on the grill to sizzle inside this rich mixture until cooked. Afterwards maldon salt is all that is used to keep the clean flavors. The moment of the first bite will definitely blow your daily routine away and will let your holidays begin initially. This is how one can imagine the taste of the sea.
Our First Night
Now our way was leading us to Hotel Rustico in Finisterrae to be welcomed by our host Juan. So we checked in at this really memorable place. This house was not just a hotel, it had so many great details and such a calming impact on me. It was rustic but cozy at the same time. It was personal as well as giving one the expected standards and each room was different in its own way. Prices depend on season and length of stay but start from €50 to €120.
On the question for a good place to see the sunset, Juan offered us to even personally take us there. As you see he did not promised to much. What a view!
Moving On To #SantiagoDeCompostela
Together with these two I wanted to go food shopping on Mercado de Abastos. My goal was to find ingredients to interpret the scallop my way. So we were wandering around between fresh fish and local vegetables to get inspired. I was not sure what to look for in the first place because I wanted to keep this dish´s origin. Walking around the market is always something I like to do if not to certain with a recipe.
Having seen so many beautiful products we felt in the best mood to try what Alberto is actually up to in his kitchen. Abastos 2.0 presents a fine blend of tradition and modern tapas. The place is divided in two restaurants: a tavern at one side of the road and just opposite a restaurant. Sure the kitchen was tiny yet these guys manage to send very delicious tapas out of it. Alberto explained to me that he likes the twist between classic tapas but in their own way. As far as I can tell you, they do a great job at these restaurants. On the plates you can find modern pies, goose barnacles and of course scallops.
Exploring The City
It was time to get lost in town now. Making our way along small alleys, restaurants and of course historical buildings. I found it so relaxing to find out what would be waiting behind the next corner. Sometimes the scenery would change from local houses to historical buildings and afterwards you would end up in a park. Everything here is very nearby so one would not have to rely on public transport while here. You can blend in with old locals and stylish youngsters on the streets. Remember to always take it slow here, have a break for a coffee and enjoy the friendly people.
Before I had some work to do (if you could even name it work) we went to Casa Marcelo, which is a beautiful little tapas restaurant with a modern twist and some of the most memorable dishes we were offered during our stay. For me the best part was that all these tasty little dishes were not made of truffle and caviar. Their basic were typically Galician ingredients such as potato, tomato or bacon. The chefs definitely know how to turn them into a great experience. We started with fresh chunks of steaming bread to be followed by a firework of textures, temperatures and flavors.
Some Honorable Cooking
Next point on my to do list was a cooking session with the chef of the Parador de Santiago, José Gómez. The Parador is probably the most ancient building to operate as a hotel. Stepping in there made me feel curious. It was just a stunning mix of a museum, cathedral and of course a luxury hotel. I was welcomed by José and we went to one of the three kitchens to get a closer look. To actually be cooking in a place like the Parador must be excitement I would say. Again products are as fresh and fine as you could probably imagine them. Menus vary from tapas to excellent fine dining with of course Galician roots. The dining rooms were just stunning and had such a tremendous atmosphere.
The challenge for my dish now was that it had to be done within 10 minutes. At first it seemed a bit limiting to me but thinking of it and the way I saw those chefs cooking made me come to the conclusion. I did not want to present a hyper fancy dish rather than a tasty one. So simple it should be with just a few ingredients. What I did was to whisk up an orange-tea hollandaise to be served with sautéed turnip greens and a beautiful seared scallop. José was an honest yet calm person and I really enjoyed the cooking with him. It is always such a great thing that chefs find a way to communicate with food all over the world. Thanks again for having me José.
The day for sure ended with some beautiful food and wine, thanks to Dimas, who was always showing us the best places.
MEATing In Santiago De Compostela
Time for some serious meat for dinner. Apparently the best steak in town Dimas said. Obviously right. Restaurant El Pasaje offers a beautiful range of different cuts but also fish and mussels. The atmosphere inside was quite clean and modern opposed to the outside. Of course the Galician region features some beautiful wines too, as we enjoyed the very best Rioja I have had so far. What a great feast that was, as the chefs created a unique experience for us.
From my perspective Santiago de Compostela is so worth a visit and I will for sure be back. Stay for two or three nights and make your way all over town by foot. It is very accessible and the atmosphere is a spiritual yet unreligious mix of culture and history. Spend a day longer and go to Cape Finisterre too and find the end of the world. Enjoy the variety of traditional restaurants and great wines. Best time to travel would be either May or September as it will be a good climate and not to hot. Prices tend to vary from €50 to €120 for a night depending when and where you want to go. The food is affordable and the city itself is wonderfully calming.
To be continued…