Gastronome Gone Galicia
by Nate Underkuffler
At midday I could feel all the heat of Iberia pouring forth from the land and colliding with the undulant swells of the Ensenada Del Orzan. The water was sparkling and iridescent, lunging and swaying without respite towards the sun. The coarse quartz beach lay against the age-old stone and concrete rampart of the city’s promenade as a pile of finely-washed translucent gravel, swishing beneath the bare feet of beachgoers.
This being a travelogue of Europe, we quickly reach the subject of describing the people and their myriad eccentricities…. I can barely find a person under the age of 50, but the amount of exposed skin might exceed the modesty of an American 20 year old on spring break.
The heat may bombard us from the arid heart of Iberia, but the Atlantic sea breeze pushes right back against it; and on “The Groyne” it’s the ocean that securely claims authority. The salty air washes like a transparent extension of the cresting swells from which it originates, filling every winding, narrow cobble-stone paved alleyway in the city of A Coruña.
As a stout Galician waiter hastily delivers me a platter of the reddest and sweetest, tiniest little shrimp you’ll ever taste (freshly yanked from the bay that morning), I can nearly see a crust of sea salt condensed from the air and accreted with loving embrace upon every window ledge and doorframe. My olfactories barely detect a distinction between the aroma of the array of tiny crustaceans adorning my plate and that of the greater ambience.
|The sweet shrimp of Galicia|
|(These guys did a pretty decent job of embodying the 'old world charm')|
It’s a damn fine place to dig into a plate of shellfish, this oft-overlooked maritime corner of Europe. A Spain that isn’t particularly Spanish. A resource-rich oasis on a typically resource-exhausted continent that isn’t particularly rich. Or particularly continental for that matter; most at first glance would be apt to mistake this for the emerald isle or maybe even California’s central coast; as long as you ignored the almost goofy rickety thicket of concrete and glass architecture. The Romans technically claimed it, but really only to satisfy their famed desire for completeness. The Arabs never really noticed it was here. And the Spanish national government has always had more than it could handle with the far more unruly provinces of the peninsula to give the little corner of Galicia much notice.
I was there to record with their Orchestra, which turned out to be a world-class assemblage of musicians ranging in origin from Bulgaria to Pennsylvania. The graciously arts-supportive government of Spain gave us free reign of the orchestra for an entire week for the purposes of promoting the Spanish film industry, and we were more than happy to take them up on the offer to inject our modestly-budgeted film “Invasor” with a healthy of dose of symphonic muscle.
But the food. Oh the food! It was heavy, light, fresh, fermented, diverse, traditional, daring and celebrated. Everything good grub should be. Here are some highlights:
A typical lunch, delivered to us at the recording studio and presented Tapas-style:
THIS is a casual peasants’ lunch in Galicia:
Sardines wrangled from the bay strait into the sports-pub where I snacked on them like french fries while watching España trounce France in the world cup (yeah, it was legit):
Padron Peppers from Padron itself (it’s down the street) that have laid eyes upon a select few elements: a lush field, a touch of exquisite olive oil, a hot pan, and a few hefty chunks of Atlantic sea salt:
Editor's Note: "I think your Padron Peppers are just as good...if not better!" -Nate
Lots and lots of flaky-soft pescado:
Lounging by a pool on the outskirts of Madrid at the end of a 100-degree day nursing a pitcher of ice-cold gazpacho:
Home-made empanada and Spanish omelet (true mainstays of the diet):
Pay your respects to the one and only Iberian ham sliced table-side:
It's Europe man; wheel out the obligatory life-affirming cheese platter:
And a proper burn-it-all finale to the week, where the whole city runs around like maniacs on the beach for a night of leaping over giant bonfires. Truly, a land free from Lawyers: