The Gastronomy of Galicia ending in Lalin
My first post for my new business English Resource Centre has to be on gastronomy. I live in Galicia in north-western Spain which has over 1300 km of coastline with a series of inlets rich in bio-diversity, over a 1000 rivers and is generally undulating and mountainous too ! An agricultural region with so much tourist and gastronomic potential, its geography contributes to its tremendous diversity of gastronomic products. There’s the diversity of saltwater or freshwater fish, shellfish, crustaceans ; the variety of meats including Ox meat,pork and game ; vegetables like potatoes, peppers and tomatoes ; from the forests there are chestnuts,honey,wild mushrooms and fruits etc ; the amazing cheese, fruits like the kiwi, homemade desserts from these local products and not forgetting the wines, artisan beers and liqueurs. Many of these local products are regarded as some of the best in Spain. Galicia really is becoming a culinary centre with a international reputation thanks to this quality and diversity.
My love of this abundance is obvious but it has been facilitated by so many incredible people I have met since I moved here 8 years ago to do with this sector. From owners of bars, restaurants, hotels, wineries, distilleries, farms, breweries you name it I’ve been there. Then there’s the cooks, chefs, sellers of these products in the markets, journalists, Bloggers, the tourist authorities, the regional Government, business associations, trade bodies, organisations like CRAEGA who regulate organic products a growing sector.
Galicia is the land of the fiesta and nearly all its people enjoy eating and drinking rather alot so why not join in ehhh? I quickly feel at home having always had a healthy Scottish appetite! People here also take their food and drink seriously. You can’t possibly have seafood without pairing it with a nice glass of local wine. People live so they so they can eat which invariably involves taking your time ! While Galician food tends to be plain and simple with so much variety and quality in the product, standards are rising and customers ever more demanding. Hence many local Councils have been encouraging local bars/ restaurants to raise their level and also help them to generate more business by holding annual tapas competitions. So that finally brings me to Lalin, Famous for its Cocido fiesta – a boiled pork dish where nearly all the pig is used and served with boiled potatoes, turnip green tops or cabbage and chickpeas. They have been holding tapas competitions for quite a few years. So I’ve been very lucky to have been invited by a group of my Blogger friends, Galicia Gastro to accompany them to help assess various tapas competitions organised in Lalin.
A few words about Galicia Gastro. I have been fortunate to meet so many amazing Galician Bloggers. Faustino Batallan like me shares a passion for the gastronomy and he has brought together some of the bloggers who share his interests, Galicia Gastro was therefore created consisting of people with distinct backgrounds: chefs, writers , retired people, people who work, show-cooks,me the foreigner always promoting Galicia to a wider audience ; all of us sharing the same passion eating and drinking and discovering new places !! Over the years I’ve done so many amazing things and learnt so much by being with this group of mainly Galician experts. Some examples : Events like Tapas Competitions in Lalin,Cotabade, Moraña, Arousa Norte and Estrada in Pontevedra. Winery/showcooking visits for Martin Codax,Via Romana, Ponte de Boga, Marques de Vizhoya and Adega Moraima. Show cooking for ANFACO in Vigo, Barro Beer Festival and visit to Saramagal Artisan Brewery. Pazo de Oca visit for Ponte de Boga/Estrella de Galicia. Come o Mar presentation in Santiago etc.
So here I am again in Lalin one rainy weekend in March 2018 as a member of a professional, judging panel from Galician Gastro appointed to assess the quality of the tapas on offer in the local tapas competition “Bocadiños do Cocido”. My fourth year now doing this as a judge !! I’ve been amazed by the quality of the end products and even more by the constant improvements in standards to even a higher level. It’s Friday midday and I’m greeted at our first stop Hotel Vía Argentum in Silleda by my fellow Blogger Paco Sastre. Paco was the Head Chef in Madrid of BBVA for over 30 years but has just retired to concentrate on his passion which corresponds with mine eating, drinking and Blogging !! So it’s into Judge mode as we have to score each tapa using our special scoring system : How innovative/original is the tapa? is it well presented ? And most importantly does it taste good ? I think of the weekend that lies ahead : 18 tapas to try in 18 bars/restaurants/hotels in the area around Lalin including Silleda with a new participant Casa Achacán near Rodeiro that excelled as well !! It’s a hard life !
We inspect, take photos and taste our first tapa of the day at Hotel Vía Argentum and are impressed. The tapa combines all the key ingredients of cocido in an innovative way and is well presented. It tastes good too with a bed of ham/cocido, ontop are finely, sliced potatoes with a creamy mayonnaise sauce and separate hot broth of turnip tops to enjoy with each mouthful of tapa. It’s difficult to criticise as each tapa is only 1.50€ but perhaps the decorative, crunchy bacon is a bit burnt and with so much sauce and potatoes the cocido tastes a touch bland, but I’m suppose I have to be critical in my search for the best one !! Then having been shown around by the owner of the hotel we are quickly on our way to Pazo Bendoiro, a rural boutique-style hotel in an oasis of calm in the countryside. The Camino de Santiago passes its doorstep so it’s used to cater for hungry pilgrims too on the Silver Way from Seville. Fitting for such a special place the tapa is top notch in everything we are looking for but especially taste. The cocido and its sauce is stuffed inside a turnip top and it’s served with a croquette of turnip tops which are nice and creamy with the plate drizzled with a paprika sauce. It’s that easy to score as it’s tastes soooo good !! So we congratulate the chef who greets us when we’re about to leave. We hurry on visiting two hotels that are used to serving their clients good food for lunch or dinner : El Hotel Spa Norat Torre do Deza and El Hotel Restaurante Pontiñas who deserve alot of credit for serving cured, pressed cocido slices. Then we head for the Bus Station where a new bar has opened called El Rincón de la Mariposa. We are greeted with a really warm welcome by the owner, Angélica but the tapa which was a mini crepe filled with diced cocido is not so good. It’s time for a short siesta!!
Revived its 6 pm and we arrive in the middle of nowhere a long way from Lalin at our next bar, Casa San Martin. This is rural Galicia. The tapa is real simple a slice of a toasted bread and fresh, soft melted cheese and slices of chorizo with thinly sliced pigs ear ! Simply delicious using the freshest, local products from the area. Our next stop over 3o km away is equally remote from Lalin but even more impressive! It’s called Casa Achacán which is an old farm complex surrounded by farms near the village of Rodeiro which is on another pilgrimage route from Ponferrada called the Winter Way. A route I know well but that’s for another story! The welcome we receive here by the owner, Jesus and his family including the cook, his wife Pilar is the best of the whole weekend and that’s saying something. This time it’s concido with bechamel sauce in a pasta lasagna served with a mini cornet of cocido flavoured ice cream which was delicious. Picking a winner is not going to be easy !! We get a tour of the farm complex including the traditional cooking area known in Galician as A Lareira and sample their oak wood smoked panceta with a Mencia wine from Chantada served from a ceramic bowl !!
It’s nearly 10 pm so that’s two more completed but alot more to go !! So we drive on back to Lalin. The next stop is a pizza place, Pizza Park popular with families but the owner loves to experiment with dough so he’s invented a bread stuffed with cocido! It comes with a nice cocido flavoured sauce. The next bar is aptly named Bar O Pincho as they serve dam good pinchos. The tapa is another type of lasagna this time using layers of crepe and its a real tasty tapa indeed with all the cocido flavours including chickpeas and grelos not just the pork ham. Virtually next door is another restaurant/bar called Pensión Las Palmeras which is also a hostal and the owner, chef Luis Alberto knows how to cook really well. Their tapa of mini pastries stuffed with diced, seasoned cocido and a cheese sauce is top notch ; presentation, innovation and taste are faultless ! It’s apt that our final restaurant of the night is Restaurante La Molinera whose owner chef, Diego López has won an award before : the best young chef in Galicia. It’s always exciting coming back here and trying his latest invention. This time he’s produced a really aromatic tapa of cocido inside a lettuce bed. The great thing about the talented chefs here is that they are not elitist at all. After a wee Scottish Whisky it’s time for bed but feeling satisfied!!
It’s Saturday and we decide to hit the Wine Festival in Chantada to warm up before another session of tapas ! A few glasses of superb, godello white wine washed down with octopus and hot chocolate and churros and yes you’ve guessed it, we’re ready to continue on the tapas route !
We start again at a new entrant, O Cafe de Meli and yet again it’s delicious ; a cocido terrine with a sauce and crispy cale. Then we’re off to last years winner Casa Currás and we’re in for another treat as Alberto the chef personally serves us our tapa freshly prepared by adding a hot cocido purée sauce to our tapa which is turnips tops and a pork ball full of cocido/ham flavour. I wash it down with a nice, cool beer. It’s not completely flawless as the porkball is served lukewarm when I would have loved it to have been piping hot, it’s started raining hard outside and it’s on for the night !! But there’s no mistaking this really is food and it’s very best. Paco looks at me as if to stay how lucky we are to be on the route ! We pass a pig statue to remind us we are in Lalin and enter Bodegón A Cunca one of my favourites as the chef, Patricia (the owners daughter) is so hospitable and is a fantastic cook, her recipes are brave and innovative. I’m served a delicious craft beef from Lalin,Toupiña and some tortilla! The tapa arrives thanks to all the tending, loving care of Patricia and it’s a hot sandwich (mimicking fried squid but its pigs ear instead) even the bread is made with the juices of the cocido ! May the Lord be with you, it’s good and it’s nice and hot too. The next bar has the best decoration in Lalin, Doña Maruja Gastrobar and the tapa a mini sandwich stuffed with diced cocido and turnip tops is good too. We’re into our stride now as we hit Lalin’s top restaurant so I expect a real treat from Restaurante Cabanas the owner and his Alex are always up for it and no surprises that that’ve won many tapas competitions before. The tapa tastes like fried bread and is served with a cocido flavoured butter and two sauces one of turnip tops which is nice and bitter and one of paprika that tastes of sweet, juicy chorizo, excellent stuff ! The restaurant/bar is buzzing so we quickly move on to Cafetería Rosaleda. Silvia is the owner, cook and I always enjoy her style of home-made cooking as she puts her soul into everything she does. She provide us with an amazing tapa presented to us by her young daughter who does so well to remember all the ingredients : a hot pastry stuffed with cocido, fairy cake style. It’s piping hot so wins the prize from me for the hottest tapa perfect as it’s raining cats and dogs outside !! We finally finish at Hotel Villanueva where Moncho the owner and his team have been looking after us so well all weekend. I finish my final tapa which is substantial with a nice, rich chickpea flavoured sauce with chunks of cocido.
I sleep well, yes a little full but contented. I awake and start the process of finalising my scores for each establishment, it’s a very difficult choice as there are at least 6 of the same level which is really high. My fellow Bloggers like Paco Sastre who are doing the route too will do the same. The results were announced by Deza Business Association and winners with the highest, cumulative points are :
Profesional Jury Winner : Casa Currás
For those who can read Spanish there’s a link to the press feature about the prize giving. My fellow Blogger Luis Domenech was there for the presentation. Well said Luis !! Congratulations to all the winners and all that participated and who were all so hospitable. One thing is for sure and that is I will be returning to Lalin !!