Gastronomy: one of the highlights of the Way of Saint James
If you’re tempted to become a pilgrim and travel the Way of Saint James, once you learn more about the gastronomic delights awaiting you along your route you’ll jump at the chance to make the trip. You’ll discover what “pintxos” are, how to serve cider in the traditional Asturian manner… and you’ll be able enjoy some Rioja wine before tucking into such typical dishes as roast milk-fed lamb. Because each region has its own specialities… and all equally mouth-watering. In fact, the whole of northern Spain is renowned for its delicious and abundant produce from both land and sea. This is the “à la carte itinerary” we suggest in the eight regions which make up the Way of Saint James.
If you’ve opted to travel what is known as the “ French Route” (inland), your itinerary will take you through the following regions:
A visit to any restaurant in Aragon offers a chance to try a whole range of delicious typical dishes. Some of the best-known? Roast baby lamb and cured ham from Teruel for carnivores, or borage if your tastes incline more towards vegetables. And for desert, what could be better than peaches from Calanda? And if you’re still hungry, it’s worth remembering that Aragon is also famous for the quantity and quality of its wild mushrooms and truffles.
The feast of first-rate gastronomic products continues in this region, and includes such popular delicacies as asparagus from Navarre, piquillo peppers from Lodosa, Idiazábal and Roncal cheeses, and artichokes from Tudela. And a popular custom in this region is to enjoy a small glass of the liqueur known as Pacharán Navarro after a meal. Another option is to make a point of taking part in some of its culinary events such as the wine harvest festivities, or the gastronomic festival known as the “Semana de la Cazuelica y el Vino”, featuring miniature portions of typical dishes accompanied by wine.
Of course, everyone knows the wines from La Rioja. When you reach this area you’ll find yourself in a land with a great wine-producing tradition, as both the wines and the extensive vineyards are famous all over the world. If you want to see for yourself, why not visit the Calle Laurel in Logroño (the capital), and drop into any of the area’s typical wine bars, where you’ll be able to try a gourmet set menu, sign up for a tasting course, go on trip on the Vinobús…? Other recommended dishes in La Rioja include the vegetables (the produce from Calahorra is particularly famous) and dishes such as potatoes à la riojana and baby lamb chops grilled over vine shoots.
The Way of Saint James passes through three regions in Castile-León, all of which represent a genuine paradise for meat lovers. In the first place, Burgos, where visitors shouldn’t miss a chance to try the famous milk-fed roast lamb or typical local black pudding accompanied by a first-class wine from the Ribera del Duero region. Then, as you travel on through Palencia, you’ll be able to try some of their river crayfish or quails. Finally, don’t leave León without asking your waiter if the restaurant serves the typical delicacies known as cocido maragato (chickpea stew) or botillo (cured stuffed meat).
If you opt to take the “Northern Route” (along the coast) you’ll pass through the following areas:
Get ready to enjoy one of the world’s greatest gastronomic experiences. If you go to the Basque country you absolutely have to try the famous pintxos: miniature morsels of haute cuisine which you’ll see displayed in all their glory on the counters of many of the bars. There are a whole host of different varieties, and every year there are competitions with prizes going to the year’s best creation. You’ll also find a whole range of restaurants run by some of the great chefs of the new Spanish cuisine. What dishes should you order? We suggest cod à la vizcaína, marmitako (seafood stew) txangurro (stuffed crab)… And to drink, try any of the wines from the Rioja Alavesa region.
The Way of Saint James is much more than a sacred pilgrims’ route. It is a place where cultures come together, a point of exchange, and was in its day the main unifying artery in Europe. More and more pilgrims from a range of different origins are coming to complete the route. It has also been awarded the World Heritage designation by the Unesco.
As with any good coastal destinations, visitors shouldn’t miss the experience of taking a seat at the table and sampling some of the typical products from the sea: barnacles, spider crabs, small crabs, clams, lobsters, sea bass, scorpion fish, anchovies… and of course sardines, another very popular dish, roasted and served on a simple wooden board. If you prefer meat, why not try the venison, deer, or the bean and meat stew known as cocido montañés? And to round off the meal… a delicious and completely typical dessert: sobaos (sponge cakes) or quesada pasiega (a type of cheesecake). Enough to make your mouth water.
It’s impossible to talk about Asturias without mentioning its best-known drink: cider. In fact, “going out for a glass of cider” from one bar to another is a popular custom here, and also makes a great way for visitors to see how the locals pour the apple cider from the bottle into a glass from a great height in the typical method known as “escanciar”. The region is also home to delicious stews and hearty soups such as fabada (made with beans, pork, etc.) and a classic Asturian dish, as well as outstanding local produce such as Cabrales cheese and chorizo cooked in cider...
Both the Northern Route and the French Route will take you to your eagerly-awaited final destination:
The ultimate goal of the Way is also a fitting gastronomic highlight of the pilgrim’s route. Get your taste buds ready because Galicia is an ideal destination for sampling a range of freshly-caught shellfish: king scallops, mussels, scallops, crabs… all with a truly unique flavour. Visitors should also make a point of trying the octopus (there are various festivals in the region dedicated to this delicacy), the veal, and the almond pastry known as tarta de Santiago. And if you’re looking for a unique experience you can take part in the ritual surrounding the local liqueur known as a queimada. This involves setting the aguardiente (a local brandy) alight in an earthenware bowl while a spell is recited to ward off evil spirits.
As you can see, your journey along the Way of Saint James will leave you with a delicious aftertaste. The only problem you’ll have is choosing which restaurant to opt for, as all of them are of an extremely high standard. What’s more, in several restaurants in the towns and villages along the Way you’ll also find a “pilgrim’s menu” (a type of daily set menu) at a very reasonable price. The meal’s on the table… just pull up a chair!
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