Critically acclaimed food and music critic Jonathan Gold once said, “Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.” As a major ‘foodie’ myself, I couldn't agree more. I thoroughly enjoy trying new foods, learning about their cultural origins, and most importantly, embracing the way in which food unites people, whether over a dinner table or from across the world. That’s why, when I participated in the CGIS: Advanced Spanish in Santiago de Compostela, Spain program, I was not just immersing myself in the Spanish language and lifestyle, but in its rich cuisine, as well.
While traveling anywhere, whether it be internationally or just to a new local spot, I have always found the best way to travel is to be in pursuit of food. I have made various day trips across city, state, and now international borders that have no other agenda other than to check out a particular restaurant. My camera roll is filled with shoddily taken pictures of my favorite dishes, or of goofy selfies featuring me and said dishes.
Located in the northwestern autonomous community of Galicia, residents of Santiago de Compostela take extreme pride in the gastronomy of the region. Its proximity to the water grants its residents access to some of the freshest seafood in the world. I tried some of the most delicious seafood dishes, such as vieiras en su concha (scallops in their shells) and pulpo feria, which is octopus drizzled in olive oil and paprika. Now, how can one make the most of their culturally-enriched culinary experience? Here are some tips I have cooked up for you that I believe result in a tasty travel experience.
In today’s digital age, we are blessed to be connected online and by those who use the internet to share their travel experiences to help others (such as this blog!) Once I was accepted to this CGIS program, I immediately looked up “best restaurants in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.” Through my research, I stumbled upon a blog post written by an American who lived in Santiago for two years, outlining the best places to eat in the city. I kept the names of the eateries that caught my eye and made my stomach grumble, and once I arrived in Santiago, I jumped at the chance to eat at any of his restaurant recommendations that I could! One spot referenced on his list, La Flor, ended up being located right near my homestay and became a favorite for my friends and I. Their eccentric decor will forever hold a special place in my heart, and their refreshing tinto de veranos and scrumptious cheese a special place in my stomach.
2. Try EVERYTHING!
Obviously, this tip is dietary-dependent, but the open-mindedness required in embracing the food scene of your travel destination transcends the culinary realm. Nevertheless, I highly recommend taking any and every opportunity to try new foods while abroad. On my first day in Santiago, my host parents took my housemate and I on a lovely walking tour of the city. We stopped for tapas and one particular tapa that arrived at our table caught my eye: orejas de cerdo, or in English, “pig ears.” I was stunned and honestly scared, but I immediately reminded myself that this moment, so fleeting and so new, could only be made worthwhile if I embraced it wholeheartedly. So what did I do? I picked up a toothpick, stabbed it in a pig ear and plopped it into my mouth. Did I enjoy it? Not entirely. Was it worth it? Absolutely, because with this experience came the confidence to try new things beyond that mere pig ear, and I live to tell the tale.
3. Word of Mouth
Another form of research that can be conducted upon arrival is consulting your host family or other natives of the city you are in. Through conversations with my host family, I not only learned about the best places to taste local fare such as tortilla española and mejillones, but also the cultural origins and mass opinions on said dishes. For example, there is a big debate surrounding whether or not to include cebollas (onions) in a tortilla española. Although this is solely based on preference, this caused there to be two different tortillas on the table for lunch at my homestay, where my host sister ate her own personal, onion-less tortilla.
Although this post mainly focused on food, I hope your takeaways from it inspire a sense of excitement and readiness to embrace a new culture. Hopefully this did not make you too hungry, either. With that being said, I bid you farewell, and wish you safe travels and delicious food everywhere you venture!
Questions for Alex about her experiences abroad in Santiago de Compostela during Spring/Summer 2022? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.