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OPINION: How I found my foodie tribe in Galicia

Here Heath Savage describes her journey of discovery through Galicia's culinary delights

OPINION: How I found my foodie tribe in Galicia
Percebes are a delicacy of Galcia. Photo: Fotero/Flickr

In my articles for The Local I have covered a few topics centred on what it is like to move to a fascinating region like Galicia relatively late in life.

Language, home renovation, driving, health care, food…let’s get back to food.  I am not obsessed with food, but, OK, I am obsessed with food! I have come to live in the right place. I love the food here in Galicia.

I don’t just love the quality of our produce, and shopping for it in small markets where I can talk to the people who have grown or made what I have in my basket (which is also locally made by hand). I love the eating part of the story too. Galicians love to eat. I have found my tribe!

I love the simplicity of the classic Galician dishes. It would be easy to underestimate the level of skill and knowledge that is required to prepare food that looks so “ordinary”.

If you presented your average Aussie person (I nearly said “housewife”, sorry gals!) with a pig’s face and ask them to turn it into lunch, I cannot repeat what they would say to you, nor elucidate on where they would invite you to shove it. 


Suffice to say it wouldn’t be in a heavy pan with chicken stock and a bouquet garni. Cacheira is not something that I have partaken of yet, but I daresay I will get around to it. Orejas are another matter. I don’t like ‘em. Not because they are ears, it’s just the texture. Same with the chicken feet that my Chinese pals devour. I tried. I couldn’t like them. They do make a great stock though.

A plate of orejas de cerdo isn't to everyone's taste!. Photo: Chiringuito de los Pirineos/Flickr

Galician Morcilla, blood sausage, is some of the finest I have ever tasted. I pan fry it and eat it with patatas fritas, fried eggs and bacon – what? Don’t judge me! Fried food is fine. Fat is good! That’s my mantra. Who wants to be skinny anyway?

In Jaen, about an hour away from Granada, they famously turn morcilla into a pate, which I am keen to sample next time I fly south. I have heard so may ex-pats say: “No way!”  to morcilla. Their loss. All the more for me.

But back to the glorious green north. Percebes – goose-neck barnacles – are a bit of a novelty that I could live without. You have to bite off a leathery “neck” (whence the name comes) to suck out the salty interior.

It’s an experience. I have experienced them now. I probably won’t again. As with many “delicacies”, I think that endowing something with this status is just a way to persuade people, in times of hardship, that gross things are good to eat, especially if you give them their own fiesta.

Navajas, razor clams, are another unusual menu item. One word: yum! Dressed with a little olive oil, and garlic, they are sublime. Weird, but sublime. And I like that I don’t have to visit a fancy-schmancy restaurant in order to eat them. They are everywhere in season. 

There are at least three people producing exquisite honey within twenty kilometres of our house. Yet, I know people who are happy to spend fifty or sixty euros ordering Manuka honey online! When everyone makes their own chorizo and criollas at home, in October, they throw a party. Get yourself invited!

One of our Spanish friends is a forager, who finds the most delicious mushrooms, greens and wild herbs everywhere. No expert I, a short walk along my lane, and I can pick enough nettles and wild garlic for a soup. There are bay leaves, elder flowers and berries, and dandelions for making tea. I am eager to go foraging with my expert pal soon, and to creatively prepare whatever we find.

It’s also important to forage in your local markets and shops for the best of local produce. I wince when I hear fellow migrants comparing supermarkets all the time. Get OUT of the supermarkets and into the markets! Meet your local farmers, butchers, fishermen and growers. Buy and eat the best of Galicia. You won’t be disappointed.

Photo: AFP

I always like to offer Galician friends and neighbours some of the dishes I prepare at home that they probably wouldn’t tackle otherwise: steak pies, sausage rolls, Lebanese flat breads, Greek keftedes and spanakopitas, Saltimboca (a wonderful way to celebrate Galician veal and jamon).

Desserts like Pavlova, and apple crumble are always well received. They love it. And I have a queue forming for my BBQ and chilli sauces!

There is a mistaken notion among the migrant communities that the Spanish, especially the Galicians, are not adventurous with food. That is such a misrepresentation.

As with everything else that is new: if you are not offered it, you may not have the confidence to try it. Go for it. Share your speciality dishes with your Spanish friends, and make sure that you explore theirs.


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The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

The southwest of Spain may be known as the sherry capital of the world, but it in fact has a surprising connection to England, Scotland and Ireland.

The surprising connection between Spanish sherry and the British and Irish

Spain’s sherry triangle sits in the southwest of the country in the province of Cádiz and lies between the cities and towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.

It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) region, meaning that only the white fortified wine grown and made here can be called sherry.

Sherry is predominantly made from the white palamino grapes and the region’s chalky albariza soil full of limestone, it’s hot summers, mild winters and high humidity make it perfect to cultivate them.

Jerez de la Frontera is the capital of this wine region and its streets are lined with sherry tabancos fronted by old sherry barrels and locals sipping glasses of fino.

However, sherry wouldn’t be the celebrated sherry drink it is today in this part of Spain without the legacy set up by the British and the Irish some 250 years ago.

1865 drawing of sherry barrels stacked up inside the González and Byass winery, in Jerez de la Frontera “. Image: The Universal Museum/Public Domain

In Jerez, you’ll see signs hidden signs of the British everywhere, from the sherry posters, the names on the walls of the cellars, to the labels on the bottles and even the names of some of the types of sherry such as cream and pale cream.

Wine has been produced in the southwest of Spain since Roman times, but it wasn’t until later that sherry was produced. It was first imported to the UK in the 13th and 14th centuries and become known by the English name sherry, instead of the Spanish name – jerez.

Sherry sales saw growth in the UK after the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with King Henry VIII.

It is said that she often complained saying: “The King, my husband, keeps the best wines from the Canary Islands and Jerez for himself”.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff and his affection for Sherry “sack” also did much to spread the reputation of the drink. Painting´: Eduard von Grützner

From 1587 onwards, sherry became particularly popular in Great Britain, when Sir Francis Drake supplied taverns around the country with several thousand sherry casks he brought back when he captured the port of Cádiz.

Sir Frances Drake brought sherry back from Cádiz. Photo: Ann Longmore-Etheridge / Flickr

But it wasn’t until the 1700s that British merchants actually started investing in the sherry trade and opening up their own bodegas in Spain.

One of these was Scot James Duff, whose sherry business was developed by his nephew William Gordon and then taken over by their friend Thomas Osborne. Their business became the well-known sherry brand Duff-Gordon, which was later renamed, Osborne.

Osborne sherry has become famous around the world due its iconic logo of a Spanish bull, seen on bull-shaped billboards across Spain. Photo: Volker Schoen / Pixabay

Today, they are one of the biggest sherry producers in Spain and the Bodegas de Mora Osborne are one of the most famous in El Puerto de Santa María, which can be visited on a tour.

Another was William Garvey, a rich Irish farmer. It is said that he came to Cádiz to buy merino sheep, but instead ended up establishing himself as a wine merchant, first in Sanlúcar and later in Jerez. In 1824 his son Patrick took over the company and set up the Bodegas San Patricio. Today, these bodegas, located in Jerez de la Frontera are some of the biggest in the region.

The Tío Pepe wine factory in Cádiz. The famous sherry producers also have British links, as their holding company – González Byass – carries the name of Robert Blake Byass, a renowned English wine merchant. Photo: María Renée Batlle Castillo/Flickr

More and more British followed suit with Sir Alexander Williams and Arthur Humbert creating their own bodegas in 1877 and Spaniard Manuel María González partnering with Englishman Robert Blake Byass in 1835 to create one of the most well-known sherry bodegas today – González Byass.

Today, even though most of the sherry producers are Spanish, many can trace their family origins back to the British, from Sandeman and Harveys to Terry.

So next time you’re sipping a manzanilla or fino sherry in a tabanco in Jerez, you might want to raise a glass to the British and Irish ancestors who made it possible.