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The market in Santiago de Compostela - really long

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The market in Santiago de Compostela - really long

ironmom | Jul 20, 2002 11:55 AM

Today, I hit the main city market early, when the stalls were mostly open, and small dealers were filling the waiting areas all around.

The market consists of three rows of two long stone buildings, with stalls along the outside of the outer walls, as well. They are loosely divided into meat/poultry, fish/shellfish, and fruit/vegetables, but there's a lot of mixing in the stalls. The interior is lined with modern refrigerated cases, glassed-in for the meat and open for the fish and shellfish.

Pork is very popular here, with all parts of the animal displayed, including short cuts of ribs (very prominent). I got a great shot of a dealer specializing in salt pig faces, which I will try to post when I get home. There are also many stalls of boneless beef, and a few dealers of goat and lamb. Another type of dealer sells cured ham, sausages and other types of charcuterie, selling a few types of cheese as well.

The Galicians are rightly proud of their cheese, and consider it to be one of the glories of their cuisine. You see the tetilla ('little nipple') cheese here everywhere, for sale in every tourist trap gift shop, on the menu in every bar and restaurant, and in the window display of even the smallest full service food markets. It is shaped like a woman's breast - maybe you've seen it in your supermarket in the US. It is a fresh cheese, slightly tangy, also available in a smoked variety. They are into fresh cheeses here (according to the local cookbook I bought), so there is little demand for aged, stinky, or blue cheeses. You also see small (about 1 kg) wheels of mild cheeses in the stores. At the market, I bought fresh cow's milk cheese from a woman who had several bushel baskets of this same size, and larger ones as well. As is typical here, each cheese, so fresh with milky goodness that is is still quivering with the moisture of its creation, comes with a strip of cloth wrapped around its perimeter, to help maintain its shape. The interior was porous, with lots of 1/4-1/2" holes, and it had a tangy flavor which tasted like effervescence. I'm guessing that the milk was naturally fermented, which is preferred. According to the cookbook, cottage cheese, here beaten smooth and sweetened with sugar, is the best cheese of all.

In the fish and shellfish area, there is every type of small and medium-sized whole fish that I could imagine. Several dealers specialize in bacalao, and one deals only in types of fish available only frozen.

Shellfish is plentiful here. Clams and cockles, crabs of several types and numberous sizes are available. They have a small type of crab here which is their equivalent to our soft-shell crab. It's about 1-1/2 to 2" across, and prized for it's slightly crunchy texture. Mussels are also available cooked and shelled, for a quick salad. Quite a few stalls sold percebes, too - they were running $22 a kilo, which doesn't sound like all that bad a price.

Cherries are in season right now, and I have personally tasted three types, all perfectly ripe. Plums come in all sizes and colors - from green or blue ones the size of a pink globe grape, to larger yellow, and big red, pink, or yellow ones. Peaches and nectarines, both white and pink-fleshed. Grapes are only starting to come into season now. Tomatoes are big and ripe. Besides the mass quantity of fruit I bought, I also got a kilo of tomatoes, and bought a cazuela in which to assemble a salad of tomatoes, bread, cheese, salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Yum.

Small dealers tend to sell a variety of products here, so you see honey and the local liquors being sold in unlabeled bottles.

Aguardiente de orujo (spelling varies) is the local liquor of choice, and it comes, besides white, in sweetened flavors with herbs, coffee, cream, or various others. The miscellaneous flavors seem to be only available in small bottles in gift packs, so the white and the hierba (yellow) are by far the most common.

They speak of the 'queimada', a drinking custom practiced by the locals. Liquor is mixed with sugar, coffee, and other ingredients in a traditional terracotta punch bowl that has cups hanging from it. The bowl is lit aflame, and when the fire goes out (some of these have lids, so perhaps sometimes they cover it to keep from losing too much alcohol), the group of friends each takes a cup. Much storytelling and bravado follow, then another cup, and another, until they are no longer able to sit upright.

The setup is very attractive, but I think it would not be too useful back home, and it would be difficult and bulky to bring back.

I haven't eaten out much, as the restaurants are quite a hike after a hard day, and my meals in the cafeteria are prepaid (although not usually worth eating). Last night I had a drink (interesting drink, if overpriced) at the terrace at Dos Reis Católicos, the Parador at the Praza do Obradoiro. Although it's supposed to be a world class place, the snack I had at the bar was inexcusable. The 'trio' I was served (and which was recommended to me by a friend!) was three stale mini tart shells with different fillings. One had sliced raw scallop (warm and really fishy) and a soy sauce topping, the next had a piece of shrimp and some crabmeat (really fishy), and the third had cheap red caviar (nasty and fishy). I wandered into the lobby afterwards to check out the menu at what was supposed to be the only great restaurant in town, and it was small and ordinary, compared to most of the better restaurants in town.

Tonight I'll go to a real restaurant, and exercise my credit card a little. I never have any trouble eating out, as I'm an early bird - I get there before 9:00, and as I am an American, I am out in an hour and a half. The locals don't start to eat until 11:00, so this dovetails nicely.

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