Did you ever think of bagpipes when you thought of Spain?
I never did.
I thought of vineyards and museums. I thought of bullfights and oranges. I thought of the architecture of Barcelona and of paintings of Toledo.
I never, ever thought of bagpipes.
But, there they were. And I was loving every minute.
I had walked into town to find the “Ezequiel” restaurant, which is known for its octopus. Octopus – pulpo – is the regional specialty, cooked, seasoned and cut into bite-size pieces.
Are you feeling squeamish, Dear Reader? My upbringing is Hispanic and eating octopus is not a new thing for me.
Plus, my Dad was an adventurous eater. Frogs legs? Check. Snails? Check. On those very rare occasions when Dad purchased those weird, almost unheard of foods (in Flushing in the 50’s), he could always count on me to tuck in my napkin and enjoy.
Chances were nil that I was going to pass up this regional specialty in its heartland.
I walked around in the sunshine, soaking up Melide, saying a rosary in the nearby grand Church, and searching for a grocery store to pick up a snack or two for the next day’s journey, which promised to take me through few towns.
I found a grocery and who should I see wandering the aisles but Christina.
She had settled into another albergue earlier and was also preparing for the next day. I told her about how I had tried to save her a bed at the Xunta and about my big mistake.
I would have to be on my very best behavior at the albergue that night to restore the honor of my country (no sneezing, snoring, coughing, getting in late, dropping things on the floor, taking up too much floorspace with my pack/poles/boots/clothes, etc.)
We laughed about what a strange and unexpected journey the Camino had turned out to be. It was still providing adventures and keeping us humble even though we were so very close to the end.
I told Christina that I was going to try to find the octopus restaurant and we decided to go together.
After a few wrong turns, we found the place, simple, unassuming, very local. It was relatively empty and the evening light reflected off the polished picnic tables and benches. It looked like a big BBQ shack, not a touted restaurant.
There was a big screen T.V. hung up on the wall with the news/weather/sports playing on the local channel. All this information had become irrelevant to me as a pilgrim.
We looked at the menu. Poor Christina. She immediately knew that she did not want octopus but the other choices were slim. She settled for salad. I admit it looked really good, especially on a greenery-deprived journey like the Camino.
I, however, dove in. I asked the waiter what the specialty was and ordered it, along with a nice cold beer. I didn’t know what to expect and was not completely ready for the plate put in front of me within minutes.
It was a pile of one-inch long pieces of octopus legs. Olive oil and a reddish seasoning were sprinkled all over. These were big octopus legs, not the small ones I was used to in the luscious black rice dishes of my family
These octopuses (Octopi? Nope, dictionary says octopi is very incorrect, so octopuses it is) were big suckers with big suckers. They looked like they could be doing tricks on a late night talk show. They could be twisting caps off jars. They could be unlocking their own cages. They could be scaring the bejeezes out of little kids in an aquarium.
And I had a plate full in front of me.
Well, millions of Spaniards had eaten these before me and raved, so I dug in.
I couldn’t say “tastes like chicken” because it had the rubbery texture of squid (Oh, come on, now you’re going to tell me you’ve never eaten calamari???). But the flavor was fantastic. The olive oil and seasoning was really good.
I polished off the plate very quickly, then ordered another. And ate it quickly, also.
Christina looked on pityingly. How crude to enjoy such disgusting food. Then, we both laughed. Ah, Camino!!
Meanwhile, the restaurant had filled up. A rowdy group sat at the table in front of us and spilled over onto our table. We were all in a great mood. Suddenly, someone started singing. And playing. Playing what?
The traditional Galician instrument called the gaita. It looks and sounds like a bagpipe. I was told that the person at the table next to us, who was playing, had made this one himself and was carrying it on the Camino. I have no reason to doubt it.
The groups were as joyous as any I had met on my trip. Their happiness spread throughout the front section of the restaurant and I would have joined in if I had known the song and spoken the language.
The restaurant manager encouraged the music and the songs continued.
Eventually, a bottle of homemade Spanish ‘grappa” appeared from the back of a shelf and we were asked if we would like a glass. How could we say no?
Excellent, burning heat slipped smoothly down my throat.
The meal, the music, the drink. One of the memorable meals on the Camino.
By the way, are you wondering how to cook pulpo? Get coolers full from the fish monger. Put them in boiling water. And, then . . .