Walking the Camino: Food, Glorious Food

Part of traveling anywhere that is not “home” is experiencing (and hopefully enjoying) the local cuisine. The Camino is no different. Each region has its own unique twists on common themes. And when burning 5,000 calories per day, there’s amply opportunity to try them all. So what’s the food like in Spain? Read on to find out!

Breakfast

It’s the most important meal of the day, right? Breakfast in Spain is simple. Most mornings my breakfast was a pastry of some sort—usually a chocolate croissant—and coffee.

Cafe con Leche and postre

But not just any coffee—cafe con leche. I don’t know what alchemy Spanish cafe owners practice but they take coffee, milk, sugar, and turn it into this delightful elixir unlike anything I’ve had before—and I was a barista . It’s not a latte. Its not cafe au lait. Neither is it Cuban coffee and it is definitely not coffee with milk and sugar. That said, like much of Europe, you are not going to find a “bottomless cup” of coffee like was have in many restaurants in the US. And if you don’t want cafe con leche, you can always order a cafe americano (coffee + hot water) or cafe negro (coffee without water or milk).

Second Breakfast

About two hours after you finish breakfast, you’ve probably walked around 10km… a little over 6 miles. Time to gas up! For me this meant another cafe con leche and, probably a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. To each I would have some variation of toast (with butter, with butter and jelly, with ham, with egg, with ham and egg—get the picture?). Spaniards call this tostada (sorry Taco Bell, yours doesn’t cut it). Occasionally I would get a tortilla—think frittata, but not baked.

Bocadilla

While stopped for my second breakfast, I would make sure I refilled my water bottle, got a stamp for my credencial, and did my first changing over of socks—to prevent blisters. Yep, I’d have second breakfast barefoot. When it was time to go, I’d don fresh socks, clip the already worn ones to my pack, and head out.

A couple of hours later it would be time to cycle The socks because its now time for—

Lunch

The most common lunch food I had was a bocadilla—very crusty bread, Spanish ham (jamon iberico), and—if you’re lucky—a little olive oil. I cannot tell you how spoiled I was eat fresh baked bread and not sandwich loaf slice. And the ham—thinly sliced and dry cured (but not smoked). I don’t know how they do it but its amazing. To wash it down, there’s always water, cafe con leche, or the regional American-style lager—low gravity but refreshing.

Jamon Iberico—hoof and all!

After that, its time to get the pack back on and head back on The Way because you’ve probably got another 2 hours of walking before arriving at where you are going to sleep or where ever you are going to stop for:

Afternoon Snack

If it’s going to be a long day walking, you’ll need to keep your energy up. Maybe its time for a slice of Santiago cake and cafe con leche. Some folks simply sat down at a cafe and ordered a beer or two before finishing out their walking for the day.

Once in town and settled for the evening, its time for:

Dinner

An early dinner (5 or 6). There’s a couple of different options for dinner. Some pilgrims will huddle together with other pilgrims and cook for one another. This is a great community building exercise and a way to learn about other cultures. Sometimes the folks running the alburgue will offer a meal, for a nominal extra fee. If you’re staying at one of the more rural alburgues, this might be your only option for dinner. In the larger towns you can eat at restaurants—most of whom will have a three-course pilgrim menu:

First Course—pasta, salad, or soup

Second Course—some kind of meat, fries

Third Course—Santiago cake, cheese cake, ice cream

On the table—bread, red wine

All of this food for 10 Euro! Is it the best food you ever ate? No. Is it tasty with plenty of calories (again, remember you’re burning as much as 5,000 calories per day). Of course!

Regional Variation

There’s things you’ll want to try along the way:

  • In Galicia: Pulpo (Octopus), Galego soup, Paella
  • In Basque Region: cheese, Pinxtos (basque tappas)
  • Rioja: wine!
  • Anywhere west of Rioja: Tapas
  • Anywhere: churros and chocolate
Churros y chocolate

Just remember, some of these regional special meals—tapas, pinxtos, pulpo, paella will blow your budget. So save and spend accordingly.

What’s the Bill?

If you budget 40 Euro per day for food, you’ll live like a king. Need to economize? Buy breakfast and a picnic lunch in the local market. Drink water. Keep your discipline to the pilgrim menu at night. You can get by for 20-25 Euro per day this way.