It was tough to leave Pontevedra after just two nights spent there. More than any other stop on our Galician roadtrip, this city served as our home-base. From the rustic-chic comfort of our room at the Parador of Pontevedra, we set out on day trips to Vigo and the picturesque fisherman’s town of Combarro. We explored the gigantic local fish market and the ruins of the Santo Domingo Monastery. We bought kick-ass Albarinos and Bierzos at Juncal Alimentacion. We had date-night with ginto’s followed by tipsy tacos at La Nacheria and two wonderful breakfast with complimentary churros, all in just 2 days. It was also in Pontevedra that I discovered that, for the first time in my life, there is a meat I just don’t eat anymore: octopus.
The irony is that I’ve been yearning to visit Galicia for years now, specifically for the “pulpo a la gallega.” I can’t remember when it was that I first tasted this dish, but I do remember the heavenly Galician octopus, thinly sliced and sprinkled with paprika, at Bar Celta Pulperia in Barcelona, just a stone’s throw from my old apartment, where I had quickly become a regular. I remember the tenderized octopus tentacle “a la plancha” at Craigie on Main in Cambridge and the many innovative octopus dishes at Els Brots in Poboleda. All those takoyaki balls and tentacles on a stick at the street food stands of Mongkok… So when the opportunity presented itself to have octopus in the Galicia, I lept at it and made a reservation at Pulperia a Garnacha in Melide. But I never made it there. We couldn’t help ourselves and ordered this iconic dish at a place called La Chiruca in Pontevedra the night before and it did not go well.
Our first dinner in Pontevedra was at a lovely little tapas bar called La Chiruca on a narrow ally lined with restaurants. At this mom-and-pop spot that seems well-liked by locals, we were lucky to get a table outside without a reservation. After a rather indulgent lunch at Abastos 2.0 in Santiago the same day, we were craving something light to share with wine. The owner was super nice, talking me through the glass of Albarino I ordered, followed by the glass of Godello (which I loved). The menu here is no-fuss seafood-forward Spanish fare.
To start, we ordered croquetas de jamon, because we can never seem to get enough of the stuff on our trips back to Spain. These were nice and grainy, fried to golden brown perfection, with a creamy core of smoky, porcine beshemel.
Ben was craving one of his favorite seaside Spanish treats, the little chipirones (baby squid) that comes battered and fried, the perfect salty snack with a cerveza « bien fria ». As we forgot to specify « fritas » we got them grilled with a side of lemon, which was totally fine anyway. Super fresh, with a nice little touch of char and very nice with my wine.
Upon seeing “pulpo a la gallega” on the menu of this perfect little restaurant in this perfect little Galician city, we couldn’t help but order it, even though I had booked an octopus situation later on in the trip in Melida. La Chiruca’s version was perfect. Thin slices of sumptuous tentacle flesh, with a pleasant crunch here and there but creamy throughout, dusted with paprika and sprinkled with coarse salt. We gobbled it up in a matter or seconds and paid for our meal with a big smile on our faces. A very successful dinner at La Chiruca indeed.
Unfortunately though, this was also probably the last time I eat octopus. It was only later that night, after waking up in a sweat from a nightmare of a live octopus entangled in a net and frantically trying to escape, that I realized that I had not managed to digest the meat. This never happens, and I should make clear that this was at no fault of La Chiruca, whose octopus dish was absolutely fresh and perfectly cooked. This response, as I have come to realize, was completely psychosomatic. I had watched (and then rewatched 4 times, crying at the end each time) the documentary film « My Octopus Teacher » on Netflix and had grown to respect this animal too much to eat it. It wasn’t a conscious decision and I still think that ocotpus is absolutely delicious, but here we are.
On the way to our next stop, Lugo, we did pass through Melida and stop at a roadside polberia to confirm this new lack of urge to eat tentacles. And alas, it persisted. But at least I got a cool picture out of it :