Just about everyone who visits Galicia has “octopus” on the list of “things to eat”. However, when they start wandering through any village, or asking the locals for their opinions, they will realize the situation isn’t so cut-and-dried. Good octopus is available in many places, but the real debate—which restaurant, village and region has the best octopus—has been raging for years, and doesn’t look like it will be resolved any time soon.
The first issue is this: octopus from the coast or from inland areas. Inland octopus? Well, yes, since the Middle Ages, when the large monasteries started selling dried octopus at regional fairs, as we highlighted in our text a few weeks ago on Bar Chinto. As a result, today Galicia’s unofficial octopus capital is still O Carbillaño, in Ourense, although the people of Muxía (A Coruña) and Bueu (Pontevedra) would undoubtedly have something to say about that.
Nevertheless, inland Galicians still think that those on the coast don’t prepare octopus as well as they do, and vice versa. Historically, the difference was that one group generally used dried octopus and the other fresh. Today, almost everyone uses octopus which has been frozen beforehand, so that now it’s really a question of taste, tradition, and details in the cooking process more than anything else.
Another bone of contention pits pulpo á feira purists against those who prefer more unique recipes. The latter generally includes grilled octopus, although there are also traditional stews that are very popular in some areas and which give these two classic recipes a run for their money. This is the case of Mugardesa-style octopus, made with a sofrito of peppers, popular in Ría de Ferrol, and A Illa de Arousa-style octopus, which is served with potatoes cooked alongside it and an onion sofrito.
There are also those who prefer their octopus on the tougher side, almost al dente, and others who like a longer cooking period, and some who can only fathom serving it on a wooden plate, and others who are open to culinary innovation… There are as many opinions are there are Galicians. So, I propose to leave these questions up in the air and offer you my itinerary for seven perfect places to try octopus in all its glory. The best? I don’t know if it’s the best, but it’s my top pick:
Pulpo á feira gets its name from these kinds of markets, so really, what better place to try it? There are so many places to try it, but my favorites—since they still have an atmosphere that many have lost—are those in Paiosaco, on the road from A Coruña through the Costa da Morte and, in particular, the two-week Allariz fair (Ourense).
LOCAL FESTIVALS AND RELIGIOUS FESTIVITIES
If the regular fairs are appealing, the annual events are even more interesting. Some, like those in San Froilán, in Lugo, are so famous that people come from all over Galicia. An octopus festival is held every summer in O Carballiño (Ourense), which is perfect for people who like big, crowded events. There are many other octopus festivals, such as those in Bueu, Mugardos, A Illa and Porto do Son, but I prefer to eat octopus in the tents set up in Alameda Park during the Ascensión festivities, at the end of May, in Santiago de Compostela.
OCTOPUS STREET STANDS
In many towns, on Sundays (and sometimes other days during the week), pulperías (places which specialize in octopus) set up street stands outside bars and cafes. You can buy your ración there and take it home, or take it with you into the bar and order a drink. This is a tradition in O Carballiño, in Ourense and in towns on St. James’ Way such as Melide, although it is increasingly common in other villages.CITY OCTOPUS
All cities in Galicia have at least two or three legendary pulperías. In Santiago, these include Pulpería dos Concheiros and Los Sobrinos del Padre, In Lugo, Aurora do Carballiño … One of the best, and with a very interesting menu which goes beyond octopus, is A Pulpeira de Melide, in the city center of A Coruña.
PULPO A FEIRA
It’s hard to name just a few, but there are some places which never let you down. We wrote a special report on octopus from O Chinto, in Porto do Son, some time ago, so today I’m going to focus on Pulpería Fuentes, a classic bar in Santiago de Compostela’s Conxo neighborhood which has maintained a great atmosphere, and with it, its traditional octopus.GRILLED OCTOPUS
Back in the same village, Porto do Son, I would highlight one of those old, hidden restaurants set back in an alleyway in the old quarter. At El Hórreo, your eyes will pop when you see the seafood aquarium, and that, as well as the cod and the grilled fish are all excellent choices. But don’t forget to try the grilled octopus as an appetizer.
OCTOPUS IN COSTA DA MORTE
This recommendation refers to both the food and the view. The octopus is outstanding, deeply grilled if you order it this way. The price isn’t bad either. But your best bet is in Sardiñeiro, on the Costa da Morte, at a restaurant with a terrace jutting out into the sea. Mesón O Cabanel is well worth a visit, and if you go on a sunny day during off-peak tourism season, it’s a truly memorable experience.
Photos: Jorge Guitián