Seafood experiences in Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain
Maria is striding out of the water. Her dark blue dress is wet and sticks to her body. Her hair is flowing in the sea breeze.
In her left hand, Maria is holding a metal spiked tool that she uses for digging in the sand. In her right hand, she is dragging a large bucket full of what she has dug out. Clams.
Maria is one of the women (for it is mainly women) who harvest clams here in the sand at Cambados in the Galicia region. What will end up on my plate later today has a long tradition here in Spain.
Clam harvesting at Cambados
There are 250 people who are licensed to harvest on this stretch of the coastline – and there’s a waiting list of more than 100. Normally someone would work here between 12 and 15 days a month, for about 3 or 4 hours a day. It all depends a bit on when low tide is (the optimal time for harvesting). On average, a worker earns about 1000 euros a month.
For people like Maria, this is now a job, but there’s a history of harvesting clams here at Cambados that goes back generations. Until just a few decades ago, the women would mainly collect the seafood to eat and to trade with farmers for other types of food. It was a way to survive and they would often carry 50 kilograms on their head as they walked back to their villages, some 15 kilometres away.
Now, the quality of the shellfish in this region is recognised internationally and the workers are able to sell what they harvest for a good price and it’s exported to restaurants around Europe.
Cambados seafood market
Leaving the sandy expanse that stretches down to the shore, I head to the local wholesale seafood market to see where the women take their clams. I’m being taken on a tour by a local fishing association called Guimatur and I would highly recommend checking them out.
In the market, the workers bring their containers to be weighed. Each licensed harvester has a unique code and this is used to keep track of how much they will earn for the day.
The seafood is then moved to a large hall where it waits to be sold. Long rows of plastic containers full of clams sit on top of metal rails, a little note sticking out of each with the details of who collected it and how much it weighs.
Mussel farmers in the Ría de Arousa
About twenty minutes drive away, on the Illa de Arousa, is another type of seafood farming you can find here in Galicia. This time, I’m heading out to see the mussel farmers.
I jump on board a boat trip that’s run by the tour company Amare Turismo. If you’re interested in seeing some of the local fishing industry for yourself, this is another experience I highly recommend.
We head out from the Port of Arousa and cruise along the coastline, which is stunning from this perspective. Although there’s a lot of commercial work on this water, it has stayed pristine.
It doesn’t take too long until we reach the first of the platforms used for mussel farming. It’s made of wooden beams that cross each other like a lattice, with large holes straight down to the water beneath.
From the beams, the farmers hang ropes that are covered with mussel seeds and wrapped in a mesh. After a few days, the mesh will disintegrate but the mussels will have attached themselves properly to the ropes by then. There can be hundreds of ropes hanging from a platform.
After watching the farmers work for a while, we pull away on the boat and find somewhere relaxing to have a break. Out comes an ‘empanada’ with mussels in it. Have a look at this photo and you’ll see this is not like the empanadas in Argentina. It is more like an enormous pie – and with the fresh mussels, it is delicious!
One of the highlights of a trip to the Rias Baixas region of Galicia is certainly the food. And now I’ve shown you some of the places that it comes from, let’s have a look at some of the places you can eat it!
Learn to cook Galician food
A great experience is to do a cooking class where you’ll learn about the local produce and the best things to do with it. Of course, you’ll get to eat it afterwards.
I would suggest doing your class with Rocío Garrido Caramés. Seafood is the focus and you’ll have quite a few dishes to make. I find myself helping out with a seafood empanada, a tortilla de patatas, and an arroz marinero. We also prepare an octopus and some grilled razor clams.
Sitting down together with everyone who has done the class, eating our creations over a bottle of albariño wine – this is the Galician way of life!
A cheap meal with the locals
Life is pleasant in this part of Spain and the locals like to enjoy themselves. You can see some of the culture at the small taverna-style restaurants throughout the region.
I popped into Restaurante O Porto opposite Arousa Port where I did the boat trip to see the mussel farmers (map location here). But it is typical of many places like this you’ll find.
Ask for a lunch special and it’s likely there’ll be something fresh and affordable on offer. Otherwise, you should be able to get fish with some sides for about €10. I think these types of restaurants are perfect for a quick but tasty meal when you’re looking for something casual.
An excellent traditional meal
If you are looking for a slightly longer lunch, with a bit more selection of the local dishes, there are a lot of excellent restaurants in the region.
In Cambados, not too far from where saw the clam harvesters, is a restaurant called Ribadomar that I would recommend.
One of the popular meals to try if you are in a group is the ‘Arroz con mariscos’ – which literally means ‘rice with seafood’. It will come served in a large pan to share and I am sure there will be more than you can finish.
Try something a bit fancy
And then there is Yayo Daporta – a Michelin-starred restaurant that is considered to be one of the best (if not THE best) in the region.
It is run by the chef who gave his name to the restaurant, Yayo Daporta, who is a bit of a celebrity in Spain. He has brought a modern twist to local Galician cuisine, using common ingredients and presenting them in new and exciting ways.
The degustation menu is a really good way to try a selection of tastes and match it with the local wines.
Wherever you choose to eat – and you will have a lot of choice – take a moment to think of Maria and her clam harvesters, the works farming the mussels, and the fishermen out at sea. The fresh seafood that this part of Galicia is able to provide is one of the reasons why this food is so good.
Now, if you’re ready, let me tell you about the wine tasting in O Salnes!