As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Green Spain, Ginny Light picks out a selection of places to eat in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.
Food in Green Spain is very much a product of the climate and culture - there is the same vast spectrum of seafood that one might have encountered in the Costas, Balearics and in neighbouring Portugal, but also meat and bean dishes. The region owes its name to its temperate climate and as such is more verdant than the drier central and southern parts of the country. This pasture supports cows and lambs in abundance and as such meat dishes and a multitude of cheeses are among the regional specialities. The beans that feature in stews such as ‘fabada’ are a consequence of the Latin American influence. Emigres fled this part of Spain for Latin America in the early 20th century and brought back with them maize and beans among other cultural imports. Tapas here is called ‘pintxos’, or ‘raciones’, a slightly larger portion. It can be eaten any time of the day, and dinner is a late affair - often not starting until after 10pm.
Below is a selection of places to eat across Green Spain:
The Basque Country
One of the most dramatic sights on the Basque coast is a church that clings perilously to a rocky pimple, and is reached by a zigzag of 241 stone steps from the shore. The best spot from which to enjoy San Juan de Gaztelugatxe with a glass of the local white wine, txakoli, in your hand is Eneperi, a restaurant on the hillside. If time is short there is pintxos at the bar - the tortilla is runny as it should be and served with Iberico ham or padron peppers. Alternatively there is a smarter, rustic restaurant with fish a speciality, although the best views are from the casual dining restaurant with vast windows overlooking the island. There is also a huge terrace with outdoor seating and a children’s playground. Expect ‘raciones’, plates, chorizo (txorizoa) or croquetas (kroketak) or larger dishes such as bacalao (salt cod) or Iberian pork cheeks (from E15 a dish). eneperi.com
Casa Vergara 1948 This pintxos bar in San Sebastian’s old town specialises in cod, including cod cheeks and bacalao, but diners can expect the pintxos classics here too such as tortilla and jamon Iberico. The vibe, especially on Friday and Saturday nights is buzzy and the staff, in fashionable white shirts and black aprons, are ebullient and efficient, pouring local cider and wine from a height while diners choose from the buffet along the bar. The joy of pintxos here is that everyone eats together - old, young, tourists and locals. Pintxos costs from E2.50 per plate.
Cantabria El Bodegón San Vicente Barquera is a pretty harbour town overlooking an estuary and has an active fishing port. Consequently, this restaurant specialises in fish caught in the Bay of Biscay, notably hake, squid and octopus. El Bodegón has been favourite with residents and visitors since it opened in the 1960s, so in the peak summer months you may have to wait for a table. There is a bar and covered terrace. The restaurant is open all year. elbodegonsvb.com
Casa Cofino, Caviedes This restaurant, in the small hillside town of Caviedes specialises in traditional dishes - the most famous here are the cocido montañes, or mountain stew, and the albóndigas, or meatballs. The former comes with beans, kale, chorizo and morcilla sausage and the latter, the size of tennis balls, is served with chipped potatoes. There is a delicatessen on site for those who want to leave with a souvenir of Cantabrian produce. If you have room for dessert, the arroz con leche is a local speciality, with anise and cinnamon on top, or the cheesecake is a popular option. There is a broad wine selection and the prices are reasonable - so expect that you might have to wait for a table during peak season, but it is worth it. facebook.com/pages/Casa-Cofi
Casa Lucas This restaurant in Correpoco, in the Cantabrian mountains, has been running for over 50 years and began as a small taverna around a wooden stove. There is accommodation on site as well as a bakery that makes bread and pastries so renowned that they are shipped all over Cantabria. The classic mountain food is on offer here - stew in many forms - and prize winning at that. The chef took the title of "Days of Cocido Montañés and Cocido Lebaniego" in 2012. Here it can come with beans and chorizo, venison or clams. There are also unusual dishes not seen elsewhere such as venison carpaccio with Gomber cheese flakes, wild boar with nuts and dried fruit and mushroom croquettes. casa-lucas.es/restaurante
El Machi This fashionable restaurant has a strong (but chic) maritime theme owing to its proximity to the port and its extensive seafood menu, fresh from Santander’s fish market every day. The building has always been a taverna, albeit an eccentric one where the former owner served vermouth and train tickets through the front window - hence the sign that remains on the facade: "atencion al tren". The bar downstairs is popular for small plates - the usual croquettes and so forth but also unusual options such as monkfish taquitos and prawn French toast. The restaurant menu is predominantly fish based with dishes such as clams three ways, various takes on paella, and hake five ways. There is an extensive wine list. elmachi.es
The Coral del Indianu
This Michelin-starred restaurant in Arriondes is overseen by head chef José Antonio Campoviejo, who creates playful and out-of-this-world dishes using ingredients from Asturias and beyond. There are various tasting menus as well as an a la carte. The dishes change daily but some classics remain such as the chef’s delicate take on fabada, a local bean stew. In some of the more zany dishes, sweet and savoury merge, such as parcels of the local Calabrese cheese stuffed with chocolate and baked apple, or there are classics such as Iberian ham croquette, but with guacamole and marinated onion. The restaurant is bright and airy and overlooks a terrace planted with lush vegetation. It is a beautiful setting in which to while away an evening or afternoon. elcorraldelindianu.com
Sidreria El Guia
Siderias are a common site across Cantabria and this restaurant is a good example of where you can watch the escanciadores, cider pourers, deliver cider poured from a great height into customers’ glasses. It is in the pretty harbour town of Ribadesella with a backdrop of the Pico de Europa and gets much of its fresh fish straight from the Bay of Biscay from an artisanal and sustainable fishery. Popular dishes include fish stew, clams, mussels, Galician octopus and steak. desdeasturias.com/restaurante-sidreria-la-guia-ribadesella
Sidreria Casa Niembro
This is the restaurant owned by the family who operate the popular Ruta de Sidra y Queso tour in Asiego. The menu is strong on Asturian ingredients and the dishes are all labelled as gluten-free. Handmade cheese such as the local calabres feature strongly, as does lamb, beef and vegetables from the El Nocéu organic farm in La Cuesta. The tortos, or maize pancakes, with calabres is traditional to the region and hints at the influence of south American cuisine brought back by emigres from Asturias. There is also Cantabrian anchovies, smoked beef and cod croquettes., all served with cider. rutalquesuylasidra.com/sidreria-casa-niembro
Mariscomania This is the restaurant where you bring your own food. It is inside Santiago de Compostela’s Mercado de Abastos, or fish market, and the idea is that you buy the fresh produce, then take it to Mariscomnia to be cooked. The market sells fish caught in the Bay of Biscay but also meat and vegetables. The restaurant supplies drinks and desserts and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 3pm. There is a charge of E5 to cook each meal. mariscomania.com/en
Bodeguilla de San Roque This restaurant is part of a small chain of eateries in Santiago de Compostela that offer traditional Galician dishes and some with a bit of a twist. This outpost is the oldest of the three on the site of an ancient taverna. It is close to the Galician People's Museum and the Galician Center for Contemporary Art. The ‘raciones’, or small plates, include sautéed octopus with prawns, croquettes and anchovy fillets. Galician beef, veal meatballs and fried baby squid are among the larger plates. There is a strong emphasis on regional ingredients and an extensive wine list including many Galician grapes. labodeguilla.gal/san-roque
For nearby places to stay, visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Green Spain