Ferrol Eats: Life-Changing Scallops at O'Galo
On arriving in Ferrol after traveling on the FEVE narrow-gauge rail through the lush green coast of Galicia, I immediately got the sense that my surroundings had changed.
For one, it wasn’t really the prettiest town.
And I really got a sense that there was a lack of people around.
Where is everyone?
And the presence of the “Armada” was made known.
This was one of the ports from where the “Invincible Armada” set sail on its way to England. And there are still military installations here, along with lots of shipbuilding.
Ferrol also gains questionable fame due to being the birthplace of the former dictator, Francisco Franco.
Of course, I made this curious town my base for two nights, because it’s the starting point of the Camino Inglés route of the Camino de Santiago.
But before thinking too much about what kind of place Ferrol was, I had only one thing on my mind, stepping off the train at 2:44pm (surprisingly on time, after a late departure from Loiba):
I quickly looked at a few options on Google Maps, trying to find a place that was close to my hostal. I figured I’d head to lunch first in case restaurants close, and then check in later.
The place I found was O’Galo, on one of those super long streets running east to west, Rúa María. I was actually first tempted to enter another restaurant which had a nice look, but decided to soldier on to this place. I’m so glad I did.
There was an older gentleman and a younger one who seemed to be in charge, and it was the younger man who waited on me. He turned out to be super charming, practicing his English with me, e.g. asking where in California I was from! I asked him for his recommendations on the menu, and he unhesitatingly pointed out two items: the zamburiñas a la plancha (grilled bay scallops), and the chipirones a la plancha (grilled baby cuttlefish). I immediately took his suggestions, ordering half-portions of both (1/2 ración), and also a media ración of the pimientos de Padrón (Padrón peppers). Peppers are one of the things the Spanish brought back from the New World, and the ones from Padrón, a town in Galicia, are the most well-known variety. And now they’re found on tapas menus all over Spain, and considered a very Spanish food.
I was craving vegetables, having eaten very little over the last few days, and besides, I wanted to try this dish with a Galician provenance, while I was in Galicia.
The kind waiter first brought out a basket full of fresh bread. Really, the bread in Galicia is a cut above bread in other parts of Spain. Whereas in many restaurants in Valencia, for example, buy industrial par-baked bread and finish them off in toaster ovens in the kitchen, the bread here seems to be from actual bakeries baking bread in an artisanal way. This particular bread was dense but soft and with great elasticity, with large air pockets and a sturdy crumb.
Then came the zamburiñas, or the bay scallops, not to be confused with the bigger sea scallops (vieiras).
Oh. my. gosh. I never hated scallops, but I never loved them before. Until I had these. They were dressed ever so lightly in oil, and microscopic parsley (just look, there are so few specks of green). But they were bursting in savory flavor, and the texture was firm to the bite from the griddle’s sear, but gave way to a pleasant chew. I slurped up the juice left over in every shell.
I completely finished my plate of zamburiñas and was in complete heaven, thinking that I could have gone for a full portion of these scallops, when my next two orders came out.
The chipirones were similarly very simply griddled, with maybe ten microscopic pieces of parsley adhered to them. How is it that such simply prepared food, can be so delicious? For sure, one of the keys is great skill with the griddle, because here they achieved a delightful and pronounced char, while still being tender.
I hadn’t anticipated that they would be served on a bed of fries, but that combination of the marine-flavored tender-charred chipirones with the crispy potatoes in a single bite is a simple pleasure that I learned about that day.
And you can learn a lot about a restaurant by its fries. Many restaurants in Spain buy industrially-prepared pre-peeled and pre-cut potatoes in large bags, and simply fry them in the kitchen. Many - and I would say actually the majority of restaurants in Spain also fry potatoes (whether pre-cut or cut-in-house) to a soggy and insipid finish. I’ve spoken to Spanish people about this, and no one seems to mind soggy fries (“tastes good to me,” they say), which is shocking to me. The fries at O’Galo, on the other hand, seemed freshly cut due to their uneven appearance, and furthermore were fried to a crisp.
The Padrón peppers were excellent, but it’s harder to wax rhapsodic about them, because I’ve also had good versions of this elsewhere.
After three plates, I was too stuffed for dessert. So instead, the friendly waiter offered me a shot of orujo on the house. Orujo is a liquor made from the leftover parts of grapes after wine is made, and is popular in northern Spain, including Galicia. It was my first time having this liquor, and the bottle was so hilarious I asked the waiter to please allow me to take a photo of it! This one had “herbs” in it, hence the yellow color.
I finished lunch around 4pm (total bill was a very reasonable 21.30€), which unfortunately mean that I was still stuffed around dinner time. I try to never repeat a restaurant while traveling, but I so wanted to go back to O’Galo to have their made-to-order tortillas, which I saw neighboring tables ordering. By the time I forced myself out of my hostal room to go down to the street to the restaurant around 11pm (despite still being full), it was close to closing time and they couldn’t make tortillas then.
Writing this post a couple months after my visit, I still think back to the transformative experience of those zamburiñas, bursting with juiciness under their taut skin. I still think back to eating pieces of briny cuttlefish with the crispy french fries in one bite. And the service was great, with a friendly waiter who could make decisive recommendations and who wanted to know how things were as I ate. That deserves a mention because these characteristics can’t be taken for granted in this country. There are a few meals I’ve had in Spain that really stick out in my memory, and I think this will be one that I remember far into the future.
Despite Ferrol not being a city that really begs for a second visit, and despite it not being well-connected to other cities by plane or train, I would go back simply to eat at O’Galo again.
O’Galo (aka Meson O Galo)
Rúa María, 104 bajo
15401 Ferrol (A Coruña)