My favorite empanadas along the Camino Inglés
Empanadas are found throughout the world. My first exposure to empanadas was in Argentina almost 10 years ago, where they were freshly made with a variety of fillings like the classic beef to ham and cheese, chard, and corn. I’d also had an empanada in Brazil stuffed with red cheese, one with cuitlacoche (or huitlacoche, that corn fungus) at an Oaxacan restaurant in LA, and even some corn and bacon ones in the TAP Portugal Lounge in Lisbon Airport.
It’s almost impossible to find a horrible empanada, because the combination of bread and a filling whether it be meat, cheese, and/or vegetables, is sure to satisfy. I also love empanadas because they’re always economical, and portable for eating hand-held on the street.
In Spain, the empanadas one finds in Latin America - like a pastry turnover -, is actually called an empanadilla, or small empanadas. Empanadas on the other hand, are as large as a pizza, can like pizzas, can be found in both round or rectangular shapes. They’re cut up in slices, and usually sold by weight. And Galicia is where you find empanadas.
I tried to eat as many empanadas as possible during my time in Galicia. Not only because they’re a regional specialty, but they were also really practical to buy from a bakery, and eat later for a light dinner, perfect for getting to bed early and waking up early for the camino. And as in elsewhere in the world, they were generally (but not always) economical.
In total, I only spent about a week in Galicia, and so this is not even close to being a definitive list, but simply my ranking of the empanadas I had the chance to eat.
#1 Favorite overall: Tuna Empanada from Confeitaría Obradoiro, Pontedeume
What set this empanada apart? First of all, it was light and flaky, without being greasy. That combination of qualities seemed to be a struggle for other bakeries. Secondly, there was an optimal ratio of tuna filling to crust, so that every bite was flavorful from middle to edge, with not a single dry bite. A revelation!
P.S. The “proia” from here was also a delight. Read more about it in the post about my afternoon in Pontedeume.
#2 Excellent: Chipirones Empanada from Forno Alameda, A Coruña
Chipirones en su tinta, or baby cuttlefish cooked in its ink, is a tapa that can be found all over Spain. How pleased I was to find such a luxurious yet simple dish in empanada form! This slice from Forno Alameda was so bursting with chipirones, it really felt like a whole delicious dish of cuttlefish crammed in a wedge. The ink makes it black, too. The only nit to pick here was that the crust, fragile and shatteringly flaky, was just a bit on the greasy side.
#3 Great: Zamburiñas and Pulpo Empanadas from Victoria, Santiago de Compostela
I picked up these two slices the morning I left Santiago de Compostela, and it was such a pleasure to venture to the “modern” part of town. The historic city center of Santiago was super cute, but it was clear that just about all of it is oriented towards tourists. Just a two minute walk from my hotel brought me to the “normal” part of town.
Here, I found Victoria, which seemed to be a bakery-cum-market, where a variety of empanadas were on offer.
I chose one slice with zamburiñas, or bay scallops, still remembering my plate of zamburiñas in Ferrol fondly.
I also got one with pulpo, or octopus.
Both were delicious, and featured a generous proportion of filling to crust. But the crust was just a bit tough, while being oily at the same time. Still, the toughness allowed it to stand up to being carried around a few hours in a plastic bag, without becoming soggy from the moist fillings.
#4 Pretty Good: Bacalao Empanada from Panadería Rabizas, Betanzos
I wrote about visiting this bakery, one of the oldest in Spain, in my post about Betanzos. I liked the bacalao, or cod filling, but as I proceeded to eat the empanada from the pointy end towards the edge, the ratio of filling to bread got worse and worse until I was eating just salty, dry bread. I think that’s pretty apparent from this side view photo.
#5 Wouldn’t Go Back: Zamburiñas and Bacalao Empanadas from Panadería da Cunha, A Coruña
I was already a bit off put by this bakery, because without prompting, the server gruffly told me there was a minimum size of empanada to be ordered, whereas there wasn’t really a strict rule in other bakeries. As a result, my two huge slices of empanadas came out to 11.10€, really too much for a snack. Even one piece at 5.55€ I think is kind of a lot.
And the quality didn’t make up for the price. There was just too much dry bread in relation to the filling (probably why these were so expensive - they were weighed down by dense bread). My mouth became parched after eating just a bit of each, and ended up throwing away a substantial portion. And I rarely throw any food out, ever.
So there you have it, a tour through Galicia via its empanadas. I love how something so basic - bread and fillings - can have so much variation, depending on the flavors of the fillings, but most of all depending on the proportion of filling to crust, as well as the quality of the crust’s balance of flakiness, oiliness, and breadiness.
What struck me about all of these empanadas was that their fillings were so elevated compared to others I’d come across. They all featured seafood, from tuna, to baby cuttlefish in black ink, to bay scallops. Galician people are so lucky to have such a lovely snack or light meal available wherever they go!