An introduction to Galician dishes: Empanada

Sardines empanada As Garzas, Malpica - ©The Kilomeaters
Sardines empanada As Garzas, Malpica – ©The Kilomeaters

If you’ve been to Galicia before, you surely have seen its name in menus and tapas places. And maybe you’ve even seen them in bakeries or supermarkets, but you don’t know what they are exactly and you also probably don’t know where and when to eat them. Are they a main dish or an entree? Should you order a portion or a whole one? I’m talking about empanadas, one of Galicia’s most iconic dishes.

If you are looking for a quick snack while you walk around town or for a picnic  in the park, the most traditional and widely available option is empanada. But you’ll notice they are also offered at tapas bars and as a part of menus so, first things first. What is an empanada?

Mussels empanada, Boiro - ©The Kilomeaters
Mussels empanada, Boiro – ©The Kilomeaters
What is an empanada?

Empanada is the traditional Galician version of a savoury pie: two layers of bread-like dough filled with almost anything you could imagine and then baked. You will find them in most pastry shops and bakeries in town, usually filled with tuna or minced meat. And, of course, you’ll find them as an entree or a tapa at most traditional places. Octopus, salt cod (with or without raisins), pork loin marinated with paprika or chorizo fillings are also quite popular, but you may also find empanadas filled with sardines, squid, cockles, chicken, octopus, chorizo and bacon, pork loin and swiss chard…

A regular empanada is more than enough for six, and it will cost around 12/14€ at a bakery. You may also find big empanadas, enough for 10, 12 or 14 with prices starting around 20€. In many places you can buy a slice or a portion for 1 or 2, just like an Italian pizza al taglio places. You will find also industrial versions in most supermarkets, with prices between 3,5 and 6€ but, unless you don’t have any other options, we strongly recommend to avoid them and look for a nearby bakery.

A slice of empanada may cost around 1,5-3€, the same price of an empanadilla (literally “small empanada”): individual empanadas, very similar to Cornish Pasties or Argentinian empanadas and quite popular among students. As with empanadas, empanadillas could be filled with almost anything you could stew, but tuna and minced meat are, by far, the most common options.

Cockles corn empanada, Pontevedra - ©The Kilomeaters
Cockles corn empanada, Pontevedra – ©The Kilomeaters
What about puff pastry empanadas?

In our opinion, puff pastry empanadas, although popular, are not the best option. A proper empanada should have two layers of bread-like dough, normally enriched with some fat. Puff pastry is easier for bakers and popular among young people, but it is not traditional at all (and the pastry is usually of duvious quality). You may find, if you travel across Northern Galicia, a type of empanada known as Pastelón and made with puff pastry, but that is a different speciality you won’t find in Santiago. Most common puff pastry empanadas are filled with tuna or cheese and ham, which may be a nice snack, but not a traditional dish at all. The only traditional empanada made with puff pastry you may find at some bakeries is a sweet apple and cinnamon empanada.

Sardines corn empanada, Teo - ©The Kilomeaters
Sardines corn empanada, Teo – ©The Kilomeaters
Empanada milla – Galician Cornbread?

There is another type of empanada, quite popular in the Rías Baixas area (Southwest), which is made with a moist corn dough. It is known as empanada milla or empanada de maíz. It is normally filled with sardines or cockles but is not as popular in Santiago and, usually, a little more expensive than regular empanadas.

Pork and Swiss chard empanada, Valdeorras - ©The Kilomeaters
Pork and Swiss chard empanada, Valdeorras – ©The Kilomeaters
which empanada to get where

So, now that you now what an empanada is, where should you ask for it? Well, it

Well, it depends. As I said before, a portion of empanada (or a whole one if you are travelling with a group) is a nice picnic snack you can buy almost in every bakery. But many bars and restaurants offer them also as a portion. Our suggestion: if it’s filled with (canned) tuna it will probably be industrial or not really interesting, but if you find other options, such as octopus, liscos (chorizo and bacon) or squid, go for it as an entree. If you are travelling on your own or planning to share, as a tapa, a portion is more than enough.

If you are moving around Galicia, we suggest you try different local empanadas. You’ll find interesting variations, not only in the dough, thinner or thicker, slightly oily or drier, but also on the fillings. So, if you are visiting the coast, we would recommend seafood empanadas: mussels, sardines, hake, conger eel, octopus, etc. Cockles empanadas are quite common in the Rias Baixas area and, although expensive, scallops empanada is a true delicacy.

Valdeorras region, known for its wines, has its own specialities. Try potato and swiss chard or pork loin and chard empanadas. Lugo is known for its liscos empanada, filled with chorizo and bacon. Noia has a wide variety of empanadas: from cockles or scallops fillings to a unique pork loin with paprika empanada. Ponte Cesures, near Padrón, is know for its lamprey empanada and Portomarín, a nice village on the French Camino for its eel empanada. Corcubión, on Costa da Morte, has its own version, filled with razor clams. And if you visit Redondela, on the Ría de Vigo, you should try its squid empanada. Travelling around the Northern coast you’ll probably find different versions, such as the aforementioned pastelóns, or the uncovered ray wings empanada from Cedeira. And if you have a sweet tooth, there is also an empanada for you. The most popular sweet empanada is filled with apples and cinnamon, but a custard filled version is also quite common.

Our sardines empanada! -©The Kilomeaters
Our sardines empanada!

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