First things first: be prepared for the amount of food you will eat along the Camino Frances. I was shocked, yet rather gleeful, at the amount I managed to put away every single day. But sometimes I did force myself to stop eating out of sheer embarrassment from my gluttony. Also? Indulging in one of the seven cardinal sins probably isn’t a good idea when on a Pilgrimage…
The quality of the main meal of the day (Pilgrim’s Menu, also known as dinner) would probably make Jamie Oliver cry and Gordon Ramsay tear Spain a new one. However, you can’t really look at it as food – its fuel, and fuel alone. By the end of my walk, though, only once did I ever want to throw up at the sight of my plate. And only once did I have a truly lovely Pilgrim’s Menu. All others fell in between. But, especially in the bigger towns/cities, there are options to eat as a civilian and not as a pilgrim. I normally didn’t do so, for two reasons: more expensive and not enough food. The three course meal really is a blessing along the Camino Frances.
Note: If you have any kind of food allergy, sensitivity, or just plain don’t eat certain things, life along the Camino can be a little difficult. You may have to make your own meals more often than not, eat from regular menus, or have really good Spanish to explain your needs. I have an allergy to fresh pork (ham and bacon are fine – yay!) and despite my care, I got sick – twice. Having some Spanish at the restaurants is a good idea. For example, if you are vegan, you’ll need to say “Ensalada sin atun y huevos, por favor” which is “salad without tuna and eggs, please”. Important as I’ve never gotten a salad without one or both! If you are Celiac, knowing that “pan” is “bread” and “tengo una alergia al gluten” for “I have a gluten allergy” is a good idea. But do expect cross-contamination of some sort! My personal mantra was “hay cerdo en eso?” as it helped me (mostly) avoid the pork in a pig-heavy Spanish diet.
Breakfast: Normally consists of tostada con Cola Cao or café con leche. Pretty much the only thing available for breakfast at bars. And bars are pretty much the only thing open between 7 and 10am. You can add some excitement by asking for some butter or jam to go with your toast. If you manage to score some cheese, even better!
Second Breakfast: The delectable tortilla, either with a Coke or a Cola Cao, depending on the weather. You may also get lucky and find a place serving eggs and bacon!
Lunch: The amount I ate at lunch depended on two things: if I packed something or how much distance was left to cover that day. If I packed a lunch, it would have been bocadillos (queso y jamon), chocolate, cheese, and/or nuts. If I still have a couple hours or more of walking left to go, then I’d stop for a proper 3-course refuelling.
Snack: Ranged from more tortilla to ice cream on a stick. Because who doesn’t like food on a stick. Or churros. Churros are good.
Pinxos: If you are in a larger town or city, take an afternoon to discover pinxos (also known as pinchos). These are basically small plates traditional to northern Spain. Please don’t call them tapas when in this region. I don’t pretend to understand what the difference is (can anyone explain?) but I do know not to mix them up!
Dinner: This is the main social meal of the day, the Pilgrim’s Menu (PM). I ate with others about 75% of the time, ranging from one person to a giant table of 20. PM is three courses – you are almost always going to have pasta or salad as an appetizer, meat with French fries as the main, and a dessert that is rarely delectable. The PM is usually served starting about 6 or 7pm (early compared to regular menu starting about 9 or 10pm!) and is washed down with copious amounts of vino tinto.
Santiago Splash: if you’d like to treat yourself to something unique as a reward for reaching Santiago, I suggest you go to Casa Marcelo. Interesting and odd small plates, Spanish style!
Okay, confession time: A fellow pilgrim and I went off Camino in Ponferrada in search of McDonald’s as we both wanted to eat something different for a change. And yes, McDo counts. But I am ashamed to say that it got to the point of being Holy Grail for us as it took us an hour to find the place and we wouldn’t give up until we found it! But it was good. Very bad yet very good. Thanks, Johny, for showing a girl a good time!