The Camino is about walking. And food. Without food, there is no fuel for walking. Looking over my daily expenses, the overwhelming majority is food and drink. The price of a bed and a hot shower, by comparison, is relatively low. When I was walking with the Italian teenager, we agreed that trying to save money by cutting back on food while on the Camino is a bad idea.
To cater to walkers, some restaurants offer the Pilgrim Menu, a three course meal, including wine or water, priced between 8 and 12 Euros (the cost of a single dish can easily run that much, or more). As one American couple I met commented, the Pilgrim Menu is like the “early bird special”: limited and economical offerings, nothing fancy, served before prime dinner hours. In Spain, they eat at 9pm, about an hour before the albergues turn out the lights. When I heard that, I felt a bit dispirited, as if the Spanish restaurants were serving us their most banal dishes. And I wondered why a bottle of water was considered equivalent to a bottle of wine. And it bugged me that the “dessert” course is often anticlimactic: yogurt (served in the plastic container), or ice cream (from a store, wrapped in foil), or a single piece of fruit.
Since not all albergues have kitchens where one can prepare a meal, and since I don´t have the energy to even think about making hearty food after a day outdoors (and not all villages have a market), I´ve decided to appreciate the Pilgrim Menu when offered and to remind myself that “two out of three ain’t bad”; usually, two of the three courses are satisfying. Sometimes, they are very good. Sometimes, I´m offered what Americans would consider a “real” dessert: homemade apple tart, profiteroles, tiramisu, rice pudding.
Lately, I’ve had some pleasant surprises, considering that as a non-meat eater, my choices are limited in this porcine-oriented culinary culture. A few nights ago I had a rich fish, potato and rice soup as a first course, grilled fish and potatoes for the second course, and a finale of flan (served on a plate, but not house made). Today I decided to eat my large meal mid-day; after a first course of scrambled eggs with asparagus, the waiter presented me with a beautifully grilled trout, french fries and salad. Dessert was a local pudding; I washed it all down with a liter of bottled water. And this was after a breakfast of toast with butter and jam, and a mid-morning snack of bread, cheese, a hard boiled egg (courtesy of another Pilgrim) and chocolate.
I continued walking to the next village, thinking I was done eating for the day. But the proprietress of the albergue I´m staying in a few kilometers outside of Astorga told me she was making pasta with zucchini. Did I want some?
The smell of garlic wafted from the kitchen.
Sure, I said, realizing that there was still room for more.
If tomorrow is like every other day so far on the Camino, I will wake up hungry.