Food, feet and friendship – eating on the Camino

Travel

The Camino de Santiago is a 500 mile emotional rollercoaster. Your feet ache and blister, you question why you are doing it, you have too much time with your own thoughts, you wake up before it’s light, you don’t sleep well… and then you stop in a cafe. Everything from that morning instantly becomes more beautiful and you learn to appreciate it. 

It’s a funny kind of feeling knowing you have already walked 15km by 9am – I never really got used to it. I felt a deep sense of achievement just from doing what everyone else was doing. Normally such a sheep-like mentality wouldn’t appeal to me but the sense of community on the Camino is overwhelming, and the cafes play a large part in this. 

Fresh tortilla and orange juice is near unbeatable

I completed the walk with two of my closest friends from university, we thought one last challenge would be a great way to conclude our time living together (little did we know how tough it would be). Each day we walked between 20km and 30km and after a couple of hours (as many as we could manage fuelled by bananas and cereal bars) we would stop at a cafe for a slice of tortilla and an orange juice. The juice was always freshly squeezed and the tortilla freshly made and oozing. Even though we ate the same thing almost every single morning for five weeks, it always felt like a reward. Everyone stopped for these welcome breaks along the way and it was how we made some of our greatest friends on the Camino. There’s nothing like bonding over food to bring people together.

Food is our common ground, a universal experience

– James Beard
Tapas and wine! The grapes were grown just the other side of the building behind me – how often do you get to say that as a bumbling 22 year old!
OK… beer and wine were just as rewarding as the food

The days were punctuated by these moments of delicious respite. Everyone would meet up again for a beer or glass of 1€ red wine in the evening and talk more openly than they would to their own families. I look back on these early evenings evidently with rose-tinted glasses (it must be the hue of the wine) and ignore the physical pain we were in. Talking about where you ached and comparing the size of your blisters was quickly normalised and airing your feet in restaurants was disgustingly acceptable (and necessary). 

From unwrapping your most infected looking toenail to revealing your most guarded secrets, everything happened in these little roadside cafes while gesturing wildly with an olive on a toothpick or a swirling glass of wine. 

Millie having her blister lanced by a doctor and fellow walker in a quiet cafe in Sahagun. He literally used the phrase ‘trust me I’m a doctor’… love you Stephan!
Me with my foot basically in my packet of crisps, which is of course perfectly acceptable Camino behaviour

Albergue kitchens are breeding grounds for memorable moments. On one occasion, 11 of us crowded round a long plastic table and gorged ourselves on pasta, salad and bread until the thought of walking the next day seemed impossible. Someone told me that we were eating with two men referred to only as ‘the Italians’ and in the space of that evening Riccardo and Augusto went from being complete strangers to the friendliest father and son duo on the planet. We saw them almost every day until we reached Santiago and are still in contact now. 

A few broken, happy pilgrims with a lot of carbs

This was a ‘bring a plate’ meal in a convent run by a couple of bickering priests. It was one of the most memorable evenings of the whole trip. They told us to ‘say yes more’, and yes, you really should.

The food wasn’t always of outstanding quality and our carb intake was about 17 times higher than the recommended (or legal) limit, but food and conversations formed a reward system that kept us going for miles and miles. I would never have been able to finish the walk if it wasn’t for this incredible sense of community surrounding the albergues and cafes. Food is a goal, a fuel, a conversation starter, a reward, a gift, a meeting place and a journey all in itself, and I never realised that more than on the Camino.

This is a very HANGRY Vegetable on the floor in the rain trying to eat my pasta faster than the raindrops can drown it

Fastest food in Lima

Reviews, Travel

Sayel Restaurant, Lima

We were ushered through to a back room crammed with tables. The walls were white with big printed pictures of the sea mounted upon them, a sea a lot more idyllic than the churning grey ocean that borders this great metropolis. After a stumbling Spanish conversation we ordered the menu del día for 13 soles (~£3), which included three courses and a cold glass of ginger and lemongrass tea.

The waitress returned unnervingly quickly with a bowl of soup and a plate of ceviche fresh from the kitchen’s efficient production line. This was not ceviche as it is normally seen. The restaurant is wholly vegetarian, feeding an enormous lunchtime crowd with hearty meals before unceremoniously rolling them, and their much larger stomachs, back into the busy streets. 

The photos don’t do justice to the taste of the food

My ceviche consisted of tofu, cucumber, onion, sweet potato and a hefty quantity of lime and coriander. It was sharp and flavoursome. The contrasting textures of the vegetables and tofu worked very well together and just about managed to mask the fact that the tofu was fresh and flabby from its packet with no flavour of its own. As I put down my fork, another dish appeared.

My secondi was a full plate of rice, beans and some form of homemade mock-meat smothered in a coriander sauce. My sister commented that it was ‘aggressively delicious’, and aggressive it was. The conveyor belt of customers streaming through the establishment was mesmerising. Everyone left full and content within a maximum of half an hour, though most managed their three courses in a matter of minutes. Sorry McDonald’s, this is fast food at its finest. 

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I can’t say that I enjoyed the entire meal – we were presented with a small pot of cheese-scented yoghurt and what I can only hope was berry compote… it looked particularly and off-puttingly menstrual. I was happy for my £3 to cover only two courses. Some meals really don’t require the ‘cherry on top’. 

This meal was frantically fast paced but I loved every second of its finely kept balance between homeliness and efficiency. It was definitely a moving feast. 

Lima has not won my heart as a city but it’s restaurants have intrigued my taste buds and given me a beautifully chaotic insight into the heart of Peru.

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The best part of Lima: the endless pisco sours!

Easy hungover hostel recipes

Recipes, Travel

Just before Christmas, I spent two months in South America with my sister travelling around Colombia and Peru. One of us spent a little more of her money on rum than she should of and so we ended up cooking for ourselves in hostels as much as we could. As one vegetarian and one vegan in two meat-orientated countries, this wasn’t always simple.

Apparently, there are no cans of chopped tomatoes or passata in the whole of Colombia. I didn’t think I would find this such a challenge. Very occasionally you can find it in a bag… but it isn’t quite the same.

Not all food bloggers are great chefs… desperate times call for desperate measures…

Here are a few of my go-to recipes for hangovers and financial regrets:

Guacamole and crisps:

  1. Cut two avocados in half, remove the stone and scoop the fresh into a bowl.
  2. Mash the avocado with a fork and mix in as many of the following as you can be bothered to buy for the occasion: juice of a lime, fresh coriander, garlic (granules are good for travelling), salt and pepper, freshly diced tomatoes, chilli (fresh or flakes).
  3. Dip your crisps in the guac and enjoy

The fresh taste of the avocado will remind you what vegetables taste like, while the crisps will maintain that wonderfully unhealthy streak that only appears to be acceptable when you are 8,500km from home.

If they have a toastie machine: 

  1. Heat a tin of refried beans in a pan and mix with a little cumin or chilli until soft.
  2. Spread the bean mixture across one half of a tortilla wrap, fold the plain side over the top and toast in a toastie machine until crisp and piping hot.
  3. Serve with any kind of dip you can find, preferably guacamole or salsa.
  4. Add cheese if you have the money/the hangover is particularly bad.

If there is no toastie machine buy tortilla crips and cover with tomatoes, refried beans and guacamole for instant vegan nachos…

Granola, always granola.

It is impressive how much of this you can eat straight from the packet on a bus journey or lazing on a hostel sofa.

Peanut butter

My saviour, my love, my light. We must have had a tub of peanut butter each for every week we were in Colombia, and God was it good. There was a particularly sweet, vaguely synthetic tasting one with chia seeds mixed into it that became our favourite. Lucy is usually quite a Meridian peanut butter purist but this one wormed its way into both of our hearts.

  • Peanut butter with slices of apple
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Peanut butter on toast
  • Peanut butter thrown in a stir fry
  • Peanut butter straight from the spoon

Crisp sandwiches

If every resource has failed you, the humble crisp sandwich is always there as a happy, healthy (not) backup. We had more of these than I can count and were never disappointed.

Look out for mini bananas that will make you feel like a giant! Do NOT accidentally buy plantains, very disappointing.

Don’t worry, we also ate very well at other times! Have a look at my travel posts on Colombia and Peru for more…