“The Camino Provides” the saying goes and for the most part that is true. When I walked the Camino Frances I was able to purchase food, drinks and snacks in every town I came to, except on Sundays when the shops are closed. Most towns large enough to have an albergue also have at least one restaurant and one grocery store that will meet your needs, if not your wants. That being said, there will come a day when you’ll be tired of eating the tortilla offered in the bars and the ever present patatas fritas served with the menú del día. Personally, I got tired of eating a sit down meal everyday and craved greens and other vegetables at times. Don’t be discouraged, you’ll be able to feed yourself on the road if you want to.
Explore the Albergue Kitchen First
You’ll want to get a feel for the equipment available in the albergue’s kitchen. It will vary. Don’t count on a full kitchen and don’t count on pots, pans or utensils to cook with or a fridge to store your leftovers.
Many times other pilgrims will have donated pasta, rice, oil and spices to the albergue. These are available for anyone to use. It can be fun to cook a communal meal with other travellers. No matter whether you cook in a group or alone, you are obliged to follow the rules of the kitchen and clean up after yourself. You’d be surprised how often people think it’s the hospitalero‘s job to do the dishes.
Once you know what’s available to you, head to the market before it closes.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful wherever you go and most of the time they’re sold in bulk. This means you can buy just one apple or a couple of freshly made rolls for sandwiches. The shops have rules about who picks the produce and who weighs it. In a frutería all you’ll need to do is point and indicate how many you want and the owner will take care of the rest. In a supermercado it’s more likely you’ll need to bag, weigh and label your own purchases. Let me warn you right now that in the smaller pueblos the produce will not be as nice as we’re accustomed to in the US. If you want fresh basil or other herbs you’re likely to be disappointed.
Fresh and frozen meats and seafood should also be available assuming you have the means to cook them.
Eggs can be purchased by the dozen or half dozen. Some stores sell single eggs, something I took advantage of a couple times. I bought four at a time, hard boiled them, and carried the extras with me for a snack the next day.
The rolls shown above were individually wrapped. I was careful when I opened them to make my sandwiches and was able to reuse the packaging for storage.
Packaged Goods Are Often The Better Option
You’ll be able to find a lot of good foods in cans and jars including tuna, sardines and other fish, beans, roasted peppers, pasta sauce,vegetables, sausages, soups and spreads. Lunch meats and sliced cheeses are available in small packs for very little money, perfect for making sandwiches. Larger towns will have vegetarian and vegan choices, which may be limited unless you find a specialty shop.
In one albergue I watched a group of bikers from Italy slice long loaves of bread and stuff them with sausages, roasted peppers, cheeses and lunchmeat. They wrapped them, unsliced, in plastic wrap to take on their ride the next day. I caught a glimpse of them on the road with the long sandwiches poking up out of their panniers.
Microwave foods are abundant as well. A pack of 90 second rice helps make a quick and filling meal after heating up something from a can or jar. Make sure you know what you’re purchasing. I love pisto, which is similar to ratatouille. You should be able to find an assortment of ramen noodles, too, if they’re to your liking.
Most shops will have basic seasonings, most albergues won’t. You could carry them with you of course, but I actually found it simpler to crumble part of a bouillon cube into whatever I was cooking to dress up my simple meals. Avecrem is a good brand to purchase. A small pack of bouillon weighs very little and after a long day of walking I craved the saltiness.
If you come across small packs of mayonnaise consider purchasing them and carrying a few with you. It’s nice to squeeze into a can of tuna. Another option is a small can of roasted red peppers. They are surprisingly good on a sandwich, especially cheese or tuna.
I never bothered to carry more than a day and a half’s worth of food with me. It gets heavy! If you have dietary requirements you’ve probably already realized this, but you’ll need to haul more food. It won’t take long to figure out the minimum you’ll need to carry.
One of my favorite quick meals, on the Camino or at home, is Garbanzos con Espinacas or Chickpeas with Spinach. In Spain you can purchase the combination in jars or you can buy fresh or frozen spinach to add to canned chickpeas. I like it served over rice. On the Camino I packed the leftovers to eat the next day for breakfast or an early snack. It’s the kind of meal that still tastes pretty good at room temperature.
- 2 cups chickpeas (contents of one can), drained and rinsed
- 1 or 2 large handfuls of fresh spinach, large stems removed
- OR a jar of garbanzos con espinacas that has been drained
- 1 crumbled chicken flavored bouillon cube, adjust the amount to taste...usually half is plenty
- 2 cups cooked rice or 2 packs microwaveable rice (I like basmati), heated
- Put the chickpeas and spinach in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Stir in half of the crumbled bouillon cube. Heat until warmed through and the spinach is wilted.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning with more bouillon cube or whatever is available.
- Heat the rice in the microwave as directed on the package.
- To serve put half the rice in a bowl and cover with half the garbanzos, spinach and broth. (Or just dump the rice into the saucepan and mix it all together)
I found that even without a full kitchen I was able to create some sort of satisfying meal using just my pocket knife and a small container that I also used for leftovers. Rick bought the knife from a local shop before I left on my Camino. It has a knife and a corkscrew (essential items!) and the fork disassembles from the knife so I can use both at the same time. The meals might not have been very fancy, but when washed down with a delicious wine and flavored with the day’s exertions I was happy enough!