Today was a break from what we are used to on the Camino with an atypical dining experience and a new kind of Albergue.
About the Food
The first half of Day 8 was dominated by the memory of Leo at the Casa El Cura and the dinner he made for us. To attempt to give a full picture of why this meal was so impactful, I have to go back a few steps and explain how we have been eating in Spain so far.
To put it bluntly, the Camino de Santiago is not vegetarian friendly. We find food every day, we aren’t starving, but it is not often healthy or nutritious (which you might be surprised to learn is important when you are engaging in physical activity every day!) Many days we have had pasta with plain tomato sauce, cheese pizza, or bread. These are delicious foods, but all carbs and no protein makes for a sad pilgrim. Breakfast is usually our most successful meal, many restaurants serve Pincho de Tortilla (also called a Spanish Omelette or Tortilla de Patatas). This is a dense cake thing made with eggs, potatoes, and occasionally cheese. It’s a big punch of protein so we try to fill up on these. And they taste pretty good. But after 8 days straight the appeal is wearing a bit thin.
And this is where Leo comes in. We took the less common Camino path as I mentioned in my last post, so when we stayed for the night at the Casa El Cura there were no other pilgrims. I think we were actually the only ones in the entire town that night. Most Albergues and hotels along the Camino serve a “Pilgrims Menu” for dinner. These usually cost around 7-10 Euros and include a first, second, and desert course plus bread and wine. We asked what was on the Pilgrims Menu at the Casa El Cura and since we were the only pilgrims there the owners offered to make us a vegetarian menu.
Cautiously excited we rested, showered, checked the internet, and came back downstairs at 7pm for dinner. We could smell something delicious cooking. Leo came out and explained to me what he had had planned for the first two courses and while many of the vegetable names flew over my head, I got the general impression of grilled things and herbs. Side note and pro tip, learn the Spanish names for common vegetables and foods when on the Camino! It will save you a lot of Googling later.
The first course was slices of squash and eggplant roasted in olive oil and herbs, topped with a roasted tomato and fresh mozzarella. We each had three of these tasty towers.
For our second course we had the Spanish Omelette but a far cry from the standard one, being full of vegetables and seasonings with a rice risotto and raisins on the side. It sounds weird but Leo told us to take a bite of all three pieces at once and it was a prefect blend of salty, spicy, and sweet.
We were stuffed at this point of course but continued to desert. Kelly and I had a rich homemade cheese cake with a wild raspberry sauce, and Joanne had a homemade caramel flan. Both dishes were heavenly. All the vegetables came from the town green house and the eggs came from Jemma’s (Leo’s wife and desert creator) grandmother’s chickens.
In the US I would have easily paid over $50 for this meal and not regretted it. Here, I paid $12.
We went to bed full to bursting but in awe of our night at Casa El Cura. We were still talking about Leo and his food for most of our walk this morning and I imagine we will continue to speak of it in reverent tones for the rest of the Camino.
The Rest of the Day
The walk to Mansilla de las Mulas was pretty standard, nice and flat on our usual brown dirt road surrounded by wheat fields. It was a 14.29 mile (23km) day and we got into town at about 2pm. We decided to try the Municipal Albergue this time for a “true pilgrim” experience. Municipal Albergues are usually the cheapest option but often have fewer services as a result. The one in Mulas was huge with about 80 beds and every single one of them filled with a pilgrim. Most of these pilgrims had started out in the same city and meet up with each other off and on while traveling so the place had the feeling of a college dorm in the first week after summer break. Including practical jokes, love triangles, and mostly benign rule breaking. That night one of the pilgrims pulled out a guitar and 50 people crammed in to the courtyard for a sing-a-long with bottles of wine flowing freely. It was an interesting experience and a different vibe completely from our other nights. The biggest downside of staying in one of these style Albergues is that it almost guarantees a night of little to no sleep. In a room with that many people, even when they try to be respectful and quiet, you hear them moving all night long. And as soon as the first pilgrim gets up in the morning, everyone is up.
I think we will stay in them occasionally for the experience but they will probably be followed by a splurge night in a private room to catch up on sleep. Which is our plan for tomorrow.
We have big plans for Leon!