Galician restaurants have had a strong presence in Madrid since the 1950s, when the northwestern region’s economic crisis triggered a solid exodus of people towards industrial Spanish cities. This migratory wave, alongside the fact that Galician gastronomy was (and still is) considered one of the best in the country, meant a boom of new restaurants in the capital.
It was in the 1970s when brothers Francisco and Marcial Javier moved to Madrid from Lugo, an interior city of Galicia known for its Roman walls, rainy weather and rich food. Their restaurant, O Pazo de Lugo, is located just behind the new Reina Sofia Museum building designed by Jean Nouvel, which extended the austere structure of the former hospital site where you can now view famous artworks such as Picasso’s Guernica. This traditional eatery is also a benchmark for the neighborhood, due to its consistent and honest kitchen.
Taking its name from a typical Galician manor house, O Pazo de Lugo is a rustic but elegant tavern where you can taste the wide variety of food that comes from a rich composition of traditions from the sea, countryside and mountains. The inevitable classic here is polbo á feira (fair-style octopus), which is prepared by boiling the octopus in a copper cauldron, dipping it repeatedly until the tentacles curl; then it is cut and served with slightly smashed potato and paprika on a wooden plate. The recipe originates from when fishermen were crossing merchants from Extremadura on their way to sell their wares across the mountain range. The merchants were bringing the spice to Galicia, as it was used for conserving meat during pig-slaughtering season.
Curiously, octopus in Galicia is a dish that belongs more inland than to the coast. In the 17th century, this tentacled delicacy was an important bargaining chip: sailors based on the coast were paying their home rent to local monasteries in the interior, sending them the octopus as a tribute. The monks were receiving so many mollusks that local parishes began to sell them in their rural surroundings. Until recent times, octopus with paprika and potatoes was the typical fare of the cattle fairs (from there the name “polbo á feira”).
These days it is still possible to find these kinds of fairs around the Galician countryside – without the animal trading, but still with long tables offering this seafood. The dish is so widespread that octopus is now scarce on the Galician coast. “Most of the octopus consumed in Spain is now fished in Morocco,” says Javier, son of the founder and current manager of the restaurant.
The empanada is another emblematic food belonging to the rural habits of Galicia. This pie can be stuffed with whatever filling, often with onion, peppers and meat or fish. CB tried O Pazo de Lugo’s special codfish and raisin-filled version, cooked in one big slab and displayed on shelves just behind the bar.
Lacón con grelos (pig stew with broccoli rabe), made with the front leg of the pig and chorizo, is consumed especially during the carnival period, the best season for the vegetable that accompany this dish.
“Our restaurant is very enthusiastic about celebrating Galician gastronomy,” says Javier. “This is also why we have such loyal customers, who have been eating here for decades.” With its diverse clientele, O Pazo de Lugo is the perfect spot in Madrid’s cultural heart to savor the greenest and lushest corner of Spain.