fogar do santiso

The sky is calm and cloudy as we drive past the gray stone houses with lush green fields and crooked fences. The twists and turns and muddy forest paths seem to lead to nowhere, until the trees yield a clearing with a long, low building and a very large haystack. This was the place they’d been telling me about for months. Finding our way inside is an adventure in itself; waterfalls and boulders obscure numerous hidden doorways. There are no signs, no opening hours, and definitely no doormen. We choose the door next to an antique wagon wheel and a washing-well, across from an uncomfortably large barrel. I cannot imagine what might be inside that barrel…or for that matter, inside the door.

The entrance is disappointing, and our curiosity is further heightened by the fact that the door reveals only a narrow winding stone staircase, lit by lanterns. Descending, the sound of voices grows louder and we suddenly spill out into a very large room. Above rows of long wooden tables and benches, a pig’s head and several spiderwebs hang from the ceiling. Old farming tools adorn the walls, and Galician sayings carved into wooden planks are barely visible in the dim light. Even on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the place is packed; every table is full, and the room is thick with the murmur of conversation, the crackling of the fire, and the creaking of old wood.

Because there is no room here, we are sent back through the labyrinth of hallways and doorways until we come to another large room, this one with space enough for us. Lit only by lanterns and smelling thickly of smoke from the large stone fireplace, this room too is alive with the sounds of a midday meal. We seat ourselves at the end of a long wooden table, where slices of the most old-fasioned bread are already waiting for us. We are served homemade white wine in bowls and we await our feast. There are no plates here, nor silverware; food is served on large heaping platters and napkins are plentiful. Before long our food arrives – three huge platters of pork churrasco (ribs), a plate of potatoes, and a plate of salad. Everything is cooked simply and seasoned only with a little salt and olive oil. It is the best thing I have ever tasted. The saltiness of the pork blends perfectly with the sweetness of the wine and the thick bread. Eating it is a dirty business and we stain our fingers and clothes with oil, but it is well worth the effort and the sacrifice.

Though our stomachs are full after polishing off everything, there is still more. Homemade blackberry ice cream is next, light and sweet and refreshing after the salt of the meat. We order coffee as well, which is served in bowls like the wine and poured steaming hot from a large teapot that could serve twenty. Chupitos, or shots, of a homemade liquor made from a local thorny weed end the meal and clean the palette. Our full stomachs make us drowsy in the warm, dim room, and the whisper of rain outside rouses us to our senses. We pay our bill (10 euros) and step back out into the gray afternoon, where a man is playing a keyboard and singing traditional Galician songs. We step over and around the waterfalls, exagerrated by puddles of rain, and make our way back down muddy roads to the main highway. It would be impossible to find this place again, but it would be impossible not to return, as this was quite possibly one of the best dinners I have ever had. It was just the Galician getaway I needed – close to home, but in another world.

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