I traveled solo in Spain, occasionally giving myself a break from myself by going on group tours. One of the best tours I have ever done – full stop – was in Madrid through Adventurous Appetites.
The short version: it was delightful. We had a good-sized group of eight hearty eaters from Australia, Denmark, the US and Canada who were willing to eat anything – no conditions. That made it far easier, and so much more fun. And… dangerous.
Pimientos de Padrón, the “peppers of Padrón” from the Galician corner of Northern Spain, are legendary in Spanish cuisine for their simplicity and excitement. Called culinary Russian Roulette, each pepper could be a delicious treat, or a source of fiery regret.
Our guide James warmed us up by describing the preparation. Whole small green peppers are fried in olive oil and then covered in a layer of sea salt. It sounded simple and delicious, until an ominous warning:
“The peppers are mostly mild, except every once in a while, you’ll get one that is fire-hot. Probably the hottest thing you’ve ever eaten. So… just let me know if it happens. Immediately.”
!!! To what end? To get a fire extinguisher?
The whole experience is described with amusing, yet typical, Spanish indifference in Galego (the local language in Galicia): “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” or “Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not.” [Spoiler: keep reading, I found proof of this in Santiago de Compostela.]
I’ve since learned the odds of hitting the fireball are pretty decent – one in ten peppers are estimated to have more concentrated capsaicin, unleashing the heat and regret and misery. It also can depend on when the peppers are harvested. Early in the spring, the peppers are milder, later in the summer, not so much. I was there in October and just really glad I didn’t know any of this information at the time.
Our plate arrived, piled high, steaming hot and glistening with oil. There were at least fifty of them, which meant, statistically speaking, at least five of us could be in for a world of hurt.
When the steam started to dissipate, we passed the plate around and pulled the trigger.
Delicious. Insanely delicious. The peppers were sweet and mild, the sea salt was almost a crust. With a quick breath and a prayer before each bite, we continued to make our way through the plate. We were the lucky ones, we were spared. Other than the food itself, the dish was a budget traveler’s dream at €6,50.
Since my experience was overwhelmingly positive, I think often of the peppers, how delicious they were and how long it is probably going to be until I seem them again – at least another two years at current travel planning rate.
I’ve done a little bit of poking around, and there doesn’t appear to be any way to buy the peppers, or the seeds, in Canada, and importing them from outside of the country seems to be fraught with difficulty. Should I ever find the peppers back in Canada, I’m pulling out this recipe immediately. Until then, if you’re in Spain, do not miss the opportunity to take your life in your hands and chow down on some peppers.
Pimientos de Padron and the Camino de Santiago
When I walked the Camino in 2014, I was delighted to discover Pimientos de Padron were an essential part of the journey. Pretty much any town with a decent bar or restaurant had them on offer, which meant I got to consume them at least every few days.
Upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela, my interest in Pimientos de Padron persisted. I was delighted to discover a very cool shop called Rei Zentolo (many locations, closest on the the Cathedral is at Rúa do Vilar, 43) which sold this incredible t-shirt. It has gone on to become a treasured part of my wardrobe! I’ve also made the wise decision to include Padron on my next Camino, easily do-able on the Portuguese route.
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