On the second floor of Archbishop Gelmírez’s Palace, right beside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is the grand Function Hall. In it, corbels upon the walls support the ceiling’s vaults. These corbels have relief sculptures showing a banquet, and the fascinating details include servants, musicians and diners. These figures seated at table are all ready to feast upon what may be a fine Galician pie, or empanada.
One advocate for this interpretation is the great storyteller Álvaro Cunqueiro, who talks in his book, La cocina gallega, about lamprey empanadas “round and small, like those offered to a bishop on a Romanesque capital in Gelmírez’s Palace in Compostela.”
However, another Galician writer and contemporary of Cunqueiro, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, has other ideas. In his Compostela y su ángel he says: “However much people wish to interpret the reliefs of the Bishop’s palace, Galician empanada is not a medieval dish (…) Yet this does not make it a bad dish. On the contrary it is succulent and tasty, worthy of the greatest respect and the most inspired odes.”
If the writer from Ferrol wrote those words around the year 1948, another 60 years would have to pass before a poet and doctor, José García Velázquez, would take the trouble to write an ode to the great dish, which starts like this: “For Galicians, there is no food / eaten with knife and fork / so fine as empanada / of cockles or of pork…”
And with these words, García Velázquez opens the can of worms regarding the many varieties of empanada, as anyone visiting even a few of the bars and restaurants of Santiago will soon see. This variety is so great that the writer and feminist Emilia Pardo Bazán, in La cocina española antigua y moderna, refuses to give a single recipe for empanada and first talks about the making of the pastry dough, and later offers a few possible fillings: Lugo eel, lamprey, pork loin and ham, pigeon, red mullet or sardines.
Pardo Bazán’s list is by no means exhaustive, since one could easily add cod, conger eel, octopus, cockles, cuttlefish and more.
And let us not forget, as García Velázquez’s ode concludes: “There’s one last piece of advice / and it will hit you with a wallop, / make sure and try a slice / of empanada filled with scallops!”