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Donkin's World, Donkin's World: Barnacles

Richard Donkin samples a Galician delicacy.

"You must try the barnacles," said Joaquin Fernandez-Davila during a feast of near epic proportions at the restaurant of the family-run marina in Vigo, north-west Spain, last week.

This is Galicia, the Atlantic-facing corner of Spain where the remains of St James, the Apostle, were brought - or so it's claimed, and no-one here is going to contradict the story. Encased in a silver sarcophagus, the bones are Spain's most sacred relics, visited by thousands every year who walk the pilgrims' path to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The pillar where pilgrims placed their hand at journey's end is worn to the shape of countless palms impressed upon the stone. It's easy to pass by this part of Spain on your way to the beaches of Andalucia, but to do so is to miss some impressive scenery and distinctive wines and dishes.

Among those dishes are the large goose barnacles gathered at great risk from the rocky shoreline at low tide. They're difficult to collect and that makes them expensive, but they're considered a delicacy by Galicians.

They may look a bit off-putting, but when you pluck away the outer skin to expose the meaty core there is a brown, gelatinous stump that has an intense, salty taste http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY2X24xnlOA. That's hard core food from hard-core harvesting that makes some extreme sports look like a cake walk in comparison.

This video explains the risks and the methods in a little more detail. The fishermen hang from ropes and use steel spatulas to lever the barnacles from the two metres of rock at low tide that is their range where the grow in nooks and crannies. Every year barnacle fishermen die undertaking this dangerous work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eeceWNb6_I

With a little bread, some shrimps and a bottle of Albarino wine, it makes for a memorable meal a little bit different from anything you can get in a supermarket.

If you're interested in learning more about the history and sights of Galecia I can recommend this old travel guide, A Corner of Spain by Walter Wood. http://archive.org/stream/acornerspain00masogoog#page/n0/mode/2up

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