“Grip the leg firmly, slip the black stocking down, then bite into the white flesh.”
Before you get the wrong idea, I should explain that I was in La Coruña, receiving expert tuition on how to eat percebes, or goose barnacles, which are prised from the rocks on the coast here in Galicia in northern Spain. I looked on in awe as my companion enthusiastically tore his way through a plateful of the slimy, squidgy creatures that resemble the paws of a tiny prehistoric monster.
Looking around the restaurant, I saw that everyone had their napkin tucked into their collars – serious seafood eating is a messy business. Cracking and ripping sounds resounded across the room as the diners methodically demolished their piles of shellfish. The man at the next table was eating alone, facing the wall. After kicking off with a few oysters, he moved on to a couple of gigantic langoustines before polishing off a large scallop surrounded by prawns. And that was all before the main course.
At dawn the next morning, I was getting in the way down at the fish market, where these exquisite delicacies were being auctioned by the crateload. Stout women in gingham pinnies and white ankle socks, cardigans stretched across their ample bosoms, stood over their wares, muttering unintelligibly and making almost imperceptible signals.
Every couple of minutes, these negotiations resulted in crates being dragged off at top speed across the floor and out to lorries waiting outside. More fish is bought and sold here on the quayside in La Coruña than anywhere else in Europe – although much of it is not caught in Spanish waters – and transported all over the world.
With spider crabs crawling around my ankles, I watched as hundreds of boxes of mussels, clams and cockles were bought up and carted off. After about half an hour, it was all over. I wandered into another enormous shed, which contained millions of cigalas, or langoustines, which are a staple of the Galician diet and very popular throughout Spain. It is very odd that we hardly see them in the UK, as quite a proportion of the langoustines consumed in Spain actually come from Scotland.