Every Camino pilgrim seems to come home from their journey packed full of life changing memories from their experience along The Way. Having walked two pilgrimages to Santiago, my head and heart are filled with memories I’ll never forget. I can vividly recall walking into sunrise through a field of sunflowers along the meseta, meeting amazing people from all over the world, and watching my 2 year old enter the plaza in front of the Santiago Cathedral to cheers, laughter, and applause. If you were to ask 100 pilgrims about their favorite memories, you would get a wide range of answers. One memory that seems to be consistent for every pilgrim I meet is a fondness for the food of the Camino! In this post, I’ll be covering 5 tips to help aspiring pilgrims eat great food while maintain a modest food budget on their journey towards Santiago de Compostela.
1. Always Find the Pilgrim’s Menu
When eating out at a restaurant for dinner, always ask for the Pilgrim’s Menu, Menú para Peregrinos, or Menú del Dia. Many restaurants along The Way cater to pilgrims and have set menus providing a full meal for very reasonable prices. Many of these meals come with multiple courses, including bread, an entrée, a drink, and desert. Along the Frances and Portuguese, I was able to eat like a king almost every night for under 10 euro per person!
2. Enjoy a Bocadillo for Lunch
The bocadillo is one of the most iconic food staples along the Camino. For those that have never heard of a bocadillo, you’re in for a real treat. The bocadillo is a simple Spanish sandwich usually made on a baguette and served at tapas bars. Along the Camino, you’ll find them available at almost every cafe and restaurant stop for under 5 euro. Consider this your Camino $5 Footlong.
Not all bocadillos are created equal though. On the simple and plain end of the spectrum, you’ll find an ordinary jamon y queso combination (ham and cheese). Some places spice things up a bit with paninis, vegetables, and other toppings. My hands-down favorite bocadillo is the tortilla. A Spanish tortilla is different than a Mexican one for those of you here in the United States. A tortilla bocadillo is a sandwich with an omelette inside. These sandwiches are delicious and provide a much needed midday pick-me-up. These are also a very popular option for vegetarians.
3. Keep it Simple for Breakfast
There are two separate camps of Camino pilgrims leaving albergues each morning: those that walk and then eat and the others that eat and then walk. I’ve always been a ‘walk first’ ‘then eat’ kind of pilgrim, but can’t get my day started without a little caffeine first.
Most towns and villages have cafes that open early where you can find beverages, baked goods, and more. I like to sit down at a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee before I start walking each morning. After an early morning 5k, I’ll find another cafe to have some more coffee and a late breakfast. To keep costs down at breakfast, keep it simple. Stick to coffee and standard baked goods. You can even order a tortilla bocadillo. The perk of walking so much each day is that you can eat pastries for breakfast and not feel bad about it.
4. Enjoy the Local Drinks
If you’re walking the Camino and you’re open to meeting new people, you’re going to leave the Iberian Peninsula with some amazing new friends. One of the best ways to enjoy conversation and relax after a long day of walking is with a few beers amongst friends. To keep costs down, go for the cheaper local options. Super Bock is king in Portugal, and you’ll get a lot of Estrella Galicia for your money in Spain.
5. Buy Snacks and Food at Markets and Cafes
Using the Pilgrims Menu, ordering bocadillos, keeping breakfast simple, and drinking local beverages are tips that will only save you money if you were already planning on eating out each day. For those of you that are even more budget conscious, you’ll want to stick to grocery stores, super markets, and cafe markets. Most large towns have a supermarket where you can find food and beverages at the lowest price. Smaller towns and villages have higher prices and fewer items to choose from, but can still save you some money when compared to eating out.
I had a few budget days on the Camino Frances back in 2012 and here are some pointers to help you eat well and save money. When you find a supermarket, buy breads, cheeses, and lunch meats to make sandwiches. This will cover you for lunch and dinner. You can buy fruit, breads, and baked goods for snacks and breakfast as well. If you would like to have a drink with pilgrims at the albergue, you can pick up a six pack for around the same price as a pint from a restaurant. Finally, a few albergues have kitchens available to pilgrims. If you’re staying at such a place, you can buy ingredients to make your own meals and/or split the cost with fellow pilgrims for a communal group dinner.
Looking back at my two Camino pilgrimages, the meals and drinks I’ve shared with family and friends really highlight what the experience is all about. I’ve had some incredible conversations eating breakfast in a cafe, refuelling with a bocadillo, and energizing a tired body with a pilgrim’s menu dinner. I’ve also enjoyed meeting the families that spend their lives catering to the needs of pilgrims from all over the world. Having walked the Frances and Portuguese routes, I’m looking forward to returning to the Camino for a third time. The trail is calling me and I miss being a part of the big Camino family. Most of all, I miss starting my day with an americano coffee and chocolate croissants.