Camino de Santiago Basics

Food On the Camino de Santiago: What to Eat When Doing the Pilgrimage

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Having lived in Spain in my mid-20’s, I knew that the country had a reputation for amazing food, but it varies from region to region. Upon deciding to do the Camino de Santiago, which traverses through many different Spanish regions, I was excited to once again sample Spain’s simple yet delicious food.

While some tire of the food along the Camino, the cuisine made me want to stay longer. These days, I crave a good tortilla de patata (Spanish omelet) and a café con leche (coffee with milk).

Fortunately, the Camino de Santiago is easy to navigate, and there are no shortage of cafés, bars, and restaurants (save perhaps on some of the lesser-known routes where you may need to pack a picnic).

There’s one thing that’s certain though: the food on the Camino de Santiago is a highlight of the trip and not to be missed!

In this Camino food guide, I’ll share with you what it’s like to eat on the Camino de Santiago, ways to save money on food, and some tasty dishes to try.

Food On the Camino de Santiago: What to Know When it Comes to Eating on the Pilgrimage Trail

Let’s dive into food on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. ¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appetite)

1. Breakfast

Cafe con leche and a napolitana de chocolate in Ponferrada
Typical breakfast on the Camino de Santiago: café con leche and a napolitana de chocolate, pictures here in Ponferrada

First things first, you’ll need to eat a good breakfast at the start of each day on the walk. While you may be expecting something hearty, breakfast on the Camino is actually pretty basic!

Most of the time, you’ll find tostadas, toast with cold cuts, or tortilla de patata, Spain’s famous omelet made with eggs, potatoes, olive oil, and often, onions. Some locations will also have pastries such as napolitanas de chocolate (similar to a chocolate croissant) and empanadas de atun (tuna empandas) or other types of empanadas.

To drink, the choices are coffee, tea, and freshly-squeezed orange juice.

As far as when and where to eat, those that need a coffee first thing in the morning may have to go without. Typically, cafés will be closed when you wake up to start walking — which could be as early as dawn for those wishing to beat the heat in the summer.

But don’t worry, within a few miles/kilometers, the bars and cafés will begin to open. Here, you can grab a drink to get you started. Note that all bars serve food, so sometimes you’ll just stop for a drink and a break.

A few miles/kilometers further, you can stop to enjoy what pilgrims like to call Spain’s “second breakfast.” (In Spain, there is a breakfast (desyuno) break around 10 am.) Surely, you’ll be ready to rest again and very possibly hungry after all that walking. At this point, sit down and rest your feet, take another coffee, toast or tortilla de patata, or whatever you didn’t have at your first stop.

If you’re worried about having food first thing in the morning, you can also buy some snacks the day before at a grocery store or small market. We’ll go over snacks in a later section.

The cost for breakfast on the Camino will run you around  $3-4 (€3-4).

2. Lunch

Bocadillo with tortilla de patata
Bocadillo with tortilla de patata and a soda for lunch (Photo Credit: OlafSpeier)

Lunch on the Camino is usually a bocadillio, the Spanish word for sandwich. These long, baguette-like sandwiches typically have the exact same ingredients you just had on your breakfast toast — jamón y queso (ham and cheese), or my personal favorite, tortilla! (Don’t knock it until you try it.)

There are a few interesting things to note about lunch on the Camino.

First, breakfast and lunch seem to run together. Some days, I think I’d have three portions of tortilla de patata! Honestly, I didn’t really ever have a “lunch” like I’d think of it in American terms — a full meal like a sandwich, salad, and some chips. I more or less grazed all day, then had a big dinner each evening.

Second, Spanish lunchtime is actually served starting around 2 pm! Sometimes, you are done walking by the time lunch rolls around. Thus, the explanation for the grazing all morning on el desayuno and other tapas (small bites).

Notably, on the Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago, there were many more lunch options. I had some nice sandwiches filled with sardines and some salads along that portion.

Lunch on the Camino de Santiago usually costs another $4-5 (€4-5) for a tapa or sandwich. Plus, you’ll need another coffee, soda, or sports drink to accompany it! A cerveza sin (non alcoholic beer) is also a mid-day option (as is regular beer or wine).

3. Dinner

Pilgrim's menu in Astorga on the Camino Frances
Pilgrim’s Menu in Astorga on the Camino Frances

While lunch is the big meal of the day in Spain, dinner is the main meal when it comes to doing the Camino de Santiago. After a long day’s walk, you’ll certainly be hungry!

Dinner is served at many restaurants and albergues, and it’s served starting around 6pm to keep in line with the pilgrim’s schedule. We recommend you order the pilgrim’s menu (menú del peregrino). This three-course meal costs around $11-13 (€10-12) per person. For such a low cost, a choice of an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert are just what you need to fill your belly and provide fuel for the next day! Bread and wine (unlimited) are also included!

Truthfully, some pilgrims think the pilgrim’s menu is too much food. If that’s you, feel free to order a la carte.

While some people balk at the food and dismiss the pilgrim’s meal, I appreciate a hot meal at the end of a long day! Admittedly, the meals are sometimes more home-style than restaurant-style, but that’s part of the charm and what I love about the simplicity of both Spanish cooking and Camino cuisine. In my opinion, nothing sounds better than a pilgrim’s menu.

In addition to being a time to eat, dinner is also a time to bond with your fellow pilgrims. Whenever you can, invite someone to eat with you, or attend the communal pilgrim’s dinners that are sometimes offered at private albergues.

4. Drinks & Water

Drinks with new friends in Ponferrada, Spain
Drinks with new friends in Ponferrada, Spain on the Camino Frances

When it comes to drinks, first and foremost, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. All along the route, there are water fountains with potable water you can use to fill up your water bottles. If you ever can’t find a fountain, ask at a café to have your water bottle filled.

Don’t forget to fill up your bottles for the next day at your albergue each night — kitchens/bars may not be open in the early morning hours to do so.

Aside from water, drinks — and finding people to enjoy them with — are a big part of the Camino experience. At any time of day, you’ll be thirsty and need to rest. And where do you drink and rest: at cafés. 

Here’s what people usually order when it comes to drinking along the Camino:

  • Coffee — Espresso drinks like café con leche, café cortado, or espresso solo
  • Tea — Usually camomile is available
  • Freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • Soda — Coke, Sprite, and Fanta, at least
  • Aquarius — Electrolyte drink similar to Gatorade
  • Wine — The house red wine is delicious
  • Beer — Try local varieties like Estrella Galicia and Peregrina in Galicia

Prices for drinks on the Camino are very reasonable from $1-3 (€1-3).

Pilgrim’s Tip: On some stages, there may not be many café stops. But, there’s no need to worry about being left without food. Albergue hospitaleros (owners or hosts) are very good about advising you if you need to pack snacks. Some even offer sandwiches to go. Always enquire to your host, other pilgrims, and consult your guidebook so that you know what to expect each day.

5. Snacks

cashews and banana make good snacks
Cashews and a banana make good snacks to carry on the Camino (Photos by Supermario and ArctuarianKimona)

It’s a good idea to carry a few snacks with you on the trail in case you need some extra energy. In many of the towns (and certainly in the cities), there are small markets and grocery stores. Whenever you see one, pick up some things to nibble on.

Here are some ideas for snacks to carry with you:

  • Nuts — Cashews, almonds, etc. readily available and provide healthy fats and protein, making them one of the best foods for hiking.
  • Chocolate — This sweet treat offers a burst of energy and a little caffeine for a midday pick me up. Some people even like to bring chocolate covered espresso beans!
  • Granola or energy bars — Bars provide a good mix of nutrients to fuel you. Just be sure to watch the sugar content.
  • Fruit — Bananas, oranges, apples are a good source of fiber and natural sugars to bring your blood sugar up.
  • Crackers —  Crackers provide carbs and energy and are very easy to store and transport.
  • Olives —  Olives are easily accessible in Spain in little pouches. They are full of healthy fats that will help you stay fuller, longer.
  • Dehydrated meats — You will find all sorts of cured meats in Spain. These are not only delicious, but provide protein.
  • Yogurt — Yogurt is full of protein and is a good choice for breakfast. Just make sure you have a place to store it overnight, unless you don’t mind eating it at room temperature. I brought a spork with me for those days I was lucky enough to find yogurt.

Another plus is that groceries are relatively affordable in Spain. However, the prices are usually higher at the little markets along the Camino.

6. How to Save Money on Food on the Camino

Kitchen facilities at Albergue San Anton
Kitchen facilities at Albergue San Anton (Photo from Booking.com)

Although eating along the Camino de Santiago is relatively cheap, there are some ways you can save additional money if your budget is tight.

First off, forgo the drinks. Stick to the (free) water. Of course, you should buy something at cafés in order to use their restrooms and rest at their tables. So, do buy something, even if it’s a water bottle or soda to go.

Next, we’ve already mentioned above that you can buy snacks at grocery stores and markets. Technically, you can eat these for breakfast and even lunch, if you so desire. Bread, cheese, and sandwich meats are available if you’d like to make a picnic (although a small piece of tortilla de patata may actually be cheaper!)

When it comes to dinner, many albergues have shared kitchens available. If you want to use a kitchen to cook your own dinner, you can do so. You might not even need to cook! For example, I put together some sandwiches and bought prepared salads (in the larger cities with actual grocery stores) a few times when I was too tired to wait for dinner. 

Cooking your own food may save you some money on the Camino, especially if you split the cost with other pilgrims.

7. Top 5 Dishes to Try on the Camino de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago, traditional almond cake
Tarta de Santiago, traditional almond cake (Photo Credit: estefaniavizcaino)

The food on the Camino de Santiago will vary from region to region. Therefore, there are certainly some things you don’t want to miss such as ice cream in Logroño, wine in Rioja, and pintxos (Basque-style tapas) along the Camino del Norte.

Once you hit Galicia, the region where Santiago de Compostela is located, here are some of the top dishes to try on your Camino: 

  • Caldo gallego (Galician soup) — This is a traditional Spanish soup with vegetables, greens, white beans, and sausage.
  • Pulpo á feira (Galician Octopus) — Traditional steamed octopus sprinkled with paprika. The most famous place to eat pulpo is in Melide.
  • Tarta de Santiago (Santiago cake) — As you near Santiago, you’ll find this gluten-free almond cake at many cafés. Enjoy for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day.
  • Queso con membrillo — Local cheese and quince paste, usually served for dessert on the pilgrim’s menu.
  • Pimientos de Padrón (Padrón Peppers) — Small, bright green peppers blistered and served as tapas. They are usually pretty mild, but you might catch a hotter one here or there!

Camino de Santiago Food FAQ

How much money should be allotted for food on the camino de santiago

If you plan to eat out, you should plan to spend around $21 (€20) per person per day on food on the Camino de Santiago.

What time is each meal served?

When it comes to meal times, Spain has its own particular way of doing things. Meals are served (and only served) during these times:

Breakfast — 7:30-10

Lunch — starts as early as 1:30-3:30

Dinner — starts as early as 8 pm until 11 pm

However, on the Camino, most restaurants cater to the pilgrim’s needs. For example, dinner often begins at 6pm for pilgrims. One pensión I stayed in Cacabelos even served food all day, but that is the exception, not the rule. Where you may find it harder to eat lunch and dinner is in the larger cities. If you’d like to eat earlier, you may consider choosing an albergue with a supermarket nearby to cook your own meals.

Can I drink a coffee before starting my walk?

If you leave early in the morning, before 7:30 am, there will not likely be anywhere open to drink a coffee before walking. You could either leave later or try to book a hotel that serves breakfast.

Will I find suitable food on the Camino if I am a vegetarian or vegan?
Vegetables are something every pilgrim misses from their diet, vegetarian or not! If you are vegetarian, the menú del peregrino usually includes a vegetarian option. Sometimes, you need to order two starters rather than a starter and a main. Salad (with tuna) and pasta are two staples for vegetarians. As long as you eat eggs and tuna, you will have no problems for breakfast or lunch. Vegans will have a little harder time. That being said, between Sarria and Santiago, there are more vegan and veggie-friendly options.

My thoughts on the food on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago truly is the journey of a lifetime. Along with lots of time for internal reflection and personal growth, the Camino offers a wealth of culture, history, and most importantly for the purposes of this article — food.

All in all, my best advice for you when it comes to eating on the Camino — when you see it, eat it. The cafés, bars, restaurants, and markets are more or less set up strategically for the benefit of the pilgrims. Trust that there will always be an open spot when you need it. Step inside, and order whatever is available. If you’re flexible and don’t mind a little monotony, you’ll do just fine.

Thank you for reading this blog on food on the Camino de Santiago, and I hope it will assist you in planning your own Way.

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