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Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain

by John Barlow

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-15010-5
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

British gourmand in Spain discovers that the journey is more interesting than the meal—and the meals are good.

As a paean to gluttony, this book by Barlow (Intoxicated, 2006, etc.) could hardly be worse. He writes repeatedly of stuffing himself to capacity, until he was worried that his stomach lining would burst. The reason for all this overeating was that the Cambridge-educated writer, who makes his home in Spain with an understanding vegetarian wife, had decided to travel around Galicia, the country’s cold, remote and mulishly stubborn northwestern quadrant, and complete a self-issued challenge: “to eat every part of the pig, in as many different places as possible.” That sort of premise is a typical food-writing conceit these days, but Barlow is a writer first and foremost, not just another foodie looking for a publisher to pick up his tapas tab. Although he dutifully ticks off the various wobbly and gristly pork bits (ears, hooves, brains), he seems to have been most engaged when wandering through remote, frequently depopulated Galician hamlets in which electricity was a recent innovation and pig slaughters were viewed as fun for the whole family. At one Carnival, “clown-monster-avenger figures” called peliqueiros whacked bystanders with impunity, according to ancient tradition, before everyone converged to gorge on a pile of steaming pigs’ heads. Further travels exposed the author to delicious variations on a staple Galician stew that featured most parts of the pig. Barlow embraces his adopted culture with affectionate and knowing ribbing: “Wine containers with vertical or at least relatively vertical sides are not good enough for Galicians; that would not be complicated enough. Something more troublesome is required, and what amounts to a small plate for your beverage is perfect.”

A savory travelogue with insights that go beyond taste and texture.