To an outsider the Christmas spread in Spain can be quite unnerving. Fish eyes, shrimp whiskers, baby eels and gnarly, claw-like barnacles are sure to make an appearance at many Spanish holiday meals.
It’s the time of year when families pull out all the stops, scooping up market delicacies and splurging on rare treats. This year Spanish families are expected to spend upwards of €200 per household on Christmas foods. In Europe, only the U.K. is expected to spend more.
These are some of the most outlandish, bizarre Spanish Christmas foods you might find on the table this year. Will you be indulging?
1. Gooseneck Barnacles
Is it a chicken foot? A bird beak? A dinosaur claw? Nope, those craggy two-inch-long creatures are gooseneck barnacles. They are one of the most expensive types of seafood in Spain and one of the most dangerous to collect.
Around five people per year die on the ferocious Galician coastline collecting the tasty barnacles that cling to the black rocks. Christmas is the most popular time of year for these percebes, which are usually served boiled.
See more of Galicia’s amazing cuisine in our Galicia seafood guide!
2. Spreadable Scorpion Fish
One of the seemingly infinite options for Christmas appetizers is Pastel de Cabracho, or scorpionfish cake. This pinkish loaf is made from boiling scorpionfish with carrot and leek, then puréeing the mixture with egg, tomato paste and heavy cream.
The result is a dish straight out of my grandmother’s 1990s pastel living room. Coral pink and perfectly spreadable, pastel de cabracho is usually eaten with small toast crackers or sliced bread. And once you get your head around the idea of fish dip, it’s actually quite tasty!
3. Shrimp Heads
Heads, in general, are an ever-present part of Spanish dining. Fish, seafood, suckling pigs and even some birds are commonly served whole, heads and all. At Christmas that means lots and lots of shrimp heads.
No holiday meal in Spain is complete without shrimp, prawns or langoustines. Almost always, these sea creatures are served whole. As many a person has told me as I delicately lay my shrimp heads at the far edge of my plate, “the head’s the best part!”
4. Baby Eels
These spaghetti-like little creatures are a delicacy so rare and expensive that a much cheaper knock-off has swooped in to fill the demand. Real baby eels, which sell for about €200 per kilo, are called angulas. The much more affordable imitation baby eels which are made from surimi fish are called gulas.
Both are usually sautéed with olive oil, garlic and cayenne pepper and served in ceramic dishes called cazuelas.
5. Pooped Candies
In the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Aragon, children have a rather unholy way of getting their Christmas candy. Using a stick, they whack a special log until it “poops” out their candies.
The smiling log is called a Tío de Nadal or Caga Tío. Every day starting December 8th Catalan children feed the log candies, nuts, fruits and water which “magically” disappear into the hollow log when the kids aren’t looking. On Christmas day children hit the log with a stick, making it poop out turrón (Christmas nougat), candies and small gifts.
For a guide to turrón and more, check out this Spanish Christmas sweets article.
6. Marzipan Pig Parts
These dense almond cookies are a staple of Christmas sweets in Spain. While most come in harmless shapes like bows and spirals, every once in a while you find some downright odd marzipan figurines on offer.
From lifelike miniature babies to realistic replicas of every possible type of pork part (including sausages, snouts and ears!), the limit to Christmas marzipan’s oddness is seemingly endless.
What bizarre Christmas foods are going to grace your table this year?