Samhain: The origins of Halloween & Galician Queimada

Halloween may be big business in America and some may even dislike that these traditions have crossed over to Europe but the reality is actually the other way around. Halloween is a Celtic tradition that was brought over to America by Irish immigrants. The original celebration is known as Samhain (pronounced sah-win) and marks the end of the harvest period and the beginning of winter. On this night the portal between life and death is opened and our passed away loved ones are allowed to return.

Galicia has always has a deep connection with the Celts and is also known as Fogar de Breogan (Home of Breogan). Breogan was a Celtic King of Galicia and ancestor of the Gaels mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabála Érren (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), a set of medieval manuscripts about the History of Ireland. It is therefore not surprising that Samhain, a Celtic celebration, has always been part of Galicia. I remember my dad (from A Coruña, Galicia) telling me how people used to hollow out and carve turnips and hide in corredoiras (narrow country lanes) and scare passersby with them. If you are used to American Halloween, the use use of turnips may seem like an odd choice (they are also extremely hard to hollow out and carve) but originally that’s what was used back in Europe. The only reason pumpkins became synonymous to Halloween is because the Irish didn’t have easy access to turnips (remember turnips are native to Europe and didn’t exist in America until the Columbine Exchange so they weren’t that widespread yet); they did however have pumpkins which are native to the North America. Samaín in Galicia seemed to lose popularity until quite recently until there was a revival which, ironically, was most probably fuelled by the commercialisation of American Halloween spreading into Spain and also reconnecting with Galicia’s Celtic past.


(Pic 1. Statue of Breogan in front of Torre de Hercules thought to be the same as that mentioned in the Lebor Gábala Érren. Pic 2. Traditional Galician bagpipes known as Gaita)

When Catholicism came to the Iberian Peninsula (and Europe) there was some sort of religious symbiosis where ancient pagan traditions were kept but their meaning changed to suit Catholicism, basically the same thing that happened with Christmas. Allhallowtide (All Saints’ Day & All Souls’ Day) was created around this day (in Orthodox Christianity it is celebrated on a different day) to take over the original celebration. The name Halloween actually comes from All Hallows’ Eve and is the eve before All Saints’ Day. Allhallowtide is in essence the same as Samhain but it has been replaced with Catholic elements.

There has been a revival of Samaín throughout Galicia but it has always been deeply rooted especially in A Coruña, Cedeira (Province of A Coruña), Narón (Province of A Coruña), Ferrol (Province of A Coruña),  Quiroga (Province of Lugo) and Ribadavia (Province of Ourense). In Ribadavia it is also called Noite Meiga (Meiga Night – meiga is a traditional Galician being similar to a witch. Meigas are always evil but witches known as bruxas can be good or evil). This night is celebrated with a parade, a Haunted Castle Attraction, Witches Sabbath and a Queimada.

A Queimada is a traditional Galician alcoholic beverage made with Augardente (Firewater, similar to Italian Grappa) which is set alight in a traditional earthenware vessel know as pote in Galician. The drink itself has existed since time immemorial (some even believe it to be Celtic) but the show that is put on nowadays is more of a modern invention where a poem in the Galician language was created to recreate something a witch would recite while conjuring a potion in her cauldron. People gather around, lights are switched off so you can see the flames burning the alcohol and people recite a poem (see below, translation provided). It’s a fun event which is used in many Galicians parties and restaurants but most significantly during Samaín and The Bonfires of Saint John the Baptist (San Xoan) marking the beginning of summer (most probably another pagan tradition disguised as Christian lol). Even though the alcohol is burned, it is a very potent drink and people tend to drink it in little cups the size of espresso cups. If you have any left you can bottle it up and use for shots; it’s also good cold.

Conxuro da Queimada (Queimada Spell)

Mouchos, coruxas, sapos e bruxas. Owls, barn owls, toads and witches.
Demos, trasgos e diaños, Demons, goblins and devils,
Espíritos das nevoadas veigas. Spirits of the misty meadows.
Corvos, píntigas e meigas, Crows, salamanders and meigas,
Feitizos das manciñeiras. Folk healer’s charms.
Podres cañotas furadas, Rotten pierced canes,
Fogar dos vermes e alimañas. Home of worms and vermin.
Lume das Santas Compañas, Light of the Santa Compaña,
Mal de ollo, negros meigallos, Evil eye, black magic,
Cheiros dos mortos, tronos e raios. Stench of the dead, thunder and lightening.
Oubeo de can, pregón da morte; Howl of the dog, omen of death;
Fuciño do sátiro e pé do Coello. Satyr’s snout and rabbit’s foot.
Pecadora lingua de mala muller The cursed tongue of an evil woman
Casado cun home vello. Married to an old man.
Averno de Satán e Belcebú, Inferno of Satan and Beelzebub,
Lumes dos cadavers ardentes, Flames of burning corpses,
Peidos dos infernales cús, Farts from hellish asses,
Muxido de mar embravecida. Bellow of the enraged seas.
Barriga inútil da muller solteira, Useless womb of single women,
Falar dos gatos que andan á xaneira, Caterwauling of cats on heat,
Guedella porca da cabra mal parida. Dirty hide of a badly born goat.
Con este fol levantarei, With this bellows I will raise,
As chamas deste lume, The flames of this fire,
Que asemella ao do Inferno, Resembling those in hell,
E fuxirán as bruxas, And witches will flee,
A cabalo das súas escobas, Straddling their brooms,
Índose bañar na praia das areas gordas. To bathe in beaches of thick sand.
Oíde, oíde! os ruxidos, Hear ye, hear ye, the roars,
Que dan as que non poden, Of those who cannot,
Deixar de queimarse no augardente, Escape from the burning flames of this firewater,
Quedando así purificadas. And thus, becoming purified.
E cando este brebaxe, When this concoction,
Baixe polas nosas gorxas, Slithers down our throats,
Quedaremos libres dos males, We shall be freed from all evil,
Da nosa ialma e todo embruxamento. Our soul and all enchantment.
Forzas do ar, terra, mar e lume, Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,
A vós fago esta chamada: I invoke thee:
Si é verdade que tendes máis poder, If it is true that you are more powerful,
Que a humana xente, Than mere mortals,
Eiquí e agora, facede cós espiritos, Here and now, force the spirits,
Dos amigos que están fora, Of our friends who are no longer with us,
Participen con nós desta Queimada. To participate with us in this Queimada.

Traditionally the drink is made in an earthenware pot and ladle and served in earthenware little cups. Most non-Galicians won’t have one of these pots but it is possible to make it in a large saucepan and use a metal ladle; it won’t be as visually impressive but it will suit just fine.queimada-1


1 litre bottle Augardente/Aguardiente (or Italian Grappa)

Peel of one lemon

4 Tbsp white sugar

A few coffee beans (optional)


Put all ingredients into the earthenware pot or a saucepan.

2 Fill the ladle with aguardiente and some extra sugar and set alight. Tip: If the alcohol doesn’t catch fire you can try heating up a small amount of the liquid in the microwave or on the stove. Store bought aguardiente can take a while to burn whereas the homemade stuff my uncles make burns almost instantly.

3 Once you the ladle of aguardiente is on fire, move it closer to the surface of the alcohol in the pot and let the rest catch fire. Once it is fully alight, you can then submerge the ladle and stir gently to dissolve the sugar. queimada-1-stepAt this point, the lights are switched off and the conxuro (spell) is read aloud. Once all the sugar has dissolved you can either leave it until all the alcohol burns off or just blow it out; it depends on how strong or weak you want the alcohol.queimada-2nd-stepThe best part of the queimada is the theatre that is involved in switching off the lights and reciting the conxuro (spell). If you want to see this in action look here:

Feliz Samaín! Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh! Happy Samhain!



This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Annika at We Must Be Dreamers and the theme is HALLOWEEN.


Ninniku-Shoyu (Japanese Soy Sauce Infused Garlic)

During the summer I was given a sack of garlic freshly harvested from the fields surrounding my mum’s village deep in La Mancha. La Mancha (a historic area belonging to Castilla La Mancha) is actually famous for its purple garlic known as Morado de Cuenca from the Allium Sativum L species and it even boasts the coveted Indication of Geographic Protection (IGP) designation. Great stuff!ajo-moradoI shared it out among family and friends but I still had an overwhelming amount of garlic leftover so I made my favourite Spanish Garlic and Parsley Marinade which I always have in my fridge. As I still had loads of garlic left my friend who had lived in Japan recommended me to soak whole garlic cloves in soy sauce and leave to infuse for 3-4 weeks; so that’s what I did. Apparently, it’s a secret weapon used in many Japanese households as it can instantly transform stir-fries without much more seasoning. I was advised to use it in regular egg-fried rice  and am so glad that I did; such a small thing really does make a difference and elevates the dish to new heights!

The soy sauce also transforms into something more complex so feel free to use it too. However make sure the garlic is always covered by the soy sauce; if it runs low you can always top it up with regular light soy.


As much garlic as your heart desires

Enough light soy sauce to completely cover the garlic.


1 Peel garlic and put in a jar. Top up with enough light soy sauce to completely cover the Store in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. When the garlic has changed into a brownish colour, it is ready to use. If you store it in the fridge it can keep for a long

ข้าวมันไก่ Khao Man Gai (Thai Style Hainanese Chicken Rice)

What comes to mind when you think of Thai cuisine? I can imagine that for most people the usual suspects of Pad Thai and Green/Red/Yellow Curry spring to mind and then you are a bit lost. I admit it, I was one of those people. However, after having the pleasure of making Thai friends I have been introduced to more hardcore and less familiar dishes which you probably won’t find in your local Thai restaurant such as Nam Prik Pla Tu (Spicy Mackerel Paste) served with fried aubergine and cucumber, amazing homemade Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausage) courtesy of Kwanta Kosayothin whose recipe I am dying to get my hands on, Nam Tok Moo (Spicy Pork Salad similar to the more well-known Laab) and to finish off on a sweet note, Khao Niew Mamuang (Mango & Sticky Rice).  I love making friends with international people, mainly because of the food experiences that come with them. Thank you Nantisara Pipattanananti for coming into my life and opening my eyes (and belly) to this absolutely amazing cuisine!

Today’s recipe is one of those dishes that isn’t as well known to outside of Thailand: Khao Man Gai. It’s Thailand’s answer to Hainanese Chicken Rice and although the origin of the dish is from Hainan (Chinese Province), the major difference from the original is the dipping sauce that is served alongside the dish. Hainanese Chicken Rice is actually very popular across South East Asia and is even considered the National dish of Singapore.

Khao Man Gai literally means “oily rice chicken” as the rice is cooked in chicken fat. I must admit that the translation doesn’t sound all that appealing which is probably why in English it’s known as Hainanese Chicken Rice.  Traditionally, the rice and chicken is served with a dipping sauce, cucumber, coriander, liver and congealed chicken blood. I’ve decided to skip the liver and blood though…

Traditionally the dipping sauce (and all curry pastes) is made in a large pestle and mortar but you can also use a food processor although the consistency will be affected. I actually used my grandmother’s old pestle and mortar which was solely used to make a traditional dish from La Mancha called Ajoarriero (Salt Cod and Potato “Paté”). Never had this mortar come into contact with such “exotic” ingredients in all its decades of existence before!


This recipe includes a few ingredients that you may be unfamiliar with if you are new to Thai cuisine (I had never heard of them before…).

1) Tao Jiew (เต้าเจี้ยว): Thai Fermented Soybean Paste. It is similar to Japanese miso or Korean doenjang and you if you have trouble finding the Thai stuff you could try substituting with one of these.

2) See Ew Dam (ซีอิ๊วดำ): known as Black Soy Sauce, it’s a thick type of soy sauce which has a sweet flavour. If you can’t find it you could try substituting with Indonesian Kecap Manis or Chinese Dark Soy Sauce but it is quite different.

3) Coriander roots: the roots of coriander (duh!). It is quite hard to find but sometimes you can find some roots still attached to coriander in Chinese supermarkets. You can try substituting with twice the amount of coriander stalks or omit entirely.


For the chicken:

1 whole chicken (mine was 2.2kg)

4 slices fresh ginger

4 whole garlic cloves, smashed

Coriander roots (if available)

1 spring onion

Salt, to taste

For the rice:

Chicken fats

5 cm fresh ginger, finely diced

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 parts Thai Jasmine rice (no need to rinse in water)

4 parts chicken stock (from cooking the chicken)

For the dipping sauce:

5cm ginger, sliced

5cm ginger, finely diced

4 Thai Bird’s eye chillies, sliced

3 Tbsp. Tao Jiew

1 ½ Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. See Ew Dam

1 ½ lemons, juiced


Cucumber, sliced

Fresh coriander


1 Remove excess chicken fat from the neck area and parson’s nose. If you don’t have much chicken fat you can use half fat and half vegetable oil. Reserve for later.khao-man-gai-12 In a large stock pot add the ginger, spring onion, garlic cloves, coriander roots, salt and the whole chicken including its head and feet (if you have them). Cover the chicken completely with cold water. Bring to a slow boil and once  you can see steam, turn the heat down to low; the water should not be a rolling boil. In Thailand they call this cooking the chicken in “still water”. Cook for a 40 minutes half covered (vary time according to your chicken; the meat should be cooked through but not falling off the bone), flipping the chicken halfway through cooking time. Remember to remove any of the scum that floats to the top once in a while. When the chicken is cooked, remove and leave to cool.khao-man-gai-23 Render chicken fats in a saucepan until you get at least a few tablespoons of chicken oil. If you don’t get enough oil from the chicken fats you can also use some vegetable oil.

4 Fry garlic and ginger in this oil along with the chicken fats and then add the rice. Coat the rice well with all the chicken oil and then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on a low flame for 10 -12 minutes (times may vary according to the rice you buy-check packaging).khao-man-gai-35 Make the dipping sauce by crushing ginger slices in large mortar until it becomes like a paste. Next add the finely diced ginger, chillies, Tao Jiew, sugar, See Ew Dam and lemon juice. Combine well. Adjust to your personal taste if needed.khao-man-gai-4Assembly

Carve the chicken by removing the drumsticks, thighs and both breasts. Remove the bones from the dark meat and slice all chicken into large pieces. The chicken is not served hot.khao-man-gai-5Lay whatever chicken you prefer (I always go for dark meat) on a bed of rice. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with cucumber and fresh coriander.

You can also eat it alongside a bowl of chicken broth especially in the winter when it’s colder. Some people also cook some winter melon in the stock but personally I prefer it plain.khao-man-gai