The Oyster Festival in Arcade is a must in the gastronomic calendar in Galicia. This parish, in the municipality of Soutomaior, welcomes a flood of visitors on the first weekend of April, who come to taste this exquisite bivalve. On Saturday and Sunday, the stands inside the marquee that has been specially set up for the event, in the area around Arcade's harbour, welcome 30,000 people, and, in addition to those diners, there are those who taste the delicious oyster at the town's restaurants, where it is the king of the menu. At this thirty-year-old festival, this delicacy is served raw (with a drizzle of lemon), marinated or in an empanada (a typical Galician pie, usually with a savoury filling), accompanied with fine white Galician wines, especially from As Rías Baixas. Music and cultural activities, among others, round out the programming of this mass event.
The oyster of Arcade, belonging to the species Ostrea edilus, goes beyond borders. This area offers the ideal conditions for oyster farming, especially thanks to the confluence of freshwater coming from the River Verdugo and salt water coming from the ría (coastal inlet) of Vigo. This merging results in a succulent, soft-tasting mollusc that is also highly nutritional, as it is rich in mineral salts and vitamins. And to crown it all, conventional wisdom attributes to this product aphrodisiacal properties.
This celebration was born in 1987 at the initiative of the farmers of Arcade, who pioneered the commercialization and export of the oyster. April is the best month for tasting this mollusc, often referred to as "the truffle of the sea" or "a pearl among seafood", which is why it was chosen to celebrate its significance. Its marketing size, between 6 and 7 centimetres, is reached in less than 24 months, while in other European countries with a farming tradition it takes over four years.
A delicacy worthy of a king's palate
The production and consumption of oysters has a long tradition in the ría of Vigo. There is evidence that old settlers living in the fortified castros used to gather this bivalve, and its farming dates back to Roman times. The dynasties of Habsburg and Bourbon appreciated the qualities of this delicacy, which was marinated and transported to the royal court in small wooden barrels, and which, as early as the 19th century, was object of trade in Europe.
This exquisite seafood has a place for worship in Vigo's old town, Pescadería Street, popularly known as "oyster street", which has been one of the city's tourist attractions for decades. The ostreiras (women who sell oysters) handle the knife skilfully to open the mollusc and serve it raw for immediate tasting.
The oyster is an important element in traditional Galician cuisine and it is inextricably linked to Arcade, the capital town of this type of seafood, praised by the writer Álvaro Cunqueiro. He wrote: "It has a special taste, like a longing for the sea". And there is no better way to celebrate it than to come to this festival.