Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Stuck on Limpets

Por: | 22 de septiembre de 2011


Spain’s enviable location bordering on three seas (Mediterranean, Atlantic and Cantabrian) has provided it with a rich gastronomic tradition of marine life that ranges from fish to mollusks, crustaceans and even tasty marine flora. The fish market at Mercamadrid, the massive wholesale market on the outskirts of the city, is said to be second to only Tsukiji in Tokyo, and to have the freshest fish in Spain. Indeed, if you were to sneak in at 4:30am, as I did a couple of years ago (it’s only for professionals), you’d be astounded, not only by the sheer size of this insanely large and seemingly chaotic operation, but also by the incredible variety of colorful sea creatures on display before you, many of which I had scarcely seen before or since.

While I’ve always thought of the United States as a country that loves its seafood, even reveling in less-common local delicacies like soft-shell crab and crayfish, it’s always interesting to see how one country’s inedibles can be another’s delectables. Years ago, when I was living in New York, a German friend told me that she would go down to the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan and ask for the scallop coral (the reddish orange roe attached to the white muscle), which was considered a delicacy in Germany but thrown away in the States. Along those lines, I read somewhere that Japanese immigrants used to go to the docks in North Carolina in the 1970’s and scoop up bucketfuls of the (now-priceless) chunks of o-toro and kama bluefin tuna meat that were once just tossed in the trash by fishermen who had no use for it.

In Spain, the most dramatic of example of this has always been percebes. With an outward appearance reminiscent of Yoda’s blackened toenails, these goose barnacles tend to give Americans quite an initial shock. Even my father, a marine biologist who spent his formative years with a net in one hand, wading around the Gulf of Mexico scooping up dinner, was surprised to see Spanish people sucking down these prized (and pricey) goose barnacles by the wallet-full. I believe his exact reaction was, “and to think, I could have been eating these right off the dock for years!”

However, the latest and greatest on my list of newly discovered edible sea creatures is the lapa, or limpet, an aquatic gastropod mollusk, or more informally, marine snail, that clings to rocks. Protected on one side by a slightly flattened conical shell that ranges in color from white to darkish grey-black, there are four kinds of limpets living in the Canary Islands. Despite the fact that one is on the endangered list, the other three varieties are plentiful enough to land these delicacies on the menus of bars and restaurants throughout the Canaries. These flat oval creatures are similar in appearance and size to mussels, and their flesh is anywhere from pale orange to almost black in color. Their texture is also surprisingly different – harder and less yielding than mussels or clams, but not nearly as spongy or wriggly as your typical snail.

Limpets are almost universally served on the half-shell (they really only have half a shell) and grilled on a flat black pan on which they are brought directly to the table – hot and sizzling. They are eaten as either a ración or appetizer, and prepared with another Canarian staple, mojo verde, which is usually made with garlic, olive oil, vinegar and fresh parsley or cilantro. The best limpets are the ones that have been grilled over an open wood fire (a la brasa), although I suppose that’s true for just about anything. And while the expression “clinging to someone like a limpet” is not nearly as common in English as the Spanish version, “pegarse como una lapa”, I can now understand what it is about these delicious mollusks that might make someone want to turn around and cling right back.

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"The fish market at Mercamadrid, the massive wholesale market on the outskirts of the city, is said to be second to only Tsukiji in Tokyo, and to have the freshest fish in Spain. Indeed, if were to sneak in at 4:30am"

They said the same about Sydney's fish market, only second to Tokyo's.

Dicen lo mismo del de Sydney.

The best Lapas you can taste are in Madeira Island (Portugal).

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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