Palmira Acuña (Ons Island, 1947) is, since 26 February, the best pulpeira of Galicia. She runs the restaurant Casa Acuña, which was opened by her parents on Ons Island way back in 1945 and where her children now work. At the Fórum Gastronómico held in Santiago de Compostela, she went head to head with six other pulpeiros to see who could cook up the best polbo á feira (a traditional way of preparing octopus that Galicia is famous for). And she won.
She comes from a long line of islanders, loves Ons above all else and firmly believes that being there and living there is “a privilege”. She is positive that she won the title of the “Best Pulpeira in Galicia” at the Fórum Gastronómico, which was held in Santiago because the octopus she used came from the island where she was born 64 years ago.
Palmira Acuña, owner of Casa Acuña on Ons Island, took part in this competition after getting encouraged by the owner of Congelados Portela, which is based in Bueu, who always purchases octopus “from our estuary, which is simply the best” from the town’s market. He wanted her to prepare it for the judges who were tasked with deciding on who the winner of the pulpeira competition would be. She went there alone and faced down six other people—all experts in the preparation of this traditional dish—in a live cooking.
She asserts that the only thing she did was boil the cephalopod, dress it with oil and season it with paprika and “love”. There are no secrets to it, there is no such thing as the best water to cook octopus in, such as that of Lalín, which is believed to be the best to cook rapini in for stew. She believes that the only thing that is absolutely essential is starting with a high-quality product such as “octopus from our island” and have a good eye for detail: “Leave it to boil depending on its size”.
Palmira has more than enough experience in cooking octopus, as she has been doing it since she was 14 years old. She learned from her mother at the restaurant which her parents opened in 1945, and which her children—one of whom is shipping businesswoman María Jesús Acuña—continue. Famous personalities such as the minister Ana Pastor, Epifanio Campos, Lendoiro or even Judge Garzón, as well as the late Tito Cambón, the chairman of Finsa—who did so for 40 years—have dined at the restaurant. For Palmira, all customers are important, regardless of whether they’re rich or poor.
She remembers having a happy childhood on the island, when there were about 600 residents on Ons. She declares that they never felt isolated because two ferries came in every day and she would often go to Bueu on the Peninsula. She lived all year round on the island until 1975, when her family decided to spend the hard winters in Bueu.
She went to school on the island until she was 11 years old and then she went to at Colexio Compañía de María in Cangas. But she returned to Ons: “How I cried…” There was no television on the island until she was 12 years old and they got the news by listening to the radio: “But we never felt isolated at all. There was a greater sense of community then now”.