Spain is a smorgasbord of different tastes, textures and inspirations. While the north is saturated with French influence, Andalucía, located on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has an altogether different flavour. Andalucía itself is a province of distinct dishes and while many overlap and infuse with one another, each region offers a unique take. Málaga, nestled between the sea and the mountains, was once a long forgotten contributor in culinary exploits, but is now in the mists of gastronomical renaissance.
Málaga’s cuisine is a tangible recollection of the region’s history. Each racción tells a story, from the flavours of half a millennium spent with Moorish rule, to the often undervalued and creative roots of the pragmatic Malagueño living under Franco’s fist. Reaping the benefits of being situated where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet, the quality of seafood on offer is second to none (and leaves me lamenting it when I’m stood holding a packet of frozen prawns in Sainsburys).
Legs of Jamón hang above bars as old men with sun stained faces sip on a cana and slip into age old conversation. It is a romantic image, a taste of Spain in days gone by and of typical Al-Andalus living. It is humble, it is rustic and above all, it is intrinsically nostalgic. Málaga lives by the contagious mantra of ‘manana’ and after your second or third round of tapas or glass of wine, you start to see why. After all, it is Spain’s slightly chaotic ambiance that gives it its heart.
After ten years on the coast, this was a difficult list to decide on. Vegetarians look away now, because without further ado, here are my eight favourite Malagueño dishes:
Perhaps Spain’s most quintessential and enduring creation – after the Flamenco dress and matador that is. Tapas may have been exported across the globe, but in here in Málaga it has maintained its traditional essence and remains more than simply being a meal or appetiser – it is an experience. Its lack of structure is what gives tapas its character; it is spontaneous and sporadic with dishes arriving from each direction and conversations that can last till long after the final plate is empty. My favourite dishes have to be croquettas (Jamón ibérico, seafood or otherwise), pulpo (octopus), patatas bravas and Pimiento del Piquillo (peppers).
- Gambas al Pil Pil:
This is the dish that leaves me longing for the coast when I’m in England. Available as a starter, main or tapas, this dish is definitely the one I miss most when I’m away from Spain. Simple but delicious, gambas al pil pil is garlic and chilli prawns served in sizzling oil. Best enjoyed with a mountain of bread.
- Queso Manchago (Goat cheese):
A vintage classic and more than just a farmer’s favourite, this will be the new obsession of cheese lovers world over and is incomplete without a racción of jamón serrano to accompany it.
- Gazpacho Soup:
This chilled soup may be famous, but Málaga does it best. You can find it in any tapas bar and better yet – it’s easy to make and so you can impress your friends back home! My sister makes an amazing mangopacho soup, though there’s a chance if I shared the recipe she may kill me.
5. Pescaito Frito (Fried fish):
Sample the best of the Med with this variety of fried white fish. This Andalucían favourite is fried in a salt-seasoned batter and served with a slice of fresh lemon
6. Jamón Serano:
As one of Spain’s most famous delicacies, jamón has been tried, tested and perfected over the centuries. I was a little reluctant (and repulsed) when I first saw the legs hanging in supermarket aisles, but once you get past your ethics… well, it’s just pretty darn tasty.
7. Boquerones (Anchovies):
It is not a trip to Málaga without trying their famous anchovies. Served as tapas or as an appetiser, they are usually marinated in vinegar and olive oil and seasoned with garlic.
8. Espetos de Sardines (Sardines):
This is Málaga’s speciality. The sardines are cooked and prepared in the traditional way. They are skewered and then roasted over an open flame, ideally in an old fishing boat-turned-barbecue on the beach.
(A version of this blog was originally published here.)