Exploring the Province of Malaga: Rich History and Stunning Flavors
First thing I can say about the Province of Malaga is that El Puente Ronda is superb, the Costa del Sol is unforgettable and food is exquisite. And all is steeped in history. Romans invaded Andalucia and then the Arabs of North Africa made the same. So there is a great mix of architecture, traditions and stunning flavors. From citrus to spices, it’s clever cooking at it’s best. In the village of Ronda, there are mountains and typical mountain gastronomic fare. While the seaside of Costa del Sol is blessed by its abundance of fresh fish. On this trip we tried to get out of the conventional and pulled a beer at a bar in town.
The Delightful Tradition of Tapas in Andalucia
You can’t go to Andalucia and not mention “tapas”. Tapa means “pot cover” in Spanish. The story tell, long ago, when men were drinking or playing cards in a bar, as there were no bottles, the wine was stored and put on the table in clay pots. To prevent flies, the pot was covered with a plate of small portions of cheese, small fish, olives or sausage. Thus was born the concept of tapas as a small portion of any kind in Spanish cuisine. And what I like most about tapas is that you can have one beer and try different things. There are plenty of combinations and an infinite mix of flavors.
Chorizo: The Iconic Sausage of the Malaga Region
We found these delicious flavors in the Bar Ambiguous. At the entrance of the village of Ronda. Carmen, its owner, explains: “the most important thing is that you have to make them attractive to the eyes. Because food comes first through the eyes”. So everything is in sight. Fish brochettes, fried fish, Spanish omelette, chorizo. All beautifully presented, in different ways, textures and colors. And it was here where I first ate a salad that I love. The warm salad of Tomato and Chorizo. Which includes chopped tomatoes, chopped shallots, basil, parsley, a pinch of salt, pepper, crunchy and mild sausage sautéed in olive oil and Vinagre de Jerez (sherry vinegar). You have to try it.
Chorizo is very typical and valued in this region. And all good butchers are proud of having quality sausage. There are many different varieties of chorizo. Although, base ingredients include chopped pork, garlic, and red peppers, an ingredient introduced by the Arabs. Usually the sausages are made from Iberian pigs. Which are raised free and feed on acorns, herbs, and wild fruits. In the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter these pigs happily wander the meadows eating acorns. It’s what makes the chorizo so delicious.
These pigs and their Jamon Iberico (Iberian ham), are the flagship products of the Spanish cuisine. This delicious product has four Denominaciones de Origen Protegidas (Protected Designations of origin). Two of which are in Andalucia, and four very demanding types of classifications. The most exquisite of all is the purebred Iberian Ham. From pigs raised free and slaughtered immediately after eating acorns during the fattening season from November to February. Let me tell you, in my opinion, this is the world’s most exquisite ham, hands down! So, Jabugo or Pata Negra, Iberico or bellota (acorn), bright fat, pink flesh and intense and exquisite taste are the keys. And if you don’t want to get ripped off, you should know that the price tag is expensive. And in conclusion, the label has to have three ‘names’: IBERICO, PURO, BELLOTA.
Indulging in Sweet Temptations: Convent Pastries of Ronda
In the village of Ronda, if you’re a sweet tooth, you can’t pass up the Iglesia de la Merced. This church is the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Ronda. This community, one of the three remaining cloisters in Ronda, is well known for their delicious pastries. If you are in Ronda, not buying sweets from the Sisters is inexcusable. Shortbread, coconut sultanas, pastas, cortadillos. And a delicious specialty cake that melts in your hands, Pan de Ronda. These are a few of their sinful delights.
As if sweets are not enough, adding to the charm of the cloistered convents is the way the delightful treats are purchased. Sisters are not allowed to have direct contact with the public. So we ring the bell to alert the Sisters. And the exchange is made via a revolving wooden door. Anyway you can hear The Sisters, not seen, nor touched them. And they are also known for the relic of the hand of St. Teresa of Avila. They brought it to Ronda in the early twentieth century from Portugal.
Gazpacho: A Refreshing Taste of Andalucia’s Cucina Povera
In the interior of the Province of Malaga there are many farms with diverse trees. Figs, cherries, peaches, apricots, and gardens with tomatoes, peppers, garlic and cucumbers. These are essential ingredients for Gazpacho. The Andaluces made and consumed Gazpacho daily. And they drunk in small glasses. The most important for processing is the quality of the tomatoes. Five juicy tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, olive oil, salt, a piece of stale bread, and a dash of vinegar and water. All well crushed, then cooled in the refrigerator and finally, served chilled.
Gazpacho arrived with the Romans and was part of the “Cucina Povera” (literally meaning poor kitchen). And was born to give a solution to stale bread. They mixed the bread with oil and water and then over time they added tomatoes and other vegetables. What a good thing that turned out! All countries I know have a solution for hard bread and this is my favorite. So refreshing, so healthy, so good.
From Mountains to Coast: Discovering the Culinary Treasures of Malaga
Our last day in the mountains, in the morning, we had an Andalusian breakfast. This consists in bread with tomato and olive oil, Jamon de Jabugo, quail eggs and morcilla (pork dry blood with pieces of meat, clove, cinnamon and paprika). All this enjoyed with a wonderful view over the Oak fields. Marvelous. With this, we were more than ready for our trip to the coast.
The Costa del Sol: Sun, Sea, and Traditional Coastal Cuisine
The Costa del Sol is the coastal region of the province of Malaga. In southern Spain. It is one of the major tourist areas of the country. Accounting for around 35% of tourism in Andalusia. It enjoys a super pleasant climate, with an average year-round temperature of 19 ° C. And with over 300 days of sunshine a year. It’s pure Mediterranean.
Espetos: The Perfect Beachside Delicacy in Malaga
On reaching the village of Estepona, we wanted to eat typical dishes from the coast. The famous Espetos (sardines roasted and skewered in a cane branch), and Pescado a la sal (traditional salt-baked fish). Both are typical of this area. These recipes are hundreds of years old and show how well the Spaniards cook. A fresh salad of cucumber, olives, vinagre de jerez and with Ali Oli, a garlic mayonnaise accompany the Pescado a la Sal. This creamy dressing consists of crushed garlic, mixed with oil. It has great taste and character. So it’s better to use it with moderation. And if not, you’ll remember it all day, and night too.
Delicious Espetos in a beach in Malaga
Virgen del Carmen Festival: A Spectacular Celebration in Malaga
At sunset, the village became a huge and beautiful chaos. Thanks to the feast of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of the local fishermen. About 8 pm the devotees began the celebration. Several devotees, very well dressed, put a figure of the Virgin on their shoulders and paraded through the streets of the village to reach the sea.
At that time they get into a boat and take her through floating boats and feverish devotees. This brings good luck to the people and fishermen throughout the year. Magnificent spectacle. Viva la Virgen! Long live the party, flamenco and Andalucia! Unmissable.