How to eat through southern Spain like it's your last week on earth
A fusion of Arabic cuisines and the Mediterranean diet, Andalucian food is about the simple pleasures. It is Moorish food, within Moorish surroundings, and it’s easy to let your stomach run wild – the food is vibrant and prices are reasonable.
There are open-air flamenco performances that get the heart racing, Costa del Sol's beaches to unwind at, and monuments like Granada's Alhambra to take the breath away. Majestic, intriguing and inspiring, southern Spain is a dreamland for travellers.
Start on the street
First encounters with food will most likely be on the street. Stalls packed with produce are speckled throughout the region, selling the likes of roasted chestnuts, almonds and fruit. In the summer, the Andalucian countryside is painted yellow, livened with cheerful fields of sunflowers. As such, you’ll find a lot of locals munching on roasted sunflower seeds.
If you seek something a little more substantial but easy to eat on the go, get your hands on a bocadillo. These crunchy white baguettes are usually hiding a harmonious trio of tomato spread, manchego cheese and jamon (Spanish ham).
We’re going to give jamon its own paragraph. It surely deserves it, just the way the Spaniards believe jamon deserves to sing solo – often eaten on its own. The slivers of thin, translucent, melt-in-the-mouth ham; salty, fatty and full of flavour are available in delis and markets, conveniently served in paper cones and ready to waltz down the streets with you. Cones of manchego cheese and chorizo are also available.
What's for breakfast
Spain is one of those glorious places where it’s perfectly acceptable to eat something that would seem like dessert for breakfast. Churros fall into that beautiful category – rings or sticks of fried dough, accompanied by hot chocolate sauce.
If you’re looking to get your protein in, Seville is home to huevos a la flamenco – a claypot of baked eggs and vegetables, united by a tomato sauce rich with paprika and chili. Otherwise you can take the utterly simple route many Andalucians do – enjoy a fresh mollete (Andalucian flatbread) with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil or some tomato spread.
The wide world of tapas
Tapas dishes come in an endless forms, but the plate sizes remain the same – perfectly petite. Small plates comprise of Spanish olives, cheese, chorizo or jamon croquettes. Perhaps a serve of patatas bravas follows; the potato in one of its greatest expressions. Potatoes are cut into small pieces, fried, drizzled with a tomato and paprika sauce, and some mayonnaise.
Pickled octopus salad, fried eggplant topped with honey (and if you’re lucky, goat’s cheese), and meatballs in a sauce of almond and saffron are a few larger dishes worth seeking out.
You cannot dare leave without digging your fork into some tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette). It’s not a traditional thin omelette, but quite tall and sturdy. Eggs, potato and onion are combined, then fried on the stovetop. It’s the perfect energy snack, and doubles up as a great hangover cure.
Andalucia’s Costa del Sol (coast of the sun) is peppered with many fishing villages, making it one of the best spots in the country to enjoy seafood. If you’re in Malaga, start by ordering fritura Malagueña. A melange of fried seafood such as cod, mullet, anchovies, squid and prawns often graces the plate, simply finished with a sprinkling of salt and lemon wedges. Find them at chiringuitos (beachfront seafood restaurants).
Another staple down south is gambas al ajillo – prawns cooked in garlic. If cooked in and served tapas pan, the cheeky prawns stick to the bottom of it, resulting in a layer of garlic, lemon, and brandy (or sometimes sherry) cooked together. Sweet and satisfying, this one is a must try.
Coquinas (clams) are also cooked with garlic, tossed with a little parsley and white wine and one of the region's most exquisite dishes you can slurp up.
Pork is the word in down south, and the Spanish are famed for not letting parts of animals go to waste. That includes manitas de cerdo (pig's trotters), flavoured with saffron and bay leaf.
If that’s too much, go for some flamenquín – a fried pork roulade that originates from the city of Cordoba. Consider it pork 'Inception' – pork loin is covered with jamon, and then the two are rolled up together, covered in egg and breadcrumbs before being deep fried. In some versions, cheese is added in the middle, too. Consider sharing this one; an entire serving is heavy for one person, but it’s definitely worth your taste buds’ company.
A common Andalucian dish, salmorejo is a creamy tomato soup that also hails from Cordoba – a cold concoction of soaked bread, olive oil and tomatoes, all blended together, crowned with choppings of jamon and egg.
Sausages are yet another strong point of Spain, a bloody good one is called morcilla. The thick sausage combines pig's blood and fat, onion, paprika and clove, usually cut into rounds and grilled or fried. The morcilla is heralded for its health benefits, packed with protein, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Some restaurants to try in Andalucia:
Bar Casa Julio, Granada - This petite tapas bar is known for its fried dishes – monkfish and eggplant are a few specialties. Get ready to eat Spanish style here, standing up.
El Mercader, Granada - A perfect spot for two. Food here is modern, creative and exquisitely plated.
Los Gatos, Malaga - Here, charismatic waiters give the restaurant its vigour. Start with a serve of paella and move onto some larger dishes. If you’re well-behaved, you may get a complimentary drink at the end of your meal.
Casa Lola, Malaga - Decorated to the nines with walls full of old Spanish advertisements, this fashionable eatery has the food to match – vibrant, varied and fresh.
T de Triana, Seville - Perhaps the most famed bar and restaurant in Seville’s old gypsy quarter, right on the riverfront and where live music comes out to play several nights of the week.
Mercato Triana, Seville - A bustling market bursting with fresh fruit, deli goods, pastries and spices in the south of Seville.
La Molona, Seville - Classic pinxtos and tapas are the favourites at this unassuming yet great diner.
Codigo de Barra, Cadiz - The tasting menu here may be the way to go – innovative Andalucian food at its best.
La Punta Del Sur, Cadiz - Fish, meat, pasta and fried treats, it's all good, but the pork cheeks here are king.
Azabache, Huelva - Michelin-starred restaurant Azabache champions simple flavours through impressive techniques, all in a traditional dining room.
Panoramico, Ronda - A restaurant overlooking Ronda's bullring, this dining concept brings traditional Andalucian flavours into the modern day.
El Rincon de la Manzanilla, Ronda - No frills in sight, this local diner serves wine straight from the barrel, alongside unpretentious tapas dishes.
La Carcel, Arcos de la Fronterra - A restaurant that sprawls out onto the narrow streets of Arcos de la Fronterra’s town centre. Renowned for serving up refined and contemporary Andalucian dishes.
Meson La Placita, Arcos de la Fronterra - Where groups of locals gather outside in the summertime, this restaurant makes this sleepy part of town alive.
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