Ahhh Southern Spain. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about it that hasn’t been said. It’s warm, loud, and fried. I lived in Málaga for a semester a few years ago, and I told my señora that I was a vegetarian (at first, then I succumbed) because I was afraid of Spanish meat. Afraid of things being served with the heads, feet, and tails still on. Afraid of ham legs hanging from ceilings of every restaurant and bar. Afraid of eating an entire fish (be it a tiny fish), bones and eyes and all. I’ve given in to the ham legs now and I do have to say I am a fan of jamón Serrano. It’s too bad I avoided Spanish food at all costs those few months in Málaga because they have some good stuff, and on my trip there this summer, I went to a wonderful restaurant I had never even noticed before.
We passed it walking down the street on the way to our hotel and Dan immediately stopped and took a look in at La Campana. After dropping our things off, we returned immediately. This place was more of a bar, standing room and a few bar stools around about 3 tables only, and it was all seafood and fish on the menu, except for the eggplant. The menu was just a list posted on the wall, something along the lines of: shrimp, whitefish, dogfish, etc. So we got some fish, some eggplant (good to have a veg in there) and these fritters called tortitas de camarones. I didn’t expect everything to come fried, including the eggplant. Silly me. But lucky me. They were eggplant French fries and they were delicious. Everything was good…even the tortitas which were made with popcorn shrimp—they were tiny, and, as Spain does, they were whole. They throw them into the fritter batter with legs, eyes, antennas and all. So it took me a few bites before I inspected closer and saw antennas sticking out, and little pairs of black eyes. I know, it sounds gross, but if you don’t look at it, they go down quiet nicely. The eggplant fries were so good, we went back the next day for a plate of them before going to my señora’s house for lunch.
For dinner that night, I took Dan to one of my old haunts, Lechuga in the Plaza Merced. Lechuga is not typical Málaga food, which is a nice break from the grease. We split a salad that was full of endive, cheese, yogurty-stuff, dates, and some sweet-red berry sauce. I remembered the salads from this place: they’re huge and have a nice range of ingredients on the already impressive salad menu. Most Spanish salads include mayonnaise and/or potatoes in some form, and when I think salad, I think greens, and so does Lechuga. Now if you go to Málaga, you might not want to go somewhere for a baked potato, but if you’re there for an extended time and missing them, you must go for patatas asadas at Las Papas stand by the Picasso museum. It comes with a variety of toppings, most of them atypical, but some ofthem good. I go for butter, cheese and corn.
Now the last touch in Málaga: the hot chocolate at Café del Viajero. This is actually not Spanish chocolate, which is thicker than American. This is the same consistency as regular ole American stuff, but they have all different infusions with the hot chocolate, like mint, orange, licorice, cinnamon, rum, and the list goes on. And it’s a whole pot of it, not just a cup-full. Love this place. I can never decide between cinnamon or mint or orange, so in two days in the middle of summer in southern Spain, I made two trips for hot chocolate.
In Sevilla, I was introduced to a couple new things. I had been before, but as part of school group trips, or with family, so choices were sometimes limited or already decided. The first thing: they serve short, stubby, crunchy breadsticks with everything. Dan and his brother affectionately refer to them as ‘dog biscuits.’ Second thing: there’s something similar to, but better than gazpacho and it’s called salmorejo. I don’t love gazpacho, I guess I’m getting used to it, but isn’t it just pureed tomatoes served cold? Well, salmorejo is cold too, but I guess this kinda stuff is necessary in Sevilla summers (none of the buildings there are taller than two or three stories, and with the sun burning down all day, it’s a great sight to see people walking down the streets in single file, hugging the sides of the building for any sort of shade). But salmorejo is thicker than gazpacho, made also with bread, so I find it more of a soup than just pulverized tomatoes, and it always comes served with jamón, because don’t forget, we’re in Spain. I also had my first ajo blanco (garlic and almond soup, also served cold), with a few grapes dropped on and it was quite tasty. This was at a place called Bar Europa which was more than your average bar, and frankly it reminded me of a place you could find in San Sebastian. It was still tapas style because the portions were small, but it wasn’t a plate of a mayonnaise-drenched salad or deep-fried something. It was like fancy tapas. We started talking to the bartender and apparently the owner was from Barcelona, and they were really friendly there. That’s another thing that’s different between north and south: I’m still waiting to strike up a conversation with a friendly bartender, waiter, shopkeeper here. I’d say at Bar Europa it was some of the best eating in Sevilla for a reasonable price. After the soups, we got more. A little snack turned into a big snack, and we had some meat and some fish. Everything was presented with fitting complements, like the grapes, or walnuts and sauce, and rather fashionably served(admittedly, I don’t think ‘fashion’ when I think of Sevilla, and I was later proved correct after seeing some of the clothing choices of the locals). We had in addition to salmorejo and ajo blanco: Quesadilla “los Balanchares” gratinada sobre manzana Granny Smith (Grilled Balanchares cheese served over Granny Smith Apple slices), Lomo de novillo Argentino con patel de patata y hongos (Argentinian beef with a potato and mushroom pastry), Cabeza de lomo mechada (fatty pork loin), and Lomo de Lubina sobre pure de batata (grilled sea bass served on sweet potato puree).
Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera out to all the meals in Sevilla, which is a shame because we went to one place that was quasi-Mexican (I’ll let them say that, but unless you’re in Texas or Mexico, you don’t get very close to good, true, Mexican food). We had something there that was a Roquefort cake, and it was like a layered cake with Roquefort and some sort of sauce and was strangely sweet and savory at the same time. I do have a picture of one place we just stopped in quickly because they had these “tablas de queso” or plates of melted cheese on bread and you could get different toppings, so I had to go for the pesto. Cheese, pesto and bread, no question. I wouldn’t have expected this from Sevilla in a regular bar, but Andalucía was surprising in that manner. I could get my good ole deep fried everything, along with some cold soups and a cold drink (tinto de verano, or red wine with Fanta limon was my choice), alongside more refined and upscale food, or something that was just a bit out of the ordinary.