“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” – Luciano Pavarotti
Southern Spain is one of the best places to slow down, take a deep breathe, relax, and savor the flavors of Spanish cuisine. The natural beauty, the music, and, above all, the delicious food served during long meals, all but force you to appreciate your surroundings and your company. Tapas, in my opinion, are the Spanish version of what I termed at the beginning of this year as stopping to smell the cannoli. Leading up to the trip, I don’t know whether I was more excited to see the Alhambra, which I’ve been longing to visit since studying it’s architecture in my junior year of college, or to sit down for long meals of tapas with Ibérico ham and Manchego cheese washed down with a few glasses of cava. Now that the trip is over, I still can’t decide which was more enjoyable. Visiting the Alhambra and seeing a flamenco show were unforgettable experiences, but sitting down to long, slow meals in the Spanish style with S and his lovely parents, P and R, was a true gift. Increasingly tight pants were an unfortunate side effect, but overall a small price to pay. Here are some of my favorite meals from Southern Spain:
We started out our trip with one of the most gorgeous hikes I’ve ever done. From the tiny, white-washed town of Grazalema, we hiked for several hours up into the Sierra Nevada. The view from the ridge line was nearly out-shined by our picnic lunch of soft baguettes, pungent cheese, hand-cut Iberico ham, and a splash or two of Rioja. If you were super corny, you could say our picnic had a view of the heavens and even heavenlier ham….
Forget I said that. Once we got to Ronda, and then Nerja, and then Granada, we proceeded to devour plate after plate of ham and quickly learned that Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is better than candy.
In a small restaurant in the hill town of Ronda, S and I found the best breakfast in the world. The owner shaved copious amounts of ham for our fluffy, toasted (fluffy and toasted!) sandwiches. Add some pureed tomato and you have the only thing I ever want to eat for breakfast from here on out. That’s a lie. I just remembered the cheese-filled, honey-topped pancake that I ate in Crete and I’m definitely going to need to eat that again.
When I lived in Southern France for a summer, I fell head over heels in love with gazpacho. I think I ate it three times a week. It was light and refreshing and full of chunky vegetables. The gazpacho in Southern Spain was very different, but just as good. It was pureed smooth, with olive oil, chunks of toasted bread, and, of course, pieces of ham. We had to try as much as possible to determine which town had the best. The jury’s still out, but let’s just say there were no losers.
Nothing induces a coma-like mid-afernoon siesta like paella on the beach. After learning the shocking and terrible news that paella is served almost exclusively as a lunch dish, immediately decreasing our opportunities to eat it by two-thirds, I researched heavily the best places to find it. Chiringuito Morendero Moreno on Burriana Beach in Nerja did not disappoint. We watched the chef make our massive pan of paella over an open fire and when we took our first bites, we were all floored by the intoxicating flavors of saffron and seafood. Ten minutes later, our full tummies demanded naps.
Fried sardines are a regional specialty. I was really not interested, but with plates of them filling the surrounding tables of locals in Granada, I had to find out their appeal. Now I know. They’re delicious…as are most things salty and fried…. Lesson learned.
I think this was P’s favorite tapa: a mussel shell filled with chunky gazpacho and topped by the mussel itself. This was part of the lunch that just kept coming. While tapas are “small” plates, when you order twenty of them, there’s nothing small about it. No complaints here!
We couldn’t go to Spain without having some chorizo. And why not light it on fire?
In Granada, we swung through the great indoor market and could not help but admire the stalls filled with fresh seafood. The little local cockles are not only cute, but when sautéed in garlic and olive oil, they’re incredibly delicious. So much so that we ate them in Nerja and Granada and would love to keep trying them all over Spain.
While in Granada’s market, we spotted an olive stall and quickly filled a container of kabobs built of olives, cheese, and seafood. They didn’t last long.
After spending a week in Spain, I’ve determined that all meals should begin with a glass of cava!
By the end of the week (by the end of our week-long continuous meal), my “loose” jeans were no longer so loose, but the pleasure of sitting down to countless long meals with S, P, and R, and enjoying delicious food and even better conversation was truly worth it. Now it’s time to either hit the gym or buy new jeans! No regrets!