THE GASTRONOMIC JEWEL FROM MALAGA
Sardines are popular throughout the Mediterranean, with Portugal known for its highest consumption. During the Festival of Sardines in June, sardines are eaten everywhere with the most delicious found in Lisbon’s old town in the Alfama district when the capital pay homage to their saint San António.
The Portuguese cook the Sardinhas na brasa on the grill until they are almost falling apart and served with sliced bread, that might also include lettuce, onions and tomatoes. In Greek and Italian cuisine, sardines are prepared with a mix of garlic, onion, tomatoes, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano or basil. Sometimes the fish are cooked simple and easy without any additional ingredients.
In Spain the Sardinas a la brasa is the culinary protagonist at the passage from June 23 to 24 when the night of San Juan is celebrated. Thousands of barbecues are held throughout the country to celebrate the transition to summer with a simple piece of good bread and a beer. Málaga is probably the only region where they are prepared in a slightly different way.
ESPETOS IN MALAGA
The tradition of grilling fish over open fires has been around in Málaga since the time of the Phoenicians. In the late nineteenth century in the neighbourhood of El Palo in Málaga a new technique, the espetar was invented. To this day this type of cooking has been passed on from generation to generation to the so-called amoragators
A number of fish are put on a large skewer and left to cook standing in the sand beside the burning embers that are prepared on a fishing boat in the old traditional way. It was common for fishermen to grill themselves a quick meal just after returning from the sea, where they would build a small fire in their boats and carefully grill the fish.
The best sardines are medium sized and the meat is so moist and tender that you only have to grab it gently with your fingers and the flesh comes off the bones. The only seasoning is a little olive oil, sea salt and the flavour of the olive wood that is traditionally used for the fire. It is said that the best months to eat espeteros are the months that don’t have the letter “R” in their name, i.e. May, June, July and August.
THE FATHER OF “ESPETEROS”
At the end of the 19th century, the province of Málaga lived mainly from fishing. El Palo, a fishing town with very humble people, and today a district of Málaga, experienced its first economical boom with the expansion of the infrastructure that allowed the inhabitants to go to the beach to enjoy a few pleasant days.
Back then, sardines were a food for poor people because of their low price. Money was tight everywhere and fishing was not very profitable, so a man named Miguél Martínez Soler or ‘Migué el de las sardinas’, as he was known, decided to support his family with a tavern where he served a delicious clam broth.
Miguél did all the work, he fished, sold on the streets and did the cooking. Soon the tavern started to bear fruit and in 1882, Miguél opened his famous bar on the beach: “La gran paraceta” meaning “The Great Stop”.
It was the beginning of the chiringuitos on the Costa del Sol and it was he, who began to prick sardines on a piece of cane and grill it next to the fire in the sand. The bar soon attracted not only the attention of Málaga residents but also famous people and became a popular destination.
King Alfonso XII stands out among these personalities who visited “La gran paraceta” on January 21, 1885 during a stopover on his journey from Nerja to Málaga. When Miguél offered him one of his famous skewers, the king ‘attacked’ the plate with a knife and fork. At that moment, Miguél came forward and said: “Maestá, asin no, con los deos” “Majesty, no, not that way, with the fingers”.