Andalusia, a melting pot of cultures and cuisines
The Romans taught the Andalusians how to cultivate wheat and vines and used the
fish from the seas to produce the best "garum" in the empire. The Arabs taught
the Andalusians how to grow fruit and vegetables. They used irrigation systems
and improved the cultivation of olive trees and the production of oil.
Furthermore, the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Visigoths left their
mark on the art, science, culture and gastronomy of Andalusia.
Two seas: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic
Its seas provide many types of fish whose
quality is not easy to find in other waters. A good example of this is the red
tuna, which when it swims from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea on
its yearly migrational route, is so delectable, so rich in aroma, just so
unbelievably good that it has obtained the highest international valuation with
regards fish quality.
Sole, sea bass, white sea bream, red snapper,
snapper, hake, red mullet, sardines, anchovies, plaice, whiting, king prawns (the
Sanlucar variety are exceptional) prawns (the white prawns from Huelva are
unbeatable), truncate donax, small shellfish, fiddler crabs, whelk, sea anemones
(almost unknown in the rest of the world), crayfish from Adra, etc., which can
be fried in olive oil and form part of an unbeatable "pescaito frito", can be
grilled, cooked in seasalt, baked or simply boiled. Typically imaginative dishes
include Rota-style dentex, tuna cooked with onions and melva fish stew.
An emergency Fish Soup
The vinegar in this warm soup is the link wtih gazpacho. It is
suprisingly good and easy to make, so is associated in Spain with
emergencies! The idea is to stretch fish for one or two people to make
soup for six.
The Andalusian market garden has an abundance
of varied products. Almeria especially stands out in this respect as it has
developed a system to cultivate vegetables during the winter months. Top-quality
vegetables abound, such as the tender baby broad beans from Jaen, extra-early
potatoes from Motril, asparagus from Huétor Taja, artichokes which are
especially delicious when cooked with clams, and aubergines, which Al Buran used
for the first "alboronía" (vegetable stew).
Fruit includes the sweet and tasty mountain
oranges from Cordoba, persimmons, medlars, pomegranates, figs, prickly pears,
strawberries from Alpujarra, cherimoyas, avocados, mangos, guavas, papayas and
many other subtropical fruit from the coast of Granada and Malaga.
Ham & sausages
If we had to choose between all the cured and
salted meats and sausages which abound in Spain, the general opinion would be
"jamón ibérico de bellota" (Iberian cured ham deriving from pigs which have been
fed exclusively on acorns). All the cured ham produced in the mountain ranges of
Huelva and Cordoba is exceptional. It is difficult to find a product with such a
rich aroma, with such a full taste, with such a soft texture, so nutritive and
at the same time so healthy due to its composition of monounsaturated fatty
Gazpacho, of course!
Gazpacho, or better said, the many gazpachos -
"ajoblanco" (garlic and almond), "salmorejo" (much thicker and made with
tomatoes only), "porra antequerana" (with eggs and tomatoes), "pipirrana" (with
green peppers, cucumber, tomatoes and onion), - provide so many nutrients that
they are considered dietary dishes, the perfect dish for sportsmen or anyone
else who wants to ward off the heat with the water, vitamins and minerals
contained in these relaxing and simple preparations.
What about stews?
Stews were neglected for a long time by
Andalusian restaurants, although they were always enjoyed by the locals at home.
Today they have become fashionable and are so popular that they are becoming an
important part of the Mediterranean Cuisine.
Casseroles made with cabbage,
fennel, or spinach and cod, and stews such as gypsy stew are again appearing on
the most select menus. Oxtail, giblets, lamb stew, chicken
or turkey in sauce with egg and almonds, Seville-style duck,
kidneys cooked in
sherry, form part of the meat dishes on offer in Andalusia and taste divine when
seasoned with aromatic herbs.
The importance of "tapas"
The Andalusian "tapas" deserve special
mention. Some bars offer interminable lists with over a hundred specialities. It
is common for bars to prepare two menus - one long version and one with the
seasonal products available - and serve each tapa with its best accompanying
The only foreseeable problem is that the
traveller can at first feel rather overwhelmed by the offer, but after a little
reflection he will be able to choose between the various delicacies on offer,
keeping in mind that the cured ham, fried fish, mini-stews, prawns, king prawns,
shrimp omelettes, sea anemones etc. will not be found anywhere else in the world.
There are various modern and normally very
imaginative dishes which are a must, including the "secreto ibérico " which
really shouldn't be missed.
Desserts & confectionery
The usage of almonds and honey in Andalusian
confectionery is reminiscent of the Moor occupation. Convents have conserved
these traditions and offer "yemas de San Leandro" (an egg yolk cake), "buñuelos
de San Benito" (fritters), "piononos de Santa Fe" (rolled sponge cake), pumpkin
sweet cakes, "hojaldres de cabello de ángel" (pastries filled with pumpkin puree),
crystallised grapefruit, fruit in syrup, "verdugados", "maimones" (sponge cakes),
"pestiños" (honey coated pastries), etc. "Turrón de Cadiz" (nougat), marzipan
sticks, quince jelly, "alfajors" (almond and nut pastry), lardy cakes,
shortbread, doughnuts in wine, etc. are mainly industrially produced and well
The sherries from Jerez, such as "fino",
"manzanilla", "oloroso", "palo cortado", "amontillado" and sweet versions,
especially "Pedro Ximénez", are true treasures and extremely pleasurable. Malaga,
Condado de Huelva and Montilla-Moriles have Denomination of Origin and produce
classic high quality wines and sherries. Lately a few table wines have been
introduced into their range and which are becoming more and more popular.
Andalusia, diversity in action
The produce of Andalusia is very varied due to
the great diversity of its landscapes and climates. "Mountain ranges,
countryside and coast" is the traditional description of this region, but
forgets to add that each of these landscapes vary enormously within themselves.
Andalusia may have very dry mountain ranges but
it also contains the mountain ranges with the highest rainfall in Spain. The
countryside is a mixture of wide-open plains where crops are cultivated, soft
slopes where olive trees are cultivated and rich meadows where vegetables are
The Atlantic and Mediterranean coast differ
from each other enormously, especially with regards their fish. If the future of
cooking relies on the availability of good and varied raw materials, Andalusia
has a very good chance of becoming a culinary model.
And if we add its culinary tradition,
imagination and modern techniques to all this, the future of Andalusian cooking,
already greatly admired, has no limits.
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