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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


The Magic of Málaga, Picasso’s Hometown: The Unique Traditional Andalusian Ambience and Cuisine of a Trending Modern City (Part Three of Four)

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The Magic of Málaga, Picasso’s Hometown
(Part Three of Four)

Text & Photos By Gerry Dawes©2017

At the entrance to the market a young man was selling from a cart big bunches of esparragos trigueros, thin wild green asparagus that is often served a la plancha grilled, drizzled with Spanish Extra Virgen Olive Oil (EVOO) and a sprinkling of sea salt.

On my second day in Málaga, I would be free to explore on my own until the arrival of the press contingent—I was the only American--so I set out in the morning to tour the old city.  My memories of the Mercado de Atarazanas and the authentic old wine bodega-tavern la Antigua Casa de Guardia from my cruise ship excursion a decade earlier put return visits to both high on my list. 

Mercado de Atarazanas, Málaga.
The Atarazanas market is a big, striking, always busy place whose southern entrance is a massive 14th-century marble Moorish Nasrid dynasty horseshoe-arch that is juxtaposed against an attractive 19th-century wrought-iron framed building that occupies two city blocks.  Before the city filled in areas along the harbor that created space for barrios like nascent wannabe-hip SoHo, the Moorish archway led directly to the port.  Centuries ago, this building once housed the atarazanas (Arabic) or astilleros (Spanish), the ship yards for building and refurbishing boats.  

At the entrance to the market a young man was selling from a cart big bunches of esparragos trigueros, thin wild green asparagus that is often served a la plancha grilled, drizzled with Spanish Extra Virgen Olive Oil (EVOO) and a sprinkling of sea salt or cut into pieces, sautéed and put with shrimp into tortillas de esparragos trigueros y gambas (Spanish asparagus and shrimp omelette).   Inside the market was a cornucopia of Spanish food products, many unique to the region of Andalucía and to the province of Málaga.   
Anchovy stand.  At the Carilla fish stand the owner keeps moving around his remaining boquerones, silvery fresh anchovies, as they are sold, into Picasso-esque, irregular three-fish triangles.

At the Carilla fish stand the owner keeps moving around his remaining boquerones, silvery fresh anchovies, as they are sold, into Picasso-esque, irregular three-fish triangles, the same way it was done at this stand when I photographed it ten years ago.  Also typical here are búsanos, a type of predatory rock sea snail (Muricidae family) from the Bay of Málaga, that was actually highly prized in ancient Phoenicia and in Rome, because expensively extracted secretions from these snails yielded the famous “royal” purple dye for clothing.  Búsanos are still eaten in the bars, restaurants and homes of Málaga as they have been for 3000 years.   

Cheese stands feature quesos de cabra (goat cheeses) soaked in Málaga Moscatel wine and excellent goat and sheep’s milk cheeses from the up-and-coming cheese producers in the Sierras de Málaga.  And from all those milk-producing goats up in the hills comes chivo de Málaga, kid goat sold in the market’s butcher shops, as well as freshly made and cured chorizos, morcilla (blood sausage) de Ardales and other cured sausages hanging alongside jamón Ibérico de bellota (hams from acorn-fed pigs) from Jabugo (from the mountains of Huelva in Western Andalucía) and fresh Ibérico pork cuts called secreto, pluma, presa and lagarto

 Spice stands have bags full of bright carmine pimentón (exquisite sweet, smoked or picante paprika).

Pasas de Málaga (Moscatel grape raisins), dried orejones (apricots), dátiles (dates), toasted local almendras (almonds), sticks of canela (cinnamon), avellanas (hazelnuts), nueces (walnuts) and castañas (chestnuts) are all available in the frutos secos (dried fruits and nuts) stands. Spice stands have bags full of bright carmine pimentón (exquisite sweet, smoked or picante paprika, the best of it from La Vera in Extremadura and from Murcia); scoops of dried orégano; comino (cumin); fresh and dried tomillo (thyme) and romero (rosemary) pulled from the sierras; azafrán (saffron, much of it now from Iran) and strings and bulbs of garlic, all flavors found in the cooking of much of Spain.  Angulas del monte (mountain eels), not the famous baby eels, are a type of chanterelle-yellow trumpet mushroom available in season.  

Amazing Aceitunas Bravo offers a dazzling array of aceitunas (olives): gordales (fat green olives, both brined and cured with anchovies), green and ripe Manzanilla olives, others called kimbos, chupo dedos (finger-licking), rellenas de almendras, ajos or pimientos (stuffed with almonds, garlic or pimientos), new harvest green olives from nearby Álora and picante Moroccan olives.  Atarazanas market bars offer típico tapas such as migas, a very typical Andalucian paisano dish, of bread crumbs sautéed with chorizo, here served with a fried egg and a fried green pepper, sometimes served with grapes.  

Migas (bread crumbs sauteed with chorizo and topped with a fried egg and fried green peppers at a market bar, Mercado de Atarazanas, Málaga.

But it was the vieiras (sea scallops) cooked in their shells a la plancha, on the flat grill, at Casa Guirado Marisquería-Freidura (shell fish-and-fried fish specialist) that caught my attention.


I can easily spend several hours in markets like Atarazanas, but I moved on to explore more of the city.   La Plaza de la Constitución, with its fountain in the center, shops, sidewalk cafes and a maze of old quarter streets emanating from it, is one of the main pedestrian crossroads of the city.  The meandering streets are the quintessence of Andalucía.  Around every turn is a new discovery, a unique shop, a centuries-old church, a museum and a multitude of typical Málaga tapas-bar/restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating with awnings and umbrellas to shield patrons from the southern sun.  

Hand-painted, tiled plaques and artistically done signs announce such uniquely Málagan places as El Piyayo (photo), La Bodeguita de Malaga, El Pimpi, El Chinitas, Casa Lola and El Patio. 

I made a passing acquaintance with Antonio, a sun-baked middle-aged man selling toasted (and candied) almendras from a cart on a street just off the plaza.  I bought a bag, stashed it for later, then moved on to encounter a busy tapas bar, Pepa y Pepe, where I sat at an upended barrel and ordered a draft beer and a favorite dish, puntillitas fritas (deep-fried whole baby squid).

Antonio, a middle-aged man selling toasted (and candied) almendras from a cart on a street just off the plaza de la Constitución.

On my old quarter peregrinations, I encountered specialty food shops, including la Mallorquina, well stocked with hanging jamones Ibéricos and embutidos (cured meats), cheeses and northern Spain’s stellar canned seafood products and with a first-rate bake shop next door.  Near Atarazanas is maestro panadero (baker) Antonio García’s El Colmenero de Alhaurín el Grande, the Málaga outpost of his famous bakery-cum-bakery museum in the town of Alhaurín el Grande northwest of the city.  And along the way there were stores selling from open baskets of especies morunas (Moorish spices) for pinchitos morunos (typical lamb skewers), especias caracoles (spices for flavoring snails) and pimentón (paprika) by weight.  

 Especies morunas (Moorish spices) for pinchitos morunos (typical Moorish-style lamb skewers) at Herbolario Escencias de Málaga.

Running cuentas (tabs) are kept old-style, scribbled in chalk on a series of side-by-side rectangular wooden tables that make up the bar at La Antigua Casa de Guardia.  

La Antigua Casa de Guardia is a not-to-be-missed 19th century Málaga wine bodega (founded in 1840 by Don José Guardia!) lined with rows of ancient barrels.   Veteran barmen stand ready to draw copitas (cylindrical glasses holding 2-3 ounces) of stout sweet or semi-sweet Vino de Málaga directly from the barrels and serve them with a variety of tapas, including pinchos de boquerones (anchovies on a toothpick with a pickle and pearl onions), conchas-almejas (large clams on the half shell), steamed mejillones (mussels), superb shell-on langostinos (prawns), local queso de cabra (goat cheese), chorizo, olives, etc.   

 Foreign visitors taking food photos at Casa de Guardia.

On the wall above the barrels at La Antigua Casa de Guardia is a famous photo by Hungarian photographer Gyenes János (1912-1995)--known in Spain as Juan Gyenes--of Pablo Picasso in France with the late flamenco dancer Antonio El Bailarín gifting the artist a garrafa (jug) of Málaga Moscatel from Casa de Guardia.

 Pablo Picasso´s Las Palomas at the Museo Picasso, Málaga.

In the afternoon, I met my fellow journalists and we were taken on a guided tour of the superb Picasso Museum, many of whose works were donated by Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Picasso’s daughter-in-law and grandson.   If you are a fan of Picasso, this museum, in a lovely two-storied building with a blend of Renaissance and Mudéjar elements and a patio, would likely make the trip to Málaga well worthwhile, even if the city didn’t have its other attractions.  
Picasso Museum, in a lovely two-storied building with a blend of Renaissance and Mudéjar elements and a patio.

And beneath the museum, excavations have uncovered important Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains, including fragments of the 7th century Phoenician walls and remains of a Roman garum (the prized umami-rich fermented fish sauce) and mojama (air dried-and-salted fish) factory.

Before dinner, we strolled along the nearby pedestrian calle Alcazabilla, a street alongside the Roman theater, Alcazaba fortress and movie theater built in 1945, whose architecture is based on southern California-style Spanish buildings like those seen in Santa Barbara.   Along this street is the famous, terrace bar-restaurant-bodega, the legendary el Pimpi, where you can have a drink and a tapa and contemplate Roman, Moorish and Californian architecture all in one panorama.  

Alcazaba fortress.
There is also the glassed-in excavation of the vats of another garum factory and even a Garum Restaurante, which serves a modern version of this pungent, fermented fish sauce (see Mariani's Virtual Gourmet May 21).  Although Màlaga may function as a modern, hip city with plenty of wi-fi, hotel terrace bars and restaurants and other 21st Century trappings, in the center of this city, reminders of its antiquity are never far away. 

     At Restaurante Garum facing the ruins where garum used to be made, you
can have Lingote sobre un Mar de Garum, a tuna "ingot" on a sea of garum.

 Chef José Carlos García

Our evening meal was at Restaurante José Carlos García, an eponymous cocina de vanguardia (avant-garde cuisine) signature chef glass-fronted, open-kitchen restaurant, down in a tasteful new commercial section built on a concrete dock facing the harbor.  

A staff member made good cocktails that were served on the terrace before dinner, then we settled to a parade of a dozen sampling portion dishes showcasing García’s one-star Michelin food, which included Ferran Adrià-inspired “liquid olives,” salted seaweed-and-yogurt biscuits, a smooth clam “margarita,” the chef’s take on classic cold white gazpacho (with mango), Atlantic horse mackerel and “candied” roast suckling pig.  This restaurant is one of the best modern cuisine choices in Màlaga.  

Chef José Carlos García’s take on classic ajo blanco, cold white almond-and-garlic gazpacho (here with mango).

Read Parts One & Two below:

 Gastronomy Blogs
 About Gerry Dawes

 Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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