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Come for the sun, but also the (Michelin) stars

When you hear “Costa del Sol” you may think about sun, white sun beaches and golf courses surrounded by the Mediterranean wilderness. You don’t necessarily think about Michelin starred restaurants, but, after you read this article, that is going to change. Catalunya and the Vasc Country remain strongholds of the best cuisine in the Peninsula, but Andalucía, and the Costa del Sol in particular, are making a fast progress to the top, with a total of eight Michelin stars. Dani García, with 2 stars leads the host, with Messina, Skina and El Lago sporting one star each making Marbella the capital city of Andalucian cuisine. Kabuki, in Casares; Sollo, in Fuengirola and Jose Carlos García, in Málaga complete the company

Centuries old tradition

In the 1950’s when Costa del Sol became a worldwide famous tourist destination it was certainly not because of refined restaurants. The food, however, has always played an important role in the Mediterranean lifestyle. Who hasn’t heard about Spanish “tapas”? Tapas might be no haute cuisine but they can be highly enjoyable and indeed a landmark in Spanish food culture.

There are many different versions of the story about how tapas were invented. All are connected to its etymology, and “Tapa” means “lid” in Spanish. There’s one story about the King Fernando II of Aragón asking the Inn master a “lid” to protect his wine from the numerous flies. The monarch was given a slice of ham, practical solution which became a tasty tradition.

Andalucía’s food tradition has been influenced by all the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean, chiefly the Arabs and the Jewish, but also tracing back to salted food introduced by Romans and Phoenicians. The contrast of the landscape in Costa del Sol with steep mountains dramatically dropping to the sea is directly translated into the gastronomy, with fish and seafood as a key elements, but combined with a variety of meats, sausages and vegetables from the Vega de Malaga market gardens.

Excellent traditional dishes and quality ingredients

Vegetables are paramount to prepare the Ensalada Malagueña (Malaga Salad) made with potato, peppers, tomato, boiled eggs, oranges and “arencas” (A local variety of herring), sprayed with a generous amount of olive oil.

Given the hot weather all year round is not surprise that cold soups have such a prominent presence in the local diet. Gazpacho is has gained worldwide reputation, but you might have not heard about “ajoblanco” made with olive oil, white garlic and almonds.

The “Porra Antequerana” is another typical cold soup, inspired in the “Salmorejo” from Córdoba, is made with tomatoes, bread crumbs, olive oil, green peppers, salt and garlic. Its name comes from the club (“porra”) used to mash the ingredients. It’s usually served chilled and accompanied with boiled eggs and cured ham dices.

The richness and variety of fish and seafood provided by the Mediterranean is well represented in the Malaga gastronomy. Starting by the simple but exciting “espeto” (Fish skewer) and other varieties of fried, breaded fish. There is a great array of plates like the “Calamares rellenos a la malagueña” (Malaga style stuffed calamari), “mejillones en pipirrana” (Mussels with a vegetables salad), “fideos con bacalao” (Spagetti with cod) or the “pescada gratinada con aceitunas” (Grilled hake with olives).

Meat in Malaga comes mostly from the Serrania de Ronda, which produces game and sausages, among other products such as vegetables.

Sweet wine

The wine from Malaga has a protected designation of origin, and are reputed to be some of the best quality sweet wines in the world.

The first vines were introduced in the Peninsula around 600 BC by the Greeks and the Phoenicians, and production continued during the Roman Empire, The Muslim occupation and the Middle Age. The quality of the wine from Malaga was such that the Spanish ambassador gave some boxes as a present to the Empress Catherine the Great and she liked it so much that she exempted taxation to all wines from Malaga. Authors as Salgari, Dostoyevski or Stendhal have cited them in their novels.

The filoxera plague in 1878, added to decreased demand for sweet wines at the beginning of the XX century meant an economical disaster for the region. Recently the demand increased again and the wine from Malaga is finding its place in the global market.

Modern Cuisine

Fernando Rueda is the president of “Gastroarte” a non-for-profit organization that seeks to promote and divulge Andalucian cuisine. As an historian he has published over thirty books about the local food and its history. He says that Andalucian cuisine has been undersold for decades, because Andalucíans were not proud about it and didn’t want to promote it. Tourists were served just a few traditional recipes, but some of the best dishes never made it to the market, as they were considered old-fashioned and not glamorous enough.

During the last years the trend has changed, thanks to the democracy and the economic and cultural development. People are starting to change their mind and feeling pride for their traditions and identity, through traditional dishes and high quality local ingredients.

Chefs like Dani García build on tradition to conquer Michelin star prestige. Dishes like “Olla Gitana con tendones y moluscos de Málaga” (Gipsy stew with tendons and Malaga clams) or Molleja de ternera asada ciruelas y aroma de pestiños (Roast veal gizzard with plums and pestiños scent) speak of the past and the future at the same time.

Diego Gallegos, chef of Sollo, was raised in Andalucía but has Peruvian and Brazilian roots. He claims that Andalucía hasn’t had respect for its own creativity, until now. He spends time and money in travels and research to innovate. He partners with a local fish farm to experiment with sturgeon meat and caviar. Among his most radical innovations: extra virgin olive oil yogurt or water melon roasted in red fruit and vermouth.

Andalucia is making progress towards a new economic model in which high quality cuisine has a key role. Budget holidaymakers might have meant a huge source of income for the region, but high-end tourism allows an increase in productivity and does not depend on summer season so much.

So next time you think about Costa del Sol food don’t stop at just tapas and gazpacho, there’s a lot more to enjoy!

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