Andulucia: Torre Del Mar food Market & Espetos on the beach
Updated: Mar 3
I am enjoying Spain's Costa del Sol in February, the afternoons are a warm 20 degrees. I began my culinary journey on the port side of Malaga on Tuesday afternoon and stayed in Playa del Palo with its long rolling promenade. Low rise houses look over a blue Mediterranean ocean and miles of sandy beaches. I spot long boats with oars being rowed, whilst sitting at a tapas bar with its own BBQ pit. It is fuelled with olive wood on top of a sand base.
I prepare myself for one of the local specialties, Los Espetos. These are skewered sardines that are cleaned, left in ice water until use, then sprinkled with salt and pepper. The skewers are prodded into the sandpit long ways and the sardines are cooked in a circle around the heat of the olive wood. Delicious. Six are an adequate meal to share with a tapa of deep-fried papas bravas and a salad. With a glass of wine each, we have spent €11. I learn before I leave that the term espeto, refers to the cooking method. There is an espeto menu and any seafood that can be speared and cooked are all espetos.
Today, Thursday, it is close to 9 am on a cool morning of 12 degrees. I am wrapped in a thick warm hoody over another layer and wearing warm leggings. I am wandering the streets of #TorredelMar looking for the street market. I love exploring local food traditions. I am crossing my fingers that it is too early in the season for the town to be overtaken by tourism. Many of the streets have been closed to traffic and there is limited car parking. I eventually find the pitches close to Calle Infante between Calle Princesa and Avda. Duque de Ahumada.
I find a general market offering anything from clothing and shoes to bedding, carpets, toys and a multitude of goods, as well as a variety of food and local specialties. It is crammed with locals pouring over bargains. There are 5 streets of stalls, possibly too much to see in one visit. I am only here to look at the food stalls.
The label on the glass case says Almendros de sal, I can see they are peeled, blanched and salted almonds and my mouth is watering. I had driven past almond groves all the way from Malaga airport with their feint white and pink coloured blossoms already on the trees growing up and down the mountains. The vendor handed me a handful in a tiny cup. I am slightly alarmed by him raising one hand and grabbing the biceps of his opposite arm. ‘Mucho calcio’ he says. I giggle at the gesture, full of calcium, he is saying. ‘Mucho’ I repeat mimicking his gesture. I buy a quarter of a kilo for €4 to share with my guests later.
Almonds have a fierce local following in Andalucia and a cultural history that dates back before the conquest. Spain is particularly famous for the “turrón” which is a Christmas sweet treat made from almonds. In this region, almonds are also ground into pastes, marzipan, almond butter, and a ‘milk’ substitute. I ask the vendor what other almond dishes the area is famous for. He speaks to me in English and recounts on his fingers, almond and garlic soup (served cold), meatballs in almond and saffron sauce, almond biscuits, almond chicken … There is no end to his list and we both laugh. There are 20 glass cases of almonds to choose from, in various states, unsalted, salted, skin on, skin off, blanched, roasted with other spices and on and on. I think he pities me that my home country lacks the specialty food he takes for granted, so he gives me a cup of the spiced almonds to take with me.
The next stall has a display of rich colourful spices that any Indian festival would envy. The labels hint at their uses. Paella, Barbacoa, Roast Chicken, Pinchitos Anduluz, Goulash, Curry London finest, Tandoori. I would love to buy a small sample of everything, but I settle on a couple of photographs, promising an extended visit another time. Opposite is a stall selling a kilo of button mushrooms for €2. In my head, I am imagining what I would do with such a bounty. Garlic mushrooms, mushroom burgers, stroganoff, risotto, omelets, spiced lamb stuffed with mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup, Fettucine with cream of mushrooms, chicken and mushroom paella.
Also, on display are the biggest radish I have ever encountered. ‘Asado’ the vendor says looking at my quizzical face, ah roasted. Now there’s a dish I had never considered. Roasted radish! Next to them are cauliflowers and broccoli as big as footballs for €1.50 each and 5 kilos of oranges for €3.50. Another stall offers a kilo of strawberries for €2. My mind reels, roast strawberries, strawberry soup, strawberry jam, chocolate-dipped strawberries, one could live like royalty here for very little.
I wander and discover a stall selling every kind of salt and pepper I had never heard of. What an abundant source! I bought giant Jamaican pepper corns for €3 for 150g. The vendor described their flavour as a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pepper, with a fruity overtone. He suggests using the peppercorns to make one of my favourite dishes and one of the most popular in Spain’s seafood zones. Prawns in garlic. I leave you with the simplest and speediest recipe I know, below.
Enjoying this mini culinary sampling of a small corner of Andalusia. I walk the 3 streets devoted to food, taking photographs, chatting to the friendly vendors revealing the mystery of Andalusian food, and its spice and herbal traditions.
Prawns fried in garlic
250g peeled prawns
3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of olive oil
A small piece of chilli
A few twists of ground Jamaican pepper
Earthenware or heatproof dish
Hob or oven
If using an oven heat it to 200 degrees Celsius or 390 Fahrenheit
Peel and slice the garlic thinly
Place it in cold oil with the chili
Put the dish on the hob or in an oven
When garlic browns add the prawns, salt and pepper.
Stir and cover until sizzling
Remove from hob or oven
Serve sizzling hot