Mar 25, 2012


Much maligned Málaga.  Where British tourists go to cultivate their skin cancer.  Holiday flats, budget flights, crowded beaches, clubs I don't believe in.  Bright, white people, glowing in the sun.  Bright, red people, satisfied that they got the UV they paid for.  The newest British colony, paid for by pension funds.  That's what I thought before we went there.

An hour by bus takes us from the cool mountains into the subtropics.  As promised, the Costa del Sol has both costa and sol.  We wander through the old town: traces of Picasso, long gone Moors, Romans and if you look very carefully, even the Phoenicians left their mark. Instead we have ornate Christianity.  But despite the tourists eating tapas, paella and drinking sangria, the city still feels true to itself, comfortable with its many faces.  And Spanish people, everywhere.

We walk to beach, sitting down for a late lunch in a small cafe just across the road.  Pepe mans the grill and the fryer, a woman, whom I imagine to be his wife, is assembling salads, while another silver-haired man runs after the orders.  We sit at the bar, with a clear view of a very ordinary kitchen.  Iced trays of prawns, fresh anchovies, calamari, and cod roe lie in front of us, a different fridge holds the other fish and shellfish.  We watch spell-bound as Pepe moves around slowly, puts boquerones in the fryer, roe in flour, sips his beer, then passes two bottles through the serving window.  I keep an eye on my watch.  Ninety seconds later, the boquerones reappear, just done.  The cod roe goes in, then coarse salt on the grill with four fat prawns on top.  The day is warm, and the sun is bright.  Another slow sip of beer.  Flip the prawns, remove roe from the oil, feel them, back in, not yet.  Small clams pass through the oil, from in to out in 20 seconds.  Now the roe is done. Three minutes.   He moves with the peace of someone who has done this a thousand times, who knows his fish is fresh enough to not need any embellishment.  Just don't overcook it. 

We ask, slowly, and with much pointing, for one large clam, and a racione of shrimps and calamari.  My enthusiasm for fried cod roe left me at the last minute.  The clam arrives in two halves, raw, with a lemon and some pepper.  Imagine a more substantial oyster, and you'll be close.  With colour you'd expect from a scallop.

The calamari is good, but the gambas steal the show: sweet, juicy, barely warm.  This is exactly what we were looking for.  Outside orange blossoms scent the air.