…and after the epilogue of this travel book on Spain I might be writing, here’s the prologue…
Here’s something to do if you’re in Malaga on a sunny day: do as the locals do and get the hell out of Malaga.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to see and do in that fine city, and we’ll come to some of that presently. But for now, get yourself down to the great broad boulevard that runs along its shoreline, and is called variously Alameda Principal and Paseo del Parque, and take a number 3, 11 or a 34 to Pedregalejo.
Any of these is an ordinary service bus, and don’t bother with all that ida y vuelta stuff from the phrasebook: it’s single only, and costs 3 euros at the last count.
Stay on it as it rattles past the nearest beaches, takes a left inland, then right again. Don’t panic, just look out for Calle Vicente Espinel or Calle Pina Dominguez, and ping the bell to get off as nonchalantly as you can manage it.
You emerge to what looks like a fairly well-to-do suburb, with high walls guarding the occupants’ castles from the likes of you. Ignore them and head towards the sea, through well-kept streets and lanes until, just as you reach the last street of any note, you see ahead of you a line of blocky, low houses, with narrow defiles between them.
Through them, and you’ll find yourself on a boardwalk, stretching round the crescent of the bay, with the best fish restaurants you’ll possibly ever find. Prepare yourself, then, to be initiated into the mysteries of espeto.
Actually, it’s not much of a mystery. Sit yourself down at one of the white tablecloth restaurants on the landward side, and a waiter will bustle up, checking you’ve got the right amount of sun, dishing out menus and a carta de vinos, and before you know it a plate of olives will appear, inevitably. Ask him ‘Que hay al espeto?’ and he’ll answer, almost certainly, ‘sardinhas,’ and my personal favourite, dorada, or sea bream.
Order one of these, plus a beer, a vino rosado maybe, or, if you insist, a mineral water or a Fanta, and prepare for a decent wait.
Your man will shortly reappear with the (uncooked) fish of your choice, and head out of the restaurant, across the boardwalk, and onto the beach. The more observant of you will have noticed, directly across from the restaurant, a much less fancy barbecue-cum-shack affair on the sand, with a grizzled old punter giving the flames an occasional poke.
This Hemingwayesque figure is your Master of the Espeto. As I’ve said, there’s no great mystery to the cooking process: the Master takes the fish from the white-jacketed waiter, sticks it on a skewer, and shoves it on the barbie. They’ll have given you some bread to stock up on while the fish cooks, and it’ll feel like forever, as the smell of the barbecuing fish wafts across the sand at you.
Eventually, the old guy grunts or inclines his head, and the waiter brings the cooked fish back past your nostrils, expertly breaking any despairing hunger-induced rugby tackles you make on him, before reappearing finally with the fish dressed with something as simple as salt, some potatoes, and a bit of salad. That’s all it’ll need, believe me, because that poor sucker was swimming about just the thing a few hours before without a care in the world beyond what was on offer for its lunch a link or so down the food chain.
Seriously. If you go to Malaga, you should do this, before it gets all touristy and they start sending the coach tours along there. It may already be too late, but in 2014, at least, you could sit there and enjoy dorada al espeto surrounded by Malagueños doing the exact same thing.
If you’ve clicked on this blog in the hope of insider info like this, then the good news is there’s more of it to come: tips on roads slightly less travelled, how to travel them, and what to do when you get there.
The bad news is, these bits are interspersed with lots of other stuff: soliloquies on Spanish wine, stories of near-hostage taking, snippets of poetry, shovelfuls of information ‘borrowed’ from fellow travellers, and shedloads of asides about the food, the wine (again), and most of all eating and drinking habits, cultural predilections and linguistic niceties of that alluring, irresistibly charming, and only ever occasionally baffling race, the Spanish.
So if all you’re after is a step by step guide on how to get to Zaragoza and where to eat and stay when you get there, this may not do it for you. Lonely Planet or Fodor’s will give you practical advice, and of course there’s always the sheer weight of numbers and opinions that TripAdvisor can command. I do mention Zaragoza, having been there twice, but more in the context of the near hostage situation I mentioned earlier: I’ll lob in some recommendations, but I’ll have had to update them and cross check with other sources, so that not may be as fresh a set of suggestions as, say, Madrid, where we’ve been more recently.
You should probably see this more as a series of dinner party stories, bolted together with some (reasonably) well checked hard fact. The advantages over real dinner party anecdotes being that you can dip in and out of them at your leisure, without having to put your interested face on; and if you get bored, you can always update Facebook or whatever on your phone instead without breaking whatever shreds of dinner party etiquette remain these days. If indeed, dinner parties remain these days. Frankly I’m hazy on that one.
However, if you’re up for it, let’s get started, and see where we get to, eh?