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Photo by Tara Stevens
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Photo by Tara Stevens
Welcome to Torremolinos!
I spent most of my childhood, and indeed my subsequent teenage and adulthood, summers on the beach in Nerja. Back in the early days, it was a simple fishing village with not a great deal going on and I loved it, not as you might think because of the beach, but because of the chicken-on-the-spit at the family-run Iranzo supermarket, which is still there. The chickens have long gone, and Nerja is very much a tourist town, albeit a far lovelier one than those along the Costa del Sol proper, but my grandfather swears it was those chickens that first got me into food.
Years later, while researching a guide book about Andalucia, I was shouldered with the task of finding positive things to say about Franco’s ill-conceived Costa del Sol, and I found myself on Carihuela beach in Torremolinos. Like Barceloneta, this was the old fishing quarter of Torre—a place so replete with the vestiges of Sixties' tourism that UNESCO were actually considering it as a world heritage site—and surprisingly had retained some of its charms, not least the custom of filling knackered-old fishing boats with sand and using them as barbecues. These makeshift restaurants ran the entire length of the beach, and they all sell the same sardinas espetos today. It doesn’t much matter which one you choose, they all do the same, though like anywhere, the busiest spot is likely to be the best.
The ‘espeto’ refers to the way in which they are cooked. Six to eight plump, silvery sardines are threaded, through the stomach, onto a spear of sugarcane—Salobreña on the Granada coast, marketed these days at the Costa Tropical, used to have a thriving sugar cane industry. They are left completely whole, are never gutted, and always face the same way around. Then they are stood upright in the sand, flat-sided against the heat of a wood fire. In this way the salty, ozoney guts self bastes the fish while the sugarcane gently seasons them, and the flame grills the skin to crispy perfection while the flesh stays juicy and succulent. With a cool San Miguel to wash it down, these sardines are among the best I’ve ever tasted: even, some might argue, the best thing about Torre.
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