The rich and varied cuisine of Andalucía is a reflection of its dramatic history. One of its signature dishes, gazpacho, was introduced by the romans in the first millennium BC, and didn’t reach its final version until peppers and tomatoes arrived in Spain following the voyages of Columbus.
Another great influence came from the Moors who changed the face of southern Spain forever with the planting of orange, olive and almond trees. They also introduced spices such as cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron plus vegetables and fruits like aubergine, spinach, quince and pomegranate.
Today, the cooking of modern Andalucía falls into mountain and coastal food. Along the coastline, fish and seafood are king; inland, rich stews, jamones (cured hams) and game are preferred. Wherever you are, however, there are few greater pleasures than joining the regulars at a local bar to wind down over a glass of fino (dry sherry from Jerez) while nibbling tapas – Andalucía’s great titbit invention.
From the new Rough Guide to Andalucía, these are the highlights no food-lover should miss.
The city that invented tapas has some of Spain’s very best bars to sample them. It simply knocks spots off the competition: there is simply nowhere else in Andalucía – or even Spain – with such a variety of places to indulge this culinary art. El tapeo means eating “on the go” and Sevillanos do it on their feet, moving from bar to bar where they stand with a manzanilla or beer while wolfing back fistfuls of whatever tapas take their fancy. Locals tend to drink the cold, dry fino, but often change to beer in high summer. Another popular tapas partner is tinto de verano – the local version of sangría – consisting of wine mixed with lemonade and ice.
Some 13km southwest of Grazalema, the tiny mountain village of Villaluenga del Rosario is the highest in Cádiz province. Tucked beneath a great crag, it’s a simple place, with narrow streets, flower-filled balconies and pantiled roofs, frequently enveloped by mountain mists. Come here to try the famous goat’s cheese, which can be purchased at the multi-award-winning Payoyo cheesemaker’s factory on the south side of the main road running through the village.
The northwest corner of Cádiz province is sherry country, a dramatic landscape of low, rolling hills and extensive vineyards. The famous triangle of sherry towns – Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – are the main production centres of Andalucía’s great wine, but smaller places like Chipiona and even tiny Rota manage to muscle in on the action. Besides their bodegas, at many of which you can taste blends and buy some to take home, all the sherry towns make interesting places for a stopover in themselves.
Beyond a ruined Moorish castle and a Baroque church, this whitewashed town, sited picturesquely on a hill overlooked by the hazy Sierra de Rute, has few conventional attractions. Rute’s fame throughout Andalucía is based on a far more potent allure: the manufacture of a lethal anís (aniseed apéritif) with spring water from the sierra. It comes in varying strengths and can be tasted at the twenty or so small bodegas scattered around the town; Bodega Machaquito is regarded as one of the best.
The mere mention of the name of Jabugo is enough to make any Spaniard’s mouth water, and once you’ve tasted what all the fuss is about it’s easy to understand why. As roadside billboards depicting smiling pigs proclaim, jamón is king in Jabugo and can be sampled at producers’ outlets in the village. The jamón ibérico or pata negra (both acorn-fed hams) that you can taste here are some of the finest in all of Spain.
Córdoba province’s olive oil has been prized since Roman times – and its most celebrated oil production centre is Baena. The town has its own official denominación de origen andBaena’s finest oil stands comparison with the best in Europe. With a markedly low acid content and an unfatty, concentrated flavour, the best “free run” oils produced here are far too good (and expensive) for cooking and are instead sparingly used to flavour gazpacho – in Córdoba province, salmorejo – or tasted on a morsel of bread as a tapa.
Feasting on fish and crustaceans in sight of the sea is an Andaluz passion. You'll find fresh and tasty fish served up in bars and restaurants in all coastal regions, but the atmospheric sea-locked city of Cádiz has perhaps the most valid claim to be Andalucía’s seafood capital. The old seamen’s quarter, the Barrio de la Viña, is where gaditanos make for on warmer nights to scoff fried fish and mariscos at economical marisquerías, while the city’s summer playground, the Paseo Marítimo is also lively and fun in season.
Lanjarón has known tourism and the influence of the outside world for longer than anywhere else in the Alpujarras due to the curative powers of its spa waters which have attracted cure seekers since ancient times. These gush from seven natural springs and are sold in bottled form throughout Spain. Taste the waters straight from the mountain at the village’s spa.