The most striking feature of Andalucía’s cuisine is its debt to the Moors. In their long period of hegemony over the region the North Africans introduced oranges and lemons as well as spices such as cumin and saffron and refined techniques for growing olives and almonds. Their chilled soups such as ajo blanco (made with ground almonds) and gazpacho are still a welcome refresher in high summer temperatures. Of course, gazpacho is today made with tomatoes and green peppers, both brought back from the Americas by Columbus, who sailed from Andalucía.
The region is also the birthplace of tapas, the classic tidbits that Spaniards love to tuck into as they drink. Between 6 and 9pm most evenings city bars are humming with conversations of tapeadores (as aficionados are termed). One of Andalucía’s favourite tapas is jamón serrano, mountain-cured ham from prime producing zones in the Sierra de Aracena and the Alpujarras. The most prized ham of all is jamón ibérico from black Iberian pigs, and in the curing village of Jabugo this is graded into five levels of quality with the very best accorded five jotas or “j’s” (for Jabugo). If you can afford it, the taste is mouthwateringly delicious and far superior to the standard white-pig jamón sold in supermarkets.
Andalucía is also known in Spain as the zona de los fritos (fried food zone) and fried fish is a regional speciality. Chanquetes (whitebait), sardines, calamares and boquerones (anchovies) are all andaluz favourites and the seafood chiringuitos (beach restaurants) of Málaga are famous for their fritura malagueña (assorted fried fish).
Inland, Andalucía is a mountainous region and the specialities here are carnes de caza (game). Jabalí (wild boar), venado (venison), cabrito (kid) and perdiz (partridge) all make memorable meals in the hands of a competent chef.
The wine par excellence of Andalucía – particularly to accompany tapas – is fino (dry sherry) from Jerez de la Frontera, although nearby Sanlúcar de Barrameda’s manzanilla and montilla (produced in Córdoba) are similar and display their own prized characteristics.