Marbella: Discovering the Cuisine of Southern Spain

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On the south coast of Spain is one of the country’s most beloved cities for tourists: Marbella. It’s famous for that perfect Mediterranean trifecta of beautiful beaches, tantalizing food and year-round warm climate.

Part of the Andalusia region, Marbella is only 2.5 hours away from Seville. Other nearby cities are Ronda, Malaga and Cadiz, as well as the British territory Gibraltar. The American expat Ernest Hemingway  visited the region during his writing of Death in the Afternoon and The Dangerous Summer, two books exploring the culture of bullfighting in Spain. Andalusia’s official website chronicles Hemingway’s visits, including his  lavish 60th birthday held there.

Photo by: Tommie Hansen
Photo by: Tommie Hansen

Marbella was founded by the ancient Romans as a trading post. Later it fell under Moorish rule;  many citadels and walls from those days are still standing. You can also see 15th-century remnants of its days under the Catholic Monarchs from Castille in structures such as the Plaza de los Narajos, the Fort of St. Louis and the baroque Church of Incarnation.

This varied history give Marbella a vibrant culture. Since Andalusia is known as the birthplace of the flamenco dance, a number of venues, including restaurants such as the Flamenco Ana Maria, put on weekly shows for visitors. If art is your passion, then visit the Avenida del Mar, a small pedestrian park/avenue near the city centre lined with 10 sculptures by Salvador Dali. The Rally Museum features a large collection of Latin American and European works of art.

The food options in the city are mouthwatering. You can enjoy Andalusian cuisine at its finest, with its Moorish influences and fresh ingredients.  Marbella boasts three Michelin-starred restaurants: Skina, Calima and El Lago. Calima is run by renowned chef Dani Garcia, a Malaga native famous for pioneering applications of liquid nitrogen in cooking. If it sounds a bit bizarre, don’t worry. This technique is both safe and delicious.

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On the surface there don’t seem to be many differences between Andalusian and Catalonian cuisines. Both are famous for turning cooked ham into an art form. In fact, the authentic jamon iberico originated from southwest Spain. Tapas features prominently in both cultures, so help yourself as the waiters pass by with trays of snacks. Since Andalusia is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, much of its food features a healthy dose of extra virgin goodness.

The region’s signature dish is gazpacho, a peasant’s cold soup made with tomato and garlic and served with lots of bread with olive oil – a perfect choice on a blistering Spanish day. Here’s a recipe that will make you a convert.  Pescaito frito (“fried fish”) is another common regional dish, featuring white fish deep-fried in olive oil. Wash the fillets down with a pint of local beer and you have a perfect Ansalusian lunch.

If you’re in a drinking mood, the wine country of Andalusia also has much to offer, with its full-bodied reds and dessert wines. But it’s especially famous for its sherry, a fortified wine,  made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera. There are many different types of sherry as well: fino is dry, amontillado is rich, and manzanilla is light and slightly salty. Don’t forget to check the DO (designated origin) tag to make sure that the product you are getting is authentic.

I wrote an article on the cuisines of Barcelona a while ago. Read it here.

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