A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Malaga
As southern Spanish cities go, Malaga has a bad rep. But if you think that this beautiful coastal city is all English ‘pubs’ and St. George’s flag swimwear, you’re missing out. Malaga is a foodie haven for locals, who will let you in on their glorious food scene with a little bit of luck and some basic Spanish. Here’s where to go…
As a rule, if you are hitting Europe, then fly post-work and land late. The Mediterranean is only just waking up. The airport is not far from the city centre, so jump in a cab, check in and then get out there. This far south, the air is warm well into the night, even when London is all burnt oranges and mustard yellows.
Even in the dark, this old Spanish city shimmers. That said, there is one reason above all others to fall in love with this place: post-midnight ham. Where else can you order a plate or three of Iberico ham (carved to order) and a more than decent bottle of local red at one in the morning?
Malagans take their ham very seriously, and why wouldn’t you? Head through the old town to El Pimpis for the best jamón in town. There are three grades to choose from: go for the middle in price for best value and melt-on-your-tongue jamón fat that you’ll want to swim in.
Work off the ham coma by doing what the Spanish do almost as well as their food: dancing. By now it will be getting late (because why would you leave El Pimpis before closing?), so head out of the old town into the centre, towards La Calle Larios, the city’s main shopping street. To find the local gems, you will have to explore the side streets, with Habitat Afterwork a good place to start. Good vibes and great value Cava will see you through until it shuts at three.
Yes it’s tempting, but do not have a late breakfast-cum-brunch. Instead, go to Tejeringos Coffee and grab the two things it does so well: a coffee and some tejeringos — if you haven’t had them before, these are effectively Spanish churros and come with a chocolate dipping sauce. They are addictive, but remember that you are about to embark on a tapas safari: Do. Not. Fill.Up. You have been warned.
Tapas Stop: Uno
Hit the old town. Head in slightly deeper than El Pimpis, remembering to hang your head in shame when you pass the full-length windows, depending on how many vino tintos you knocked back the night before. Pass the Picasso museum (pop in if you’re feeling cultured and want to flash your British queueing skills). Squeeze into a table at El Tapeo de Cervantes and ask for the Spanish menu. Making an effort with language in Malaga is essential to cracking its touristy English-menued outer shell. Plus, you know more Spanish than you think: order the polpo with black rice with dos vinos tintos. Go for the Malaga-grown grapes. Chilled.
Tapas Stop: Dos
It’s tempting to hang around all day, knocking back red and pondering the cork-filled plastic tubs dangling from the ceiling (remember these for later), but don’t. The trick to a tapas crawl is to keep moving. So pay the bill (la cuenta) and walk around three yards across the road. It might not feel far away, geographically speaking, but Taberna El Repique is a world away from its neighbouring restaurant.
On the surface it looks less sophisticated, but don’t be fooled. This place is a gem and, unlike most good Spanish tapas bars, you can sit outside in the sun. Make the most of it, because it’s raining back home (probably). Aside from the outside seating, it also has a plate of jamón AND half a bottle of sherry for 15 Euros. Now, this is Malaga and it is possible to get cheaper, but given the quality, this is an absolute bargain.
OPTIONAL: They also do excellent value vino tinto here — depending on how well you can hold your booze you might want to squeeze in a bottle or three at this point.
Ice cream interval
By now you are full of octopus, jamon, sherry and red wine, and probably in need of something sweet. Don’t settle for anything but the best. Get your fingers and chin messy at Nonna. Limit yourself to two scoops though; we haven’t finished yet…
Tapas Stop: Tres
Remember those corks hanging from the ceiling? Good, because they are a clue to our next location. La Taberna de Cervantes is a sister restaurant of El Tapeo de Cervantes and has a cork-adorned ceiling too. There’s a bigger menu here, so settle in.
Order boquerones (little pickled fish, which are served with mashed avocado), croquettes (notice they are chicken rather than ham, which is common in Malaga), morcilla (black pudding served with a fried quail’s egg), and gambas (note: these are battered, rather than buttered as the English menu suggests; another reason to stick to the Spanish version). Finish off with Manzanilla sherry by the bucketload.
Fiesta en España
If you’re not dancing by now, you should be, if only to get to work on sweating some of that tapas off. Having fully immersed yourself in the Spanish way of eating, it’s time to party Malaga-style. There are plenty of trendy bars on La Calle Larios, but for something authentic head to Amargo, order “dos vinos tintos” (which will be second nature by now) and try and compete with the rhythm of the Spanish couples throwing some serious flamenco-inspired shapes to Spanish pop music. Fiesta!
Sleep in (everyone else does), and then head to the beach for a pre-brunch dip. After all the jamón and vino, go for a nourishing breakfast fix and experience the more modern side of the city’s dining scene. What makes Malaga so special is its unique mix of the old — its historical architecture, art scene (Pablo Picasso was born here) and tavernas — and the new — there is a vibrant, young modern feel to the city.
The younger generation are smart, stylish and, like all millennials, love an avocado. Head to the aptly-named Brunch It and restore your energy with a naranja (orange juice).
Tapas stops uno, dos, y tres
Remember the key to a good tapas safari is to keep moving? Now forget it. There’s only one place to have your last meal before the airport tantrums and you are going to need to settle in for a good few hours — and bottles. It’s in the opposite direction from the old town and a good fifteen minutes’ walk in a slightly more residential area known as Soho. Take the route along the marina, which boasts beautiful views and is home to a good number of boutique shops.
There’s no obvious menu at Noray II, but who needs one when there is fresh fish and chunks of cheese on prominent display? Start with the oysters (they do French and Spanish: the French are bigger and better, but make friends and go for a mix of each; the little Spanish ones are definitely worth the try), and also get the prawns and scallops (both raw) and the boquerones, although do note that these come breaded whole.
Do not leave without a good helping of the heavily aged Manchego and a giant albondiga (meat ball) that comes heated and sliced. Yes, it’s that big. Wash down with sherry straight from the barrel, a last bottle or two of vino tinto and, if you’re lucky, you might find yourself throwing back bottles of Cava with the locals, who probably won’t speak English (with the exception of ‘Brexit?!’), but will be impressed by how much sherry you are able to consume. Bottoms up!
On the way to the airport
Tear yourself away and before you swing back to pick up your bags, treat yourself to one last scoop or three from Nonna. If you haven’t had it yet, go for the almondy turrón flavour. Adiós!