The full range of Andalusian cuisine is served in the bars and restaurants of Malaga, but the must-try dishes are the seafood ones. Of these, one of the tastiest is also one of the simplest – a variety of fried fish served with a wedge of lemon. The beauty of the ‘fritura malagueña’, as it’s called, is in the delicious contrast between the crispy exterior and the melt-in-your mouth texture of the fish, which is usually squid and cod. Fat, juicy prawns still sizzling from the grill often complete this dish, which is perfectly complemented by a cool glass of Victoria, the local beer.
Fresh prawns are a Malaga speciality and they are cooked in a no-nonsense style to preserve their wonderful flavour. This dish is a classic – the prawns are flash-fried with garlic, paprika, fresh chillies and white wine – a combination which gives them glorious heat and zest, but not at the expense of their natural taste. And even when you’ve wolfed the prawns down, this dish isn’t over – take one of the slices of crispy bread it’s served with and mop up the spicy sauce so nothing of this malaguena classic goes to waste.
It would be a sin to visit the Costa del Sol and not order the most famous seafood dish in the world. The quality of paella varies hugely in Andalusia, but in Malaga, due to the freshness of the seafood that is its major ingredient, it’s more often than not superb. It’s commonly available as a small tapas – served with a wedge of lemon and slice of bread in a sizzling earthenware pot – but the full-size version is a great dish to share between friends and family. Landing on your table in one of the flat, round paella pans, the juicy muscles and enormous prawns with which it is topped also make it one of the prettiest of local dishes.
Albóndigas – or meatballs – are a Spanish classic and served all over the country, but the sauce in which they are served differs from place to place. Malaga’s take on this delicious staple is a sauce laced with ground almonds, which gives the dish a mellow, rustic taste and slightly rough-and-ready texture that complements the meatiness of the albóndigas perfectly. This local speciality is distinguishable by sight from tomato-based variants by the paler color of its sauce and is served as a snack-sized tapas, in one of those cute little earthenware bowls, with sliced fresh bread to hoover up the moreish (no pun intended) sauce.
One of the most explosively flavoursome of Andalusian dishes is bull’s tail, or Rabo de Toro. It abounds on Malaga’s menus and is likely to be one of the gastronomic highlights of your visit here. The tail is diced into thick chunks and is gently stewed for hours in a sauce of red wine, stock, tomatoes and other vegetables (depending on the restaurant). The idea is that when you approach one of the irresistible-looking pieces with your fork, the meat is so tender it simply falls off the bone. It is this slow-cooking that also gives the meat a beautifully tender texture and infuses the sauce with its rich, sultry flavours. It is best devoured with thin, crispy fries.
Literally translated, the name of this Andalusian staple doesn’t come close to doing it justice: meat in sauce, after all, sounds more like something you’d order in a kebab joint at 3am than for dinner. But carne en salsa, frequently found on Malaga tapas menus, won’t disappoint. Consisting of stewed meat (usually pork) in a fresh, tomato-based sauce, it is a great example of how tasty unpretentious Andalusian cooking can be. The fact that bars and restaurants in Malaga are never stingy with portion-sizes means that a tapas of this southern Spanish classic – and an accompanying slice of bread, naturally – will keep you going for hours.
Originating from Antequera, a charming town 45 minutes inland from Malaga, is the region’s version of gazpacho. Slightly thicker than the cold tomato soup, this delicious variant is usually served topped with diced, hard-boiled egg and little squares of cured ham. The soup itself is made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic (often generous amounts of garlic) and paprika, the spice that lends so many Spanish dishes their seductively smoky flavour. Porra Antequarana is for summer days in Malaga when it’s too hot to eat anything really heavy – days when a bowl of this local favourite and an ice-cold glass of Victoria beer will set you up for the rest of the afternoon.