Variety is Andalucia's spice of life

The diversity of the region's cuisine is part of what makes it so exuberant and flavoursome, says Vicky Bennison

Andalucian food and wine hasn't yet achieved the same reputation and degree of trendiness as other regions of Spain. Why not? Partly because it's tricky to categorise: the region is so large that everyone likes to think that the food and wine of their locality is the best; and they are all correct - one of Andalucia's defining culinary characteristics is its diversity. This doesn't make it easy to write about, however, and Andalucia has had the misfortune to be visited by several grumpy writers in centuries past whose mission it was to sneer at everything they encountered. "I wouldn't feed gazpacho to my dog," snarled one chauvinistic Frenchman; from such remarks, reputations are created. But I'm delighted to report that Andalucian cuisine, based as it is on domestic thrift, feasting and fasting, is exuberant, flavoursome and well worth discovering.


Besides infinite variations on any given recipe and seemingly arbitrary name changes, the first thing you'll notice as you tour the region is it helps if you like pork - in particular jamon or air-dried ham.

So, where better to start than remote Jabugo in the Sierra Aracena - one of several towns scattered through Andalucia that specialises in its production. Jamon serrano is made from so-called white pigs; the best quality (and most expensive) is jamon iberico, produced from the black-hoofed iberico breed indigenous to this part of the world (it can be better than Italian prosciutto!) Jabugo's tip-top iberico brand is 5J - Cinco Jotas - which has entered the Spanish language as an expression roughly equivalent to "the bees knees". To sample this and others, take a stool at Sanchez Romero Carvajal (Carratera San Juan del Puerto; 00 34 959 121 194), an old-fashioned ham bodega with its own tapas bar and shop attached where you can buy a whole leg of jamon, if that is your inclination.

Incidentally, if you happen to be in the area in November, stay for the mushroom fiesta in Aracena. Townsfolk are mushroom mad and adore gurumelo, a variety specific to this bit of Spain (though just to be difficult it pops up in spring); the local guru is José Vicente who owns an eponymous restaurant and deli (Avenida de Andalucia, 53; 00 34 959 128 455), but during the festival all the eateries dish up fabulous fungi.


The Andalucians love their fish, so if you do too, head to the coast and the slightly scruffy port of Huelva, which is famous for its white prawns and where the fish market is one of the best in Andalucia for sheer variety. The townsfolk's nickname is choqueros - thanks to their love of cuttlefish, which they like to stew with broad beans. Extreme taste enthusiasts should try locally produced mojama, air-dried tuna, a pungent delicacy that pre-dates the Romans. And while in the area, do as the locals do and drink condado palido, this area's equivalent to fino sherry. It's made using the same methods but since its reputation is eclipsed by the wines from Jerez, it is ridiculously good value.


Sherry and Andalucia go together like whisky and Scotland, and a trip to the bodegas in the three towns that delineate the Sherry Triangle - Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barremeda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria - is a must for anyone interested in wine. They're all different, so don't think when you've seen one you've seen them all. If you're with non-sherry drinkers, then visit Marques del Real Tesoro (Carretera Nacional IV km640; 00 34 956 321 004) on the outskirts of Jerez, which also has interesting modern art and grandfather clock collections.

Fans of sherry should investigate the boutique bodegas in Jerez, such as Fernando de Castilla, whose stylishly packaged range of sherries, brandies and vinegars taste even better than they look ( By way of contrast, El Maestro Sierra might look deeply traditional, but it's owned and run by women; try their amoroso, an old-fashioned name for a heart-warming sherry (


Everyone should visit nearby Seville, not least because it's the tapas capital of Andalucia. I've a fondness for the wildly busy bars where it's a struggle to be served. For this kind of experience try Casablanca (Calle Zaragoza 50) - there's no menu and you'll have to point at people's plates, but the food is fantastic (for the adventurous, try hake cheeks in white wine). For a more sedate but no less authentic experience, Casa Moreno (Calle Gamazo 7) is one of the few remaining original examples of grocers store-cum-bar that used to be common in Seville.


Half of Spain's rice crop is grown along the Guadalquivir river and much of it is exported, but irrespective of this, local rice dishes differ from the classic and ubiquitous paella in several respects. Of course, this being Andalucia, there isn't just one method - rice dishes may be soupy or dry, and even finished off in an oven. So, while in Seville, visit chef Willy Moya's specialist rice restaurant Poncio Cartuja (Calle Charles Darwin 4; 00 34 954 460 717) to discover the delights of arroz con bacalao (rice with salt cod) or con perdiz (with partridge).

Between Seville and Marbella are los pueblos blancos, the White Villages, one of the areas of Andalucia that's well known for its mountain lamb and love of wild vegetables. The Andalucians have a strong tradition of foraging in the campo and you may come across berza de cardillo y tagarninas (thistle stew) in springtime.


Slightly further along the coast are the pretty, terraced villages of Mijas and Ojen. Museo del Vino Malaga, a sort of educational wine merchants, has a branch in each where enthusiastic staff run tastings to explain the delicious, but rather confusing range of sweet wines the province has to offer ( But Malaga isn't just about the "stickies" - inland, Ronda is an up-and-coming red wine area. Wines from Tierras de Mollina and Descalzos Viejos are commonly available; meanwhile, the Friedrich Schatz winery has been experimenting with organic wines using unusual grape varieties for 20 years and the resulting excellent, though expensive, range of wines, all have bouquets that just dance out of the wine glass.


From Ronda it's a manageable drive to sleepy Rute, which claims to be the centre of anise production in Andalucia - although there are now only five distilleries operating. One is the Duende distillery's Museo del Anis (Paseo del Fresno 2; 00 34 957 538 143), a Santa's grotto of copper stills and quaintly labelled bottles. Anise is fearsome stuff, so there are also less alcoholic concoctions available, such as hazelnut or chocolate.

South of Cordoba is the wine growing region of Montilla-Moriles. Again, wineries use the sherry "solera" method to produce wines, but here they use a different grape, Pedro Ximenez, and the result is their deliciously dry, light and herby tasting tipple that reaches 15.5 per cent alcohol, naturally. Folk swear the lack of fortification means you don't get a hangover. I recommend the award-winning Segunda Bota from Bodegas Delgado, which is stocked by the Bodegas Mezquita (Corregidor Luis de Cerda 73) that faces the mosque complex. This deli specialises in local Cordoba produce, so you can stock up on yummy membrillo from Puerto Genil and jamon serrano from Valle de los Pedroches.


Olive oil is an essential component of Andalucian cooking. Not surprising really, since Cordoba and Jaen provinces together form the olive oil producing epicentre of the planet. The best place to learn about the stuff is La Laguna, a hacienda south of Baeza. Here you can visit the refinery and sample their oil, check out their museum with its immaculately restored olive oil mill, or try some local cuisine in the practise restaurants of the hacienda's catering school (

Game is another gastronomic feature of the Andalucian sierras, so while in Jaen try and visit Cazorla, not just for the dramatic scenery but also because it's a wild boar and deer chorizo hot spot. The local market has a big selection, as does Manolo's (Plaza Santa Maria), which also sells an excellent morcilla blanca made with pork, eggs, saffron and masses of garlic.


Sweet biscuits, pastries and cakes are enjoyed all over Spain, but in Andalucia they're particularly popular. It's been the monasteries and convents that have often been the guardians of this culinary tradition and Granada presents a good opportunity to "buy direct". Monasterio de San Bernardo (calle Gloria 2) sells sweets and biscuits throughout the year: do what locals do and buy a caja surtida, a boxed selection, and take it to the nearest café to enjoy with a café con leche.

If you're planning a trip from Granada to the coast, consider making it a wine tour. Wines from this part of the world aren't well known so let me draw your attention to a couple of rising stars. First, the Senorio de Nevada winery in the Lecrin Valley where the microclimate of hot summer days and cold nights helps to produce award-winning, full-bodied red wines (Carretera de Conchar, Villamena 00 34 958 777 092); and second, the Horacio Calvente winery which makes two stunning red blends - Marques de Cazulas and Calvente. (Ctra Almeria 16, Motril).


Almeria demonstrates what happens when an area transforms from subsistence farming to shopping malls: culinary traditions tend to stay firmly in the domestic kitchen. One place where you'll find local specialities on the menu is hotel restaurant Terraza de Carmona (, in Vera. Almerian dishes include gurullos - tiny rice-shaped pasta that are delicious with game.

The corollary to this development is an increasingly popular organic movement and nowhere is this more evident than in the Alpujurras. The village of Orgiva runs a well-known weekly organic market, and vegetarians will find sanctuary at L'Atelier, a guesthouse combined with an award-winning veggie restaurant in Mecina Fondales (00 34 958 857 501).

In other words, Andalucia's broad-ranging, ever-evolving food scene means there's something delicious for everyone to enjoy.

'The Taste of a Place: Andalucia' by Vicky Bennison is published by Chakula Press (£12.99)

British Airways, operated by GB Airways, flies to Malaga from London Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester, and to Seville and Almeria from London Gatwick. For more details visit



It may be a surprise to some, but rum wasn't invented in the Caribbean: it is Andalucia that takes the credit. It is made from sugar cane, a tall grass that was the primary source of sugar for the Moors who introduced it. The by-product of boiling and centrifuging off sugar crystals is molasses. When airborne yeast particles settle in the sticky black gloop, fermentation occurs and this produces a kind of sweet wine, which is distilled.

Sugar cane, it turned out, much prefers the growing conditions of the Caribbean. The Caribbean rum industry didn't really get going until the 17th century, but small quantities of rum are still produced in the Motril area: try and track down the local brand Francisco Montero Martin.


Historically, the soup consisted of garlic, vinegar, olive oil and bread. Labourers would pop it down a well to keep cool and sip it at intervals during the day; you'll often find gazpacho served in a bowl with handles.

Gazpacho nowadays, refers to a whole family of soups: in Huelva, green gazpachos are made with herbs like coriander, while ajo blanco from Malaga uses ground almonds. Cordoba's variation is salmorejo, which is the more familiar tomato/ pepper gazpacho, but without water so it's almost a cream. Down the road in Antequera, they use red peppers, not green ones, and add paprika. Over in Jaen, gazpachos pastorales are game soups where the bread is added at the end of cooking.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee