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How to Eat Like a Local in Malaga
June 24, 2020 | Guest Post by: Rhian MacGillivray
Malaga’s gastronomy scene is more than worthy of a place at the world’s top table.
Thanks to its enviable location on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in sunny southern Spain, Malaga’s cuisine is imbibed with sea influences, quality vegetables, and outstanding meats.
And that’s not to mention its sweet wines, which fall under the Malaga Denomination of Origin, marking their quality.
If you’re an adventurous traveller who enjoys exploring a city’s culinary delights as much as its tourist attractions, there are some essential dishes you need to make sure you try during your holiday to Malaga to understand the city’s gastronomic essence.
But before we get to those, there are a few things you need to know about the locals’ eating times and habits so you can fully immerse yourself in the native cuisine and the best restaurants in Malaga.
Embrace a change of pace
The Mediterranean lifestyle offers a welcome change of pace for many travellers. While you’re on holiday in Malaga, you might need to adapt your routine a little to account for restaurants’ later opening times and a more relaxed vibe in general.
Most locals don’t eat breakfast until around 10am. This meal usually comprises a hearty bocadillo (a sandwich made using baguette-style bread), filled with cheese and ham, a drizzle of oil, and some tomato, among other fillings.
This is often washed down with a coffee. Ordering a coffee in Malaga can be tricky thanks to its unique sizing system, even for Spaniards from other parts of Spain.
Traditionally, coffee here is served in a small glass with no handles (slightly larger than a shot glass) that is filled to varying degrees, which all have intriguing names. These include a sombra (“shadow”) and a mitad (“half and half”).
Of course, you can always ask for a regular café con leche (white coffee), if that’s your favoured morning drink.
Alternatively, if you feel like something sweeter for breakfast, you can try some famous Spanish churros (fried dough) with thick chocolate.
Lunch is the main meal of the day for Spaniards and in Malaga it’s no different. Eaten between 2.30pm and 3.30pm, Malaga locals consume a substantial meal to keep them going for the rest of the day.
But after such a large lunch, some head off home to enjoy a siesta.
Malaga’s cafés are filled with residents at around 5.30pm, all in search of a merienda (afternoon snack).
With plenty of options around the city, you’ll be spoiled for choice. And once inside a café, you’ll be faced with the dilemma of what sweet or cake to opt for.
Dinner time in Malaga isn’t until around 10pm. Many restaurants in this Mediterranean city don’t even open until 8 or 8.30pm so bear this in mind when planning your evening meal.
Typically, Malaga locals will have tapas for dinner (a tapa is a small dish of food), which will go down a treat with foodies. It’s the perfect way to sample plenty of local cuisine by mixing and matching the options available and sharing them with your travel companions.
Local dishes you need to try in Malaga
So now you know about Malaga’s later eating times, what food should you be looking to try in Malaga?
Here are some of the highlights.
A sardine espeto is a tourist attraction in itself. Served mainly in the bars and restaurants found by Malaga’s beaches, this dish is a skewer (espeto) of six sardines covered in sea salt and grilled over an open fire, usually in an old fishing boat.
Served with a slice of lemon to squeeze over the top, if there’s one dish you try during your visit to Malaga, make it a sardine espeto.
As it sits right on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Malaga’s traditional cuisine is hugely influenced by seafood, and there’s nothing more traditional than some fried fish, or pescaito as it’s known to locals.
The fish is coated in flour and then fried, before being served with a slice of lemon.
This delicacy can be ordered throughout the city and along the Costa del Sol. And you’ll find all kinds of fish offered, from cuttlefish to marinated dogfish and squid.
Of course, the city’s most famous of these is its boquerones (fried anchovies), which give the local football team its nickname.
Originating from the town of Antequera in the Province of Malaga, porra antequerana is a cold soup that’s closely related to the famous gazpacho.
Traditionally eaten in summer, this is a refreshing choice.
It’s made using tomatoes, bread, garlic, peppers, oil and a dash of vinegar, and then topped with serrano ham and chunks of hardboiled egg.
The ensalada malagueña (Malaga salad) is another cold dish that’s famous to Malaga’s culinary scene.
Comprising cooked potatoes, orange, olives, onion, tuna or cod, oil, salt and some vinegar, this salad combines sea produce with prime Mediterranean land products.
It’s the perfect summer dish.
Malaga-style baby goat
One dish you’ll see on menus around this age-old city is chivo malagueño (or Malaga-style baby goat). The meat from goats in the Province of Malaga is so prized that it even bears a special quality seal.
This tender, delicious meat is usually oven-roasted and served with some vegetables and potatoes; in other restaurants you’ll find it slow-cooked in wine, oil, garlic and spices.
Malaga is famed for its sweet dessert wines. It’s an area steeped in winemaking history, like much of Spain.
Muscatel and Pedro Ximénez are the most commonly used grapes in this region’s wines. Popular wines include Málaga Virgen Sweet and the sparkling Botani Espumoso.
The best restaurants and tapas bars in Malaga
Malaga is teeming with restaurants, bars and taverns so it can be overwhelming trying to choose one. Here are some of the best restaurants in Malaga, as well as a few places where you can enjoy the city’s best tapas.
Tucked away down a narrow street in the heart of the city, near the main market, Casa Aranda is one of the city’s veritable institutions. Founded in 1932, this café is famed for its churros, bocadillos and coffees.
If you’re looking to eat like a local in Malaga, there’s no better place to start than Casa Aranda for breakfast.
No trip to Malaga would be complete without a visit to the city’s main market, Mercado Atarazanas. The stunning main entrance is the only one of seven arches remaining from the city’s large shipyard that was once sited here.
At the market, you’ll find peppers bigger than your head, strawberries that will have you salivating at their appearance and their cheap prices, freshly caught fish with eyes that follow you as you guiltily walk past them, the unmistakeably tempting aroma of straight-out-of-the-oven bread, and rows upon rows of olives and other condiments.
Aside from the fresh produce, there are also several bars where you can order drinks and enjoy dishes prepared there and then using the market’s products.
The city’s many beach bars, or chiringuitos as they’re known to locals, are some of the best eateries around. El Balneario at the former Baños del Carmen (beachfront baths that were founded in 1918) is one of the most famous.
The vast majority of chiringuitos have a symbolic fishing boat used to grill their offerings, such as Malaga’s famous sardine espetos.
They’re also the perfect place to try some Malaga fried fish accompanied by the sea breeze.
Dating back to 1967, this is another hallmark of Malaga’s culinary scene. Now with two restaurants in the city centre, Lo Güeno makes local produce the star attraction in its cooking. You can order almost all of the dishes mentioned in this post here.
Treat your taste buds with some porra antequerana, or start with a divine Malaga salad to share. Move on to some fried fish, or opt for baby goat.
There are plenty of other tasty options available too, such as grilled vegetables, various steaks and Spain’s most famous dish: the paella.
El Tapeo de Cervantes
It doesn’t get much better than this small restaurant, with tall chairs and tables pushed up against the walls alongside a few regular tables.
This Malaga restaurant has devised its distinctive menu with tapas in mind: dishes can be ordered as a half-portion or full portion, meaning it’s the perfect place to order a few and share them with your travelling companions.
Local highlights include wild boar in a Malaga-wine sauce, porra antequerana, and fried calamari.
This restaurant is hugely popular and as space is limited, make sure you book in advance. If you haven’t booked, you never know, you might be in luck and be able to bag a table.
Take a bite out of Malaga
Malaga is a foodie’s dream destination. Whether you’re looking for exquisite meats, crisp vegetables, flavoursome fish or distinctive wines, you’ll find it here.
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Rhian MacGillivray is a content writer, translator, and blogger. Her personal blog is www.malagamama.com.When she’s not busy helping companies to communicate their message with content and translations, she can be found at the beach by her home in sunny southern Spain.