Many years ago I saw a movie called Atún y Chocolate. It is the story of three fisherman from the town of Barbate in the province of Cádiz. It is a comedy about these three men who are trying to survive a fishing crisis. That was my cinematic introduction to one of my favourite areas in Southern Spain. I had visited Cádiz on my way to Portugal a few times but I didn’t have a good understanding of the people and culture until about 17 years ago. Thanks to a dear relationship with a person from the town of San Fernando in Cádiz, I was immersed into this beautiful area of Spain. The food is amazing, the beaches are incomparable to others, the history is deep and intriguing, and the people are the friendliest and funniest I have found. The jovial and passionate accent accompanies these affable traits.
Cádiz is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BCE and its strategic location on the Atlantic Coast has marked a spot in the history of Spain and the rest of Europe ever since. You could easily spend days visiting monuments and learning about the history of the city and province. The yellow/gold dome of the New Cathedral is a symbol of the the city’s Golden Age it experienced in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The contrast of the dome with the blue Mediterranean Sea and sky is absolutely beautiful. The Theater (only a portion of it is has been excavated) was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. I love to wander the narrow streets and visit the market where you can get a glimpse into the gastronomy of the area, heavy on fresh tuna and other seafood.
One of my favourite times to visit Cádiz is during Carnaval which is one of the biggest in Spain. This is a completely different experience. For two weeks you can enjoy the Chirigotas, satirical folksongs often using political figures as the focus. The streets come alive with floats, musical groups and gaditanos dressed up in their best costumes while drinking glasses of dry sherry from small cups and munching on fritters made from little shrimp. These are called Tortillitas de Camarones and are made with chickpea flour, baby shrimp, parsley, chopped spring onions and GOOD Spanish olive oil. VIVA EL CARNAVAL!!
Another important gastronomical treasure in this area is the Atún de Almadraba. The word almadraba meaning to fight or strike comes from Arabic and refers to the fishing technique used to catch this highly prized red tuna. After the full moon in May and again in September and October fishing nets are strategically placed in the Atlantic waters close to the Straight of Gibraltar by fisherman from towns like Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, Conil de la Frontera and Tarifa. The tuna are caught in the nets on their passage to or from the Mediterranean. The nets are lifted by the fishermen into a circle of boats surrounding the nets. In May the tuna have extra fat and are more succulent where as in the fall the tuna tends to be drier. The fall meat tends to be sent to the canneries. The tuna from the month of May is sold at high prices with about 80 percent being exported to Japan.
On my most recent trip to Cádiz we had an excellent lunch in a restaurant called La Marmita. The local wine was 80 percent Merlot with a small percentage of Petit Verdot and Syrah. I loved the name, Garum. Garum is the fermented fish condiment that was used in Phoenicia, Greece, Rome and beyond. With our wine we enjoyed the high quality red tuna prepared two ways, sashimi and tartar. Exquisite. We also had raviolis filled with pringá de Berza Gitana. This is a stew prepared with collard greens, onion, squash, tomato, peppers, chorizo, morcilla and beef shank. It is then chopped finely and used to fill the raviolis. I can’t wait to go back and repeat both dishes and more!
Two of my other reasons for being truly in love with Cádiz are…………..
Yes, you can start the Camino de Santiago here! This part of the camino is called the Via Augusta, which was the longest and busiest of the Roman roads that connected the Pyrenees and France to what is now C´ádiz.
And…………you can enjoy the most beautiful sunset in Spain! One that just keeps on giving.
Side note – The title of the film I mentioned at the beginning refers obviously to the famous Almadraba Tuna. Chocolate? Chocolate is the word used for hash that for many, many years has found its way to the coastlines of Southern Spain from Morocco.