The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.
History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.
Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!
Just south of one of my favorite cities, PORTO, there is an active fishing town called Espinho. We have spent quite a bit of time there during the summer months sleeping in our van, swimming and enjoying the fantastic seafood that the restaurants offer there. I was even coaxed into taking a surf class one morning. The morning we had our class the waves were huge and the beach had a red flag. My biggest nightmare became reality. Miraculously I made it through alive but I stick to body boarding from then on.
In the mornings we would wake up early to watch the fishing nets being pulled in from the sea. We loved watching this whole process. Early in the morning the boats take the nets out and leave them in the sea. Hours later tractors pull the nets back onto the beaach. Traditionally this was done using the Portuguese fishing boats and steer to pull the nets back on to shore. The catch of the day is pulled up to shore and then the people in charge begin to sort, separate and sell to local restaurants or families. It is so much fun to watch. Usually it is the men and boys who are separating the fish and the women take care of the business side of things. The atmosphere here is so pure and and the people are living the same way they have for years and years. If there is one thing that can keep my attention before coffeee, it is the fishing industry in Espinho. It is a mixture of calm, chaos, confusion, organization and the hardcore daily life of locals.
There is a small fish market right next to the local bar in this neighborhood but every Monday in Espinho they celebrate one of the best open air markets I have ever experienced. For 12 hours each Monday you can find pretty much everything imaginable. The market expands over a mile long and is filled with local farmers, artisans and the gypsy market as well. The fish market here is absolutely gorgeous. We met a wonderful woman named Carlota. We watched as she purchased the fish and then followed her to the stall where she sold the goods. Some were already prepared for “Caldeirada”: a traditional Portuguese fish stew prepared with an assortment of skate (or any other fish), potatoes, onions and cilantro.
At one point in the morning you could purchase a huge crate of fish for two euros. Sardines are the best in the summertime. We would have purchased the two euro crate if we had a fridge in our van but it was probably not a good idea to do that!! We enjoyed them in a restaurant almost everyday without the lasting smell.
The rest of the market is an array of colors and smells and local people selling their items. You can find the freshest vegetables, bread, cheese, pots and pans, clay cookware, live hens and roosters. I could go on for hours talking about the products that you can purchase in this amazing market. Instead I will leave some nice photos below to give you an idea.
One of my favorite parts of the open air markets in Portugal is the food that you can eat while you are shopping about. My partner loves having the grilled chicken with salad and wine. He could eat this everyday of his life. But, in Espinho we found a great little stand that sold a variety of dishes. The 50 cent jars of wine went great with a “bifana”, a traditional pork sandwich served with mustard and hot sauce. We also noticed people showing up with their empty tupperware containers to fill them up with the soup of the day. Of course we had to try the soup! One Monday it was “Papas de Sarrabulho”. At first this may not sound so enticing to you. It is mashed blood with potatoes and meat from a variety of animals. It is a soup that is prepared in the Northern part of Portugal and wonderful in the winter months. Like most dishes prepared with blood, it was surpsingly tasty!
We enjoyed the Monday market days thoroughly but they could also be exhausting due to the hot weather. Usually we followed a morning at the market with an extremely refreshing swim in the Atlantic and a long walk along the beautiful coastline. On the other days of the week we would swim and eat and swim. We would eat grilled sardines almost everyday. In Portugal they serve them on top of great bread so the flavor of the sardine soaks into the bread. You eat the sardine and then put olive oil on the bread and enjoy the wonderfully flavored bread! We usually followed the sardines with a fish caldeirada. We even prepared it a couple of times on our own over an open fire. Along with a lovely salad and local wine you really can’t go wrong.
RESTAURANTE OS MELINHOS – CREDIT FOR AWESOME FOOD!
One afternoon we ran into Carlota along the boardwalk selling fresh fish. This a town of hardworking people. On Mondays she would be at the regular market and then during the week she would go from restaurant to restaurant and house to house selling her daily catch.