Dining from dawn until dark
Cádiz for foodies
Hop on a train in Madrid, travel four and a half hours through olive plantations, tiny towns arrayed around centuries-old churches and past salt marshes that give way to views of the Atlantic Ocean and its bays, so close that they are virtually lapping at both sides of the train. Finally, you roll toward the tip of a long finger of land pointing into the sea where the breezy and historic Spanish city of Cádiz awaits.
Said to have been founded by Hercules and the oldest, continually occupied city in Spain, this sub-tropical port is ideally situated on a peninsula surrounded by the sea and layered over Phoenician, Roman and other ancient ruins. Home to the first Spanish Constitution (1812) and a stronghold against Napoleon's invasion of Spain, Cádiz is also a stone's throw away from what are arguably some of the most gorgeous beaches in Spain.
If all this weren't enough to warrant a trip, it is also home to excellent gastronomy, which is just one more reason why Cádiz is one of my favorite places in Spain. And while I could stay in this part of Andalusia for days, or even weeks on end, one full day in Cádiz is all I need to hit up enough of my favorite local haunts to make a special trip there worth while.
So, on that note, the following is an outline of my perfect day of eating and drinking my way through Cádiz.
Sit outside on the corner terrace at Cafetería La Marina in the lovely Plaza de las Flores (outdoor flower market) for a café con leche and a plate of piping hot churros which are made on the premises. The typical churros from Cádiz are golden loops of fried dough which are cut into strips with scissors. Thinner (about the width of a pen) and crispier than what you normally find in Spain, they are ordered by weight and are best when dipped in coffee and then rolled in a bit of sugar.
Mid-morning market snack?
Just around the corner from the Plaza de las Flores and the sweeping, tiled main post office (Correos), is the municipal market, the Mercado Central. Built in 1937 and recently renovated, this columned, neoclassical structure is arranged tidily around the stands that are its lifeblood: those selling the fish and seafood caught in the Bay of Cádiz and the Atlantic Ocean just beyond. Row after row of colorful crustaceans of every size and shade, from pale gray to flushed-pink to the deeply-hued red prawns. Tiny clams barely bigger than the tip of your pinkie are only the beginning when it comes to bivalves, and squid, cuttlefish and even the occasional pulpo (octopus) drape their translucent tentacles willy-nilly over the edges of the stands. The sharky-looking dogfish, or cazón – the key ingredient in the favorite local dish cazón en adobo – is everywhere you look, as are all different types of local fishes, including speckled moray eels. But my eyes are drawn to the ocean-fresh bluefin tuna that is so enticing and cheap that more than one tourist has succumbed to the temptation of buying deep red slices of it and feasting on the spot – a sashimi-lover's dream (Dad!). When leaving, don't miss the giant mesh bags of snails in the stands around the market, or the chance to buy some already-mixed adobo spices at the local spice vendor.
One of my favorite places in Cádiz and one that I've been going to for a before-lunch aperitif since the first time I came here when studying abroad in Seville many moons ago is Taberna la Manzanilla. This traditional, family-owned sherry bar has been open since the turn of the century, and the giant casks stacked behind the simple bar offer a range of different dry sherries like Manzanilla, Palo Cortado, Amontillado and Oloroso, as well as a deeply sweet Pedro Ximénez – from Designations of Origin Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla - Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Glasses are filled straight from the barrels, and you can also ask the owner to fill a bottle or two to take with you to wherever you're going. While you're at it, buy a bottle of the incredibly aromatic sherry vinegar that has been aged in Amontillado sherry casks. As with other traditional places in Andalusia, your bill is tallied on the bar in chalk.
If I could spend the entire day at the bar at El Faro de Cádiz (it closes between lunch and dinner), I really think I would. Founded in 1967, this local stalwart serves up traditional and delicious gaditana (from Cádiz) cuisine, made using local and seasonal ingredients. This classically elegant establishment is divided into two areas, a large circular bar and a more formal dining room, which is connected to the bar through a door at the back. But, as locals will tell you, the secret to "El Faro" is to dine at the bar, with its long menu of modestly priced and delicious tapas and raciones (slightly larger plates for sharing) – a small price to pay for the lack of stools or any other seating.
The crispy-fried, tortitas de camarones (thin fritters made with tiny, whole shrimp and scallions) are a favorite here, as are the albóndigas de marisco al Jerez fino en salsa de almejas (Seafood "meat" balls with Fino sherry and clam sauce) and the brocheta de alcachofas y vieras a la plancha con jugo de pimientos asados (Grilled artichokes and scallops with roasted pepper puree) – when in season.
In the center of the bar behind the counter is a huge cold storage box piled with the local fresh fish of the day, and other specialties include incredibly rich rice dishes and a long list of meats. The wine list is ample and varied, but I always start with a glass of crisp, dry Manzanilla (sherry) that the bartenders line up along the bar in cold buckets of ice at the beginning of the shift.
After a hearty lunch, I love Taberna Casa Manteca for a tapas dinner of embutidos (cured meats), pâtés, conservas (excellent canned fish and shellfish), and some traditional guisos (stews), sliced mojama (cured tuna) or aged local cheeses, among other enticements. Founded in 1953 and still enormously popular at aperitivo, lunch or dinner hour, the old-fashioned decor here is plastered with old photos and bullfighting posters, authentically dusty and charming. Many of the dishes are sliced before your eyes, weighed on antique scales and served on wax butcher-paper.
After dinner, if you can possibly move, stroll down the street to the local beach Playa de la Caleta to watch the sunset over tiny, colorful boats afloat on the calm sea of this protected cove.