Sunny skies, sparkling blue water, and gorgeous sandy beaches; what more could you ask for when enjoying a visit to the Spanish Mediterranean coast? Excellent tapas served up in authentic settings?
Text: Adrienne Smith/©ICEX
The Mediterranean coast of Spain extends for more than 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) from Gibraltar to the French border; with 910 kilometers (565 miles) of additional shoreline around the Balearic Islands. And although this expanse of coastline passes through several different Spanish regions – each with its own culture, gastronomy and traditions – the very nature of the Mediterranean climate, its landscapes and seafaring traditions unites these places in many respects, particularly in terms of cuisine. Fresh fish and seafood, spectacular vegetables and fruits, outstanding olive oils, excellent wines... all of these things play an important role in the gastronomy of Mediterranean Spain.
At the same time, the sheer length of this coastline as it passes through five diverse Spanish regions (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Andalusia, Region of Murcia, the Balearic Islands and the cities of Melilla and Ceuta) also makes it very hard to single out only five Mediterranean Spanish cities for this gastronomic tour, and even harder to choose just five bars and five tapas – the latter being particularly difficult. That’s why we ask that you don’t regard this article as a definitive guide, but rather as more of a mouthwatering starting point for a north-south culinary tour and a taste of the Spanish Mediterranean.
Barcelona: Quimet & Quimet
C/ Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25
It might seem that time has stood still inside this tiny Barcelona bar over the past 100 years or so –that is if it weren't for the hustle and bustle of patrons elbowing in night after night to get a spot in this standing-room-only establishment. At its location in the city’s Poble Sec neighborhood, the line that frequently forms outside Quimet & Quimet at opening hours is just one indication of the excellent tapas and wines that are served here. Tapas can range from the simplicity of excellent fish or shellfish canned in Spanish extra virgin olive oil, to more sophisticated options like sea urchins, foie gras, Ibérico pork cheeks and more. Whatever you choose, the quality of the raw ingredients is only matched by the skill used in their preparation, and then improved with an extra dose of charm from owner Joaquim “Quim” Pérez, who is the fourth generation of his family to preside over this tiny space. You will have a hard time sampling only one tapa here – don't bother trying. No matter what, do order the Montadito de mojama y tomate, a tartare-like mixture of salt-cured tuna and tomato, served on a miniscule baguette: salty, sweet, acidic, excellent.
Valencia: Casa Montaña
Carrer de Josep Benlliure, 69
Casa Montaña has been a stalwart of the Valencia port neighborhood of Canyameral since 1836 – long enough to prove that success lies in the quality of their ingredients and skillful preparation of excellent tapas in this boisterous yet cozy, historic tavern. Crispy cod croquettes compete with the simple excellence of the tomato salad, for instance. But a visit to this wine-barrel-lined establishment would not be complete without savoring the anchoas en salazón (salt-cured anchovies), which are made in-house using artisanal curing techniques that are deeply rooted in the gastronomy of this Mediterranean region. Be sure to wash them down with one of the area’s wonderfully fruit-forward Bobal red wines, or a complex and enveloping white made from the local Merseguera grapes grown in DO’s Valencia and Utiel-Requena, and Vinos de Pago El Terrerazo.
Alicante: Nou Manolin
C/ Villegas, 3
For such a small place, I can’t say enough about the bar at Nou Manolin, a gastronomic mecca that has fascinated the likes of world-famous French chef Joël Robuchon. Oh, the vegetables! Oh, the seafood! Oh, the freshness and simplicity of the flavors on the grill! And perhaps nothing better synthesizes all of these things and captures the essence of the sea than the gamba roja de Denia (red prawn from Denia), served whole, grilled, piping hot and generously salted. This may be the simplest dish on the menu, but is the direct result of selecting the very best bounty from the sea, and enhancing its sweet and delicate flavors with just the right touch. It’s magical. Make sure to get a seat at the rectangular bar on the ground floor for the best view of the night’s tapa selection, laid out in gleaming display cases. Don’t be afraid to point!
Palma de Mallorca: Quina Creu
C/ de la Corderia, 24
One could argue that everything tastes better in Palma de Mallorca. After all, it’s hard not to be seduced by the balmy breezes and gorgeous environs of the capital city of this stunning Balearic island. Here, Mediterranean sophistication is on the menu, and the bar at this vintage-styled bistro finds the perfect balance between quirky and cosmopolitan, decadent and restrained. The menu of tapas is no different, featured as a large selection of pinchos laid out tantalizingly along the inviting bar. Take your pick from options like morcilla (blood sausage) with black chocolate, grilled Ibérico pork tenderloin with goat’s cheese, sobrasada with honey, or the popular “vegetable pyramid” with goat’s cheese (can we choose them all?), paired with the equally spectacular red and white wines made with local grape varieties.
Málaga: El Pimpi
C/ Granada 62
Opened in 1971, Bodega Bar El Pimpi is a veritable institution in this Andalusian city. Located in an 18th century manor house, the main entrance is an easy-to-miss garden door on Calle Granada, while the bodega backs up to the pedestrian Calle Alcazabilla. However you approach this traditional establishment, you will find yourself in a maze of different rooms and patios. Wine barrels, flamenco, bullfighting posters and other cultural references create diversely themed spaces, while the year-round terrace offers views of the city’s Moorish citadel and Roman Theater. Greenery-lined patios also provide welcome relief from the hot summer sun. There is also a more recently created “Gastro Zone,” where the focus is on local producers who are featured in the on-site shop and on a wide-ranging program of activities that focus on area gastronomy, wine pairing and more. Regulars of this iconic establishment would encourage diners to stop by the old-world-style tapas bar near the front to order the famed Croquetas de puchero de la abuela (Grandma’s stew croquettes), or choose a table and treat themselves to the huge selection of typical Andalusian tapas and dishes. The accompanying wine list has a wonderful selection of DO Málaga wines, including the traditional sweet Moscatel wines for which this region is famous.
Fresh fish and seafood, spectacular vegetables and fruits, outstanding olive oils, excellent wines... all of these things play an important role in the gastronomy of Mediterranean Spain.