Espetos, the Delicious Spanish Sardines of Malaga
If you’ve ever visited Malaga’s beaches in the summertime, you’ve no doubt smelled the unmistakable aroma of espetos, or Spanish sardines. While you may see espetos on menus all across Malaga you might not know exactly what they are. So let’s crack into it and talk all things Spanish sardines!
What are espetos?
Espetos are a culinary tradition that are an essential must-eat when you visit Malaga province. While it isn’t exactly known how the tradition of espetos began, we know it goes back to the late 19th century. Fishermen skewered and grilled fish in small boats on the sand, which is where the modern method came from. Espetos are skewers of Spanish sardines that are cooked over open flame using a few simple ingredients. Malaga’s seaside position means that it has access to fresh, juicy sardines all year long. For this, Malagueños have perfected the art of espeto preparation. These skewers usually have 6 sardines on them, but it’s also worth it to note that espetos can also have other fish or seafood on them, too.
How to prepare and eat Spanish sardines
To prepare espetos, bamboo skewers are sharpened so that sardines can be slid on easily to roast. Like with many things in Spanish cuisine, espetos are quite simple and made with fresh, local ingredients. Sea salt is rubbed over freshly-caught Spanish sardines, then are put on the skewer and set to roast over an open fire. Traditionally, fishermen or those preparing the espetos build a fire from olive wood in a small, old fishing boat on the sand. The smell of the burning wood and the roasting of the fish are part of the essence of Malaga, especially near the beachside bars, known as chiringuitos. Once the sardines are golden on the outside and cooked through, they are plated, drizzled with olive oil, and then given a healthy squirt of lemon juice.
When and where to try them
Locals say that the best time to eat Spanish sardines are the months that don’t have an “R” in their name, so May through August. The sardines are a little plumper during the summer, so the extra fat gives them a bit more flavor. That said, you can enjoy Spanish sardines really any time of year, especially at the seaside chiringuitos. Here are a few restaurants where you can’t go wrong when it comes to espetos:
- Chiringuito La Farola: one of the first names in espetos in Malaga, its location on the Malagueta beach makes it the perfect place for a seafood feast. On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than an ice-cold beer paired with Spanish sardines at the beach! Address: Paseo de Matias Prats
- Chiringuito El Espeto: the name says it all! Just outside of Malaga city in Torremolinos, this beach bar is a must for those who really love grilled sardines. Enjoy your meal inside the restaurant, or out in the sun on the terrace. Later, take advantage of the bar’s lounge chairs on the beach! El Espeto is definitely worth the short trip outside of the city for some seriously good food. Address: Paseo Marítimo s/n, Torremolinos
- El Tintero: upbeat, energetic, and an overall great place to eat. Try this chiringuito on a bright, sunny day and enjoy the organized chaos and vibe. Waiters zip around the restaurant shouting out dishes and what they’re carrying. If you see something you like, flag them down and it’s yours. Make sure that you get a few helpings of espetos! Address: Avenida Salvador Allende, 340
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