With a full 12+ hours of sleep behind us, we woke up ready to go…at 11am. El Riad offers complimentary breakfast vouchers at Noviembre, a shabby chic restaurant just a minute or so walk away. We worried our much needed sleep may have ruled out our breakfast plans as it was nearly lunch time, according to our normal schedule. We arrived to find Noviembre opens at 9am and serves lunch until 1pm. Another reason to love southern Spain!
First on the agenda, two espressos and two freshly squeezed orange juice. After my first sip, I realized I’d never had orange juice until this point in my life. This was orange juice. They literally take whole oranges and run them through a press which squeezes out all the juice with a little rind, peel, and pulp. It tasted ultra fresh with a slight tang and luxurious texture. Drinking this orange juice at a normal pace is simply impossible. I wanted to take it all in, guzzle it. I had to force myself to put the glass down and enjoy every last ounce. Luckily for us, it turned out all the orange juice we drank in Malaga tasted just as amazing and was just as impossible to drink at a leisurely pace. The orange juice alone is worth a visit to Malaga. All this orange juice talk should not undermine the espresso. It was one of the best cups of espresso I’d ever had. Luckily, this trend continued throughout our trip as well. European coffee, in general, is leaps and bounds ahead of the coffee back home. They do it right.
Our minds had been blown and we hadn’t even ordered breakfast yet. Our vouchers allowed us to order from a selection of tostadas, essentially various toppings on toast. I ordered avocado on toast, which always evokes memories from our trip to Costa Rica. Matt ordered Jamón serrano and tomato sauce. The tomato sauce would be a recurring item throughout our trip. Most commonly, we saw it at breakfast simply spread on a crusty baguette or served with Jamón as Matt’s was this morning. We have come very close to replicating it by using our food processor to pulse peeled fresh tomatoes, garlic, salt, and pepper.
After breakfast, we started exploring without having a plan or idea of where we were going. We found out fairly quickly, after meandering down an alley this way, turning onto a street that way, and turning again down a pedestrian walkway that Malaga was going to be interesting and challenging to get around, at least for me.
As I mentioned Matt is a sort of language wizard, he also has an incredible knack for geography. There have been multiple occasions when he has walked up behind me while I’m looking at a city on the internet and said “Oh, is that Vienna?” Just by a glance. In the same regard, he tends to remember street names and has an amazing ability to understand direction. In comparison, I do not. I remember places by their appearance and give directions based on surroundings. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the country and the directions we gave sounded something like this, “go a mile past the big tree on your left and you’ll see an old tractor.” When we explain our vast geography differences to other people, Matt and I both reference the same story. We were driving around Sioux Falls in search of an antique engagement ring. I remembered a specific antique store, but didn’t know the address. Matt asked me to describe where it was. I said “it’s on the same street where we saw that guy with the hat that one time.” Matt took a deep breath in and upon exhaling said “I can’t believe this, but I know exactly where you’re talking about.” And off we went.
Together, though, we make a pretty strong team. He knows the technical things and I can help with some visual details. If we can’t see a street sign, I may recognize a store window and know we are on the right path. Team work.
Back to Malaga. We’re randomly wandering around the exterior of the Picasso Museum and we walk down this narrow white walkway that opens up to El Teatro Romano, the oldest monument in Malaga located at the base of Alcazaba and Castillo de Gibralfaro. To think about this being in use as a theatre so many years ago is just wild. The history is incredible.
We continued walking and found a park on the boulevard between two busy streets. There were squawking parrots, rose bushes, palm trees, and various seating areas. At the end of the park, we could see Malaga Port. It’s so industrial, such a change from the Historic Centre. Walking East, along the coast, transitions from industrial to a very laid back beach vibe complete with a handful of restaurants. This time of year is generally the coldest in Malaga with temperatures averaging 55 degrees, making the beach feel like it was our personal playground.
Once back in the Historic Centre, we stopped at a couple shops on the way to our late lunch. Both were recommended by our lovely hosts at El Riad. First, we visited Alfajar, a bright and spacious store featuring ceramic, jewelry, and print art by Spanish artists. We fell in love with many items and wish it was easier to transport them back. On this visit, though, we did leave with a tiny, adorable painted ceramic owl for our house and a mixed media ring for me. We would be back. I’m calling the next shop “The Shop With No Name” because although we always find our way back, we cannot figure out the name of the store! As you enter, you have to go down a couple steps. It’s small, probably room for about 6 customers plus the owner. It is dark, but this place has treasures! I left empty handed this time, but that would be the only time. Throughout our trip, I remembered the very cool hand-painted wooden cat statue that would eventually be mine.
Around 2:30pm we headed to La Quesarilla for lunch. Compared to the 30 degree temperatures back in Pierre, the 64 degree day in Malaga felt pretty good so we opted to sit on the covered patio for lunch. Matt ordered a glass of Fino Sherry. Sherry wine originated in Cadiz, Spain and is considered one of the oldest varieties of wine. Although it doesn’t carry huge popularity, it has an interesting historical factor and many varieties of sherry exist, most of which Matt and I enjoy. The Fino Sherry was not one of those. It was almost vinegar-like and reminded me of what, and I know this is extremely random, a fluorescent light bulb might taste. Not the best start, but then came the complimentary crackers and olives. We would find, in coming days, that olives were like our “house bread” or “tortilla chips and salsa”. Most restaurants would provide a complimentary small bowl of olives, each with a distinctively different flavor profile. But, these olives. These were the best olives of the trip. They were briny with a bit of garlic and touch of spicy heat. While live music played on our left, we sat and savored each olive. We ordered some Jamón Ibérico and three tostadas (very similar to our breakfast tostadas). First was a creamy blue cheese spread and bitter orange marmalade and oregano. Second was goat cheese topped with caramelized onions and Spanish paprika. And, third was tetilla cheese with smoked salmon and dill. Although the olives, Jamón, and music were amazing, the rest of the meal left us wanting something more.
We wandered for a while and came across the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, Malaga’s open air market. It was closed for the day, so we vowed to go the next day.
A bit further and we came across a tiny bar, packed with locals, so we squeezed inside and found a couple seats at a tall table against the wall. We ordered dos cañas (two small beers) and cold shrimp. The small, heads-still-on shrimp were served in a paper cone and tossed with a generous amount of sea salt. We embraced the local spirit and experienced sucking out a shrimp head for the first time. The flavor was intense. It tasted like shrimp and sea water multiplied times ten. The tiny bites of shrimp followed by sips of our caña were memorable…still one of our favorite food experiences of all time.
We left feeling great, energized, and decided to keep pushing on. It was time to visit the Picasso Museum we had walked passed earlier in the day. The inside of this unassuming white building is beautiful, with a grassy center square in the middle, and filled with Picasso’s art.
When we walked out of the museum, it was 6pm and empty because everyone was still enjoying siesta. We, on the other hand, had powered through today and our feet were feeling it. It was time for us to take a short siesta at El Riad before dinner tonight.
Again per recommendation from our hosts at El Riad, we walked to El Tapeo de Cervantes for our first tapas meal of the trip. And, as it turned out, one of the best meals we’ve had and a place we’ve frequented on every return trip to Malaga. Cervantes, as we call it, is a stone’s throw away from Teatro Cervantes de Malaga. Gabriel, his wife, and in-laws own and run Cervantes along with Mesón de Cervantes which is just around the corner from Cervantes and is able to accommodate larger groups. Gabriel was wonderful and friendly from the moment we met him. He calls Matt “Mateo” and has remembered us each subsequent year we’ve visited. Gabriel immediately made us feel like family. And, that’s a good thing because as small as Cervantes is, you end up feeling like family with everyone in the restaurant.
These pictures are taken from the back of the restaurant. Just behind Matt’s shoulder, on the right, is the door to the street. We were at a small table for two. There was another small table for two on our left along with 5 other tables and 5 seats at the bar. You are basically seeing the entire restaurant when we first arrived, Early Birds again, and then near the end of our meal.
This was our first tapas experience, and although we understood that tapas meant “small Spanish dishes” we didn’t really know how or what to order. Gabriel started us off with complimentary olives and bread. After inquiring, he suggested 3-4 tapa per person. We ordered:
- Chipirones Frescos a la Sartén, con Espinacas Salteadas (Pan-Seared Baby Squid with Spinach)
- Jamón Ibérico con Champiñón y Espárragos a la Plancha (Iberico Ham with Grilled King Trumpet Mushrooms and Asparagus)
- Tabla de Quesos y Paté Artesanal (Young Manchego with Paté)
- Atún Rojo Fresco a la Plancha con Emulsión de Coliflor (Grilled Red Tuna with Cauliflower Puree)
- Croquetas Caseras de Cocido y Pollo, con Mermelada de Piña (Chicken Croquettes served with Pineapple Preserves)
- Empanadas Argentinas de Carne de Ternera (Argentinean Beef Empanadas)
- Carrillada (Braised Pork Cheeks & White Beans in a Rich Sauce)
It’s impossible to say what we loved the most, because it was all excellent! We adore that they bring out each item as it’s ready, so you don’t know what you’re getting first or last but it’s a constant flow of tapas! Each dish allowed us 2-3 bites and then we were on to the next one. The pan-seared baby squid was the first item to arrive and it was one of the most memorable. The squid was tender and the spinach received just a quick saute before both were plated and delivered. Simply seasoned, Cervantes allowed the flavors of squid and fresh spinach to take the lead. The Jamón Ibérico with grilled King Trumpet mushrooms and asparagus is a dish we’ve tried to replicate at home. The salty, earthy, intense pork flavor of the Jamón paired with the strong mushroom flavor and in-season asparagus were amazing. The Manchego probably made the least impact on us that evening, but was still wonderful and Manchego continues to play an important role in our lives (RedRossa Italian Grille featured Braised Duck Papardelle finished with Shaved Spanish Manchego on their Fall 2015 Hunters’ Menu…that was no accident, folks.). We still talk about the grilled tuna and cauliflower puree. The tuna was just barely seared and the puree was divinely smooth. Pineapple preserves were new to us, but we experienced them here at Cervantes as well as a restaurant in Sevilla. The sweet preserves paired nicely with the rich gravy-like interior of the chicken croquettes. Empanadas….oh, empanadas. I loved these! What’s not to love, really? Seasoned meat filling surrounded by fried dough. Yes, please. At Cervantes, they served the empanadas with a vinegar and oil based dipping sauce. Think the flavors of Italian Giardiniera , including very finely diced carrot, peppers, and garlic, packed into a small bowl. Awesome. And then, the finale and our favorite tapa of the night, the carrillada. It was my first time eating pork cheeks and I was a little hesitant, but also excited. Carrillada is a very popular dish in Southern Spain, one we would see often during the rest of our trip. This one was slightly spicy, served with white beans and a decadent flavor-packed sauce in a scalding hot mini Dutch oven. So good. It was all just so good. Dinner was 33 euro, which was about $40 and included 2 beers and 2 glasses of wine.
The walk back to El Riad was just a couple minutes and then off to bed.