Sardines swim into cultural heritage
Published on: 27-03-2018

The Cultural Commission of the Spanish Senate has recently approved an official application for the espeto for recognition as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The aim is to add the Malagueña sardine staple to a long list of Spanish arts and traditions such as flamenco, ‘castels’ or human towers, and the ‘silbo gomera’, a form of communicating with whistles used by inhabitants of La Gomera in the Canary Islands.

A simple dish that needs only four elements – sardines, salt, bamboo cane and fire – nevertheless it is intrinsic to the Málaga gastronomic culture. Usually to be found on the beaches of the Costa del Sol, freshly caught sardines are threaded onto lengths of bamboo cane and then liberally doused in rock salt. The magic really takes place when they are cooked, however.

Small fishing boats are recommissioned as barbecues and are filled with sand before large hunks of wood – ideally olive logs that burns hot yet slow – are lit to burn on the sand-filled boat. The espetos are then lined up along the burning wood for a few minutes on both sides before being served, usually with a piece of lemon. It sounds like simplicity itself, yet the skill lays in the placing of the sardines and judging the perfect cooking time. Too much and the delicate fish becomes dry; not enough and, well, no one wants a raw sardine!

“We want to protect and improve awareness of this element which forms a part of our cultural identity and unites the people of Málaga. It is vital that we get the espeto included in the Unesco list,” explained senator Manuel Marmolejo, who is championing its inclusion.

Of course, the seafood tradition of the Costa del Sol is not limited to the espeto. The fritura Malagueña is another local favourite and generally consists of a delicious variety of seafood dipped in batter and deep fried.

Simple, fresh dishes eaten in a chiringuito (beach restaurant) on a hot sunny day, there can be few more pleasant culinary experiences typical of life on the Costa del Sol.