If you’ve ever been to a Spanish beach, you’ll know how lovely the sun, the sand, and the shore can be. There’s the break of the waves inviting you to dive in, children building sandcastles as they have done for generations before, and everyone in a mood to match the joy of the day.
But there is another part of the beach in Spain which is just as important and just as ubiquitous: the chiringuito, or the beach bar. More than a simple place to grab a beer, these stands can run from beaten-down to fancy, but each will have its unique clientele and its unique story to tell.
When deciding at which beach to spend the day, many Spaniards will take into account which chiringuito best suits their mood of the moment.
Depending on region, chiringuitos will offer local food to do their people proud. Below we provide a few suggestions on dishes to try based on beach location. Take the plunge and order any one of these. You’ll feel like the ultimate insider.
1. El Espeto from Malaga
Let’s start down south on the beautiful shores of Malaga. Known for its cracking nightlife as well as its alluring beaches, Malaga’s shoreline offers many options for the thirsty and peckish. One thing you won’t be able to miss is the sight of el espeto. You may want to translate this as simply fish on a stick, but by no means would that do this dish justice. We are talking about fresh sardines skewered and grilled on open flames that result in a plate that tastes of the sea and of smoke, all at once. Although the preparation may seem simple, for many it is an art form which demands perfection. The sardines must be speared carefully and then be exposed to the flame at a certain angle and for a specific amount of time. Anything less than this may send patrons heading to the chiringuito next door.
2. Tortillita de camarones en Cadiz
Continue westward to the opposite side of Gibraltar and you’ll hit the province of Cadiz, where fried food is the equivalent to a gourmet craft. A must-have in this region is the tortillita de camarones which you will find on offer everywhere. Best described as a shrimp fritter in which small shrimp, native to the region, are mixed into a batter and then fried thin like pancakes, this humble snack will make you rethink your aversion to fried foods. A cold beer and a tortillita under the shade of a chiringuito is a great way to take a break from the sun.
3. Paella en Valencia
Although served everywhere in Spain, paella originates from Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, and for many Spaniards, this area known as the Levante is the true place to delight in the arroces or rice dishes, where the bomba rice used in paella is grown. This classic rice dish, prepared with seafood, meat or a combination of these, is all about the communal experience of eating from the same pan, the paellera. Made to order, the paella is brought to your table after resting from its time on an open flame. Aside from its flavour and simplicity, the pleasure comes from scraping up the crusty rice from the bottom of the pan known as the socarrat. A perfect Mediterranean afternoon could be described as beach, paella, and a chilled glass of the local macabeo white wine.
4. Pintxos in the Basque Country
If you head up north to the Basque Country, you’ll find colder waters, a seemingly indecipherable language, and a culinary tradition that is being hailed the best in the world. You will also see the word pintxo written everywhere. Pintxos are not actually a specific food, rather a collective term to indicate small snacks, a combination of which will make an ideal beach meal. A pintxo is literally anything you can pinchar or stick a cocktail stick through. They can range from simple to elaborate preparations, with some served on small slices of bread while others are held together by a toothpick. Do as the locals do and head to the bar, point out which ones you’d like, and make a meal out of these delicious tidbits.
5. Papas arrugadas con mojo in Canarias
More of a side dish and our first non-seafood, vegetarian friendly recommendation on our list, papas arrugadas are perfect to share among beach-goers. These translate as “wrinkly potatoes”, which is not the most appetizing translation. The bite-sized potatoes get their flavour from being boiled in heavily salted water, or sometimes seawater, where they will take on their wrinkly appearance. Once drained, they are accompanied by mojo picón, a spicy red pepper sauce which may seem simple, but contains layers of flavour that perfectly accompany these salty, shrunken tubers.
So, when on the beach and lunchtime approaches, follow the hungry Spaniards to their favourite chiringuito, see what they are eating and order that. Your beach vacation will double as a rich culinary travel experience, memories of which will last longer than that tan.