If you come to Malaga, there are a few foods that you'll see everywhere.
There are the fried, salted almonds that multiple vendors will try to sell you on Calle Larios, as well as in the Atarazanas market. Then you've got some excellent olives and sweet wine. But for now, let's talk about the small but mighty espeto.
The what now? No worries—this guide to eating espetos in Malaga will get you all caught up.
Eating Espetos in Malaga
What is an espeto?
Quick Spanish lesson: the verb espetar means “to skewer."
In Malaga, an espeto refers to six fresh sardines (although you can also use other kinds of fish and meat, sardines are the most common), skewered and cooked over a pit of coals. The only seasoning is a bit of olive oil and sea salt. The result? Delicious! These little guys are meant to be eaten with your fingers, preferably as close to the beach as possible.
Have people always eaten fish this way?
Grilling fish over open fires has been around in Malaga since the time of the Phoenicians. It was common for fishermen to grill themselves a quick meal just after returning from the sea. They would build a small fire in their boats and carefully grill the fish over the hot embers. That's why you'll see espetos being grilled over old fishing boats along the sand.
The modern espeto likely came to be thanks to King Alfonso XII. The story goes that the king was introduced to the espeto back in 1884. Miguel Martinez Soler is credited as the chef and he was known as “Miguel, the Sardine Man” (Miguel, el de las Sardinas). He insisted that the king use his hands to eat the sardines, and the king thoroughly enjoyed his dish!
Do you have to prepare the sardines in any special way?
An espeto is usually made up of six sardines skewered on a bamboo spit. The best ones are medium sized (big sardines aren’t usually found in the Mediterranean). You should also firm up the sardines before cooking by sticking them in a bucket of ice and salting them for at least 30 minutes.
If you want to add extra flavor, you can add some herbs such as thyme, rosemary or bay leaves to the fire. Olive wood is traditionally used for the fire, which also adds flavor.
Are sardines healthy?
Yes! Sardines are a great source of vitamin B and iron. They're also high in Omega 3 and low in calories. One serving is only about 200 calories and gives you 23 grams of protein. Also, because sardines are lower on the food chain, they have very little mercury, so they're a good choice for kids or pregnant women. All the more reason for eating espetos in Malaga/
When is the best time for eating espetos in Malaga?
In Malaga, popular wisdom says that sardine espetos are best in the months that don’t have an “r”—in other words, May, June, July and August. There's another saying that they are best from “Virgin to Virgin.” That sounds a bit odd, but it refers to the period of time between the feast of the Virgin del Carmen (July 16) and the Virgin of the Victoria (September 8).
Where are the best places for eating espetos in Malaga?
El Tintero II
El Tintero is the place to be for all kinds of seafood. Located right on the beach, this restaurant is famous for the unique way of ordering. The servers will come around with different plates of food shouting whatever they're offering—“paella!” “espetos!”—and you flag them down for a dish. When you’ve finished, flag down one of the waiters shouting, “mira mira mira y yo cobro" to let them know you want to pay. Don’t be frightened away by the seemingly chaotic atmosphere. This is where the locals go, and you won’t be disappointed.
Address: Playa del Dedo
Chiringuito La Farola
The classic place to eat an espeto is at a chiringuito (small restaurant located close to the sea or ocean) on the beach. If you're lucky enough to be in Malaga on a summer evening, there's no better plan than heading down to the shore a bit early, enjoying a relaxing drink before dinner and then listening to the waves as you enjoy an espeto.
Address: Paseo de Matias Prats
Miguelito el Cariñoso
This is another local favorite, although it's farther out towards the neighborhood of Pedregalejo. With freshly caught seafood, simple decoration and proximity to the beach, there really isn’t much else that you need.
Address: Paseo Marítimo del Pedregal, 77
Another delicious local spot that gets crowded on the weekends is Hermanos Muñoz. Don't expect service with a smile, but the food is worth the wait (and the chaos!).
Address: Paseo Marítimo el Pedregal, 98
Still hungry? Here are more typical dishes from Malaga you should try.