It is a familiar sight at beach bars on the Costa del Sol: fishing boats grilling sardines and other fish. The one who grits the espetos is called espetero. But where are the tastiest ‘espetos de sardinas‘ served?
It is an art in itself to make skewers (espetos) from the sardines on the fine, long cane with sufficient dexterity and speed. As such, a competition takes place every year. The 9th edition of the Concurso de Espetos de la Costa del Sol brought together 20 professionals in Torremolinos to choose the best ‘espetero’ and promote the tradition of skewering with reeds. Moreover, for the first time, two women also participated in the professionals’ category.
And the winner is…
The best Espetero on the Costa del sol was chosen as Alfonso Marín Muñoz, working for chiringuito Los Leones in La Carihuela (Torremolinos). This restaurant has been around since 1962 thanks to four generations who keep good traditions but add a modern touch.
Second place went to Miguel Ángel Díez (Rincón de la Victoria). And Nicolás Joaquín Gavín, from Trocadero Málaga won the third prize. Furthermore, apart from a trophy, the prize winners won €1,000, €500 and €300 respectively.
During the competition, the espeteros had to pass the test of preparing the traditional sardine skewer live, as well as a large piece of fish chosen by each to present to a jury that assessed things like cooking time, taste, texture and presentation.
The jury consisted of Michelin-starred chefs Fernando Villasclaras and Diego Gallegos; the president of the Hoteliers Association of Málaga, Javier Frutos; academic Manuel Duarte; Bodega Barbadillo’s large-customer manager Miguel Avisbal; ABC newspaper journalist María Sánchez; and Carta Malacitana board member María José Ruiz.
When are sardinas at their tastiest?
They used to be fired directly on the beach. Nowadays, all chiringuitos have set up old fishing boats filled with sand for this purpose. Furthermore, those boats can also turn. This, therefore, makes full use of the wind to roast the sardines perfectly. They are often served in six, with coarse sea salt and a slice of lemon. According to Spaniards, sardines are fattest and therefore tastiest in the summer months without the ‘r’.
Head, bone and tail
Spain’s first chiringuito is said to have originated thanks to such an espetero. As early as 1882, Miguelito ‘el de las sardinas’ (the one with the sardines) opened a merendero (beach bar) in El Palo, near Málaga. There, passers-by could rest with a drink and satisfy their hunger with a plate of espetos. When King Alfonso VII came to eat here on his way to Málaga and was about to start eating his sardines with fork and knife, Miguelito is said to have warned him: ‘Not like that, Your Majesty, but with your fingers’. Espetos are not eaten with cutlery and many Spaniards eat them with bones, heads and tails!