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The taste of a place – Almeria

Tucked in the very dry south eastern corner of Spain, amidst what is known as the “Mar del Plastico” or “sea of plastic”, (basically miles of greenhouses), Almeria gets overlooked by many overseas visitors, who fly into the airport and head straight on to the nearby costas.

We first became acquainted with this small and friendly city, several years ago when our ex Andaluz colleague, Natalie was stationed here as part of her university course. When she invited us to visit, we immediately took her up on the offer. We were so pleasantly surprised with what we found, we recently returned for a 3 day soujourn.
It’s a small and intriguing city, with a working port; daily crossings to Morocco and Algeria. Perhaps this means Almeria doesn’t have the most beautiful seafront, but to us, it’s certainly interesting and cosmopolitan, giving it an air of intrigue too! (We found a great kiosk like bar called La Hormiguita, or “little ant”, where we could watch the comings and goings from the port to the bazaars in our neighbourhood).


Almeria has an impressive ancient Alcazar (Moorish fortress) that presides over the town and has done so, since construction began in 955. This is the biggest Alcazar in Europe, after Granada and it makes for a fascinating visit. Happily, it was very quiet and free of charge at this time of year (November).

                             

Below the Alcazar, lies the colourful maze of residential streets which was once the medina. Amongst the small and cheerful houses and jasmine lined streets, you may happen across the occasional Teteria (Moorish style tea house). It is highly recommended to stop for a refreshing mint tea and a sweet arab pastry, or two. We visited Teteria Almedina, where we found the soothing sound of the water features, the dim lighting and comfy seating areas to be a welcome respite from what was still pretty hot, midday sun. (Beware though, you can feel a little disorientated when you step back out into the real world again!)

     

Almeria also has a fascinating recent history. Underneath the city there is a 4.5km network of secret tunnels (or refugios), built during the Civil War (1937-8), by the city’s first-rate engineers. These tunnels are accessed via entrances dotted around the city, disguised as news kiosks, etc.

        
If you go on the fascinating tour, you will discover the most horrifying story; in a nutshell, Franco bombed Hitler’s favourite battleship. In retaliation, Hitler decided to bomb Barcelona. Franco would not accept this as he deemed Barcelona strategically important. Instead it was agreed that Hitler could take Almeria instead. 34,000 citizens hid underneath the city and survived. (This however, did not prevent the Nazi forces strafing those who tried to flee to Malaga). If you visit Almeria, I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.
On a (far) happier note, Almeria has been named Spanish capital for gastronomy 2019, due to its “unique and exceptional culinary offer that combines land and sea”. Apparently, 1 in 3 families in Europe regularly consumes products from Almeria. We were unaware of these facts until after our visit, but it is clear to see why.
From our very first port of call “Kiosko las Olas”, a very down to earth kiosk specialising in all things sea based, to the famous Casa Puga (where we happened to be stood next to Emilio Estevez!!!), the quality and simplicity of the offer is paramount.

            

 


For instance, the raf tomatoes of Almeria are incomparable. Served so simply, they need very little embellishment. Another local favourite is migas, basically a humble fried breadcrumb dish topped with either fried fish or local chorizo/morcilla (but always a slice of tomato!). We have always thought Spanish cooking to be at its best, when its at its simplest, relying on the quality of the ingredients.

       
Another great feature about Almeria tapas culture, is that a tapa is thrown in with your drink. What’s even better is that you get to choose which tapa you would like. There is generally a small menu to choose from and you also have the option buy “extra” tapas from around 1.60 euros. Often, the tapa is grilled on the plancha in front of you.

Of course, we headed to the central market as soon as we could. Here its on 2 floors, with the seafood in the basement. On the ground floor, we soon identified the bar at Stand 17 (Café Express), where we noticed a sign on the wall saying that they would grill meat/fish/vegetables bought at the market and serve them with a tomato salad (you are charged 7euros for this). So, we proceeded down to the fish hall where we bought the freshest, most beautiful tuna steaks to be grilled upstairs in the bar. I have to say, that next to the paella in Valencia, this really has been one of our stand-out dining experiences, so far. Dining on the finest, freshest ingredients, amidst the hubbub of the market with the most charming of hosts (and fellow diners), was just the best!

Of course, we headed to the central market as soon as we could. Here its on 2 floors, with the seafood in the basement. On the ground floor, we soon identified the bar at Stand 17 (Café Express), where we noticed a sign on the wall saying that they would grill meat/fish/vegetables bought at the market and serve them with a tomato salad (you are charged 7euros for this). So, we proceeded down to the fish hall where we bought the freshest, most beautiful tuna steaks to be grilled upstairs in the bar. I have to say, that next to the paella in Valencia, this really has been one of our stand-out dining experiences, so far. Dining on the finest, freshest ingredients, amidst the hubbub of the market with the most charming of hosts (and fellow diners), was just the best!


In short, we find Almeria to be a really intriguing mix of cultures and histories. Life here is vivid and full of contrast and colour. It’s quiet (in terms of tourists) and friendly. And the food, fantastic. You certainly know when you’re back in Andalucia!

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