Saturday, May 5, 2012


A chiringuito on the Mediterranean beach.

You can’t get much closer to the water without getting your feet wet than at a chiringuito. A chiringuito once was a beach shack where local fishermen served up simple foods—spit-roasted sardines, fried fish, wine-steamed clams.

Nowadays, thatch-roof shacks have been replaced by brick-and-mortar buildings and modern kitchens take the place of the rustic cooking facilities of yore.  But a chiringuito is still a great place for a lunch at the beach.

What’s to eat? Fish and shellfish of all kinds, from the humble to the sublime. Any chiringuito worth its salt will have a guy fanning a wood fire to make espetones, sardines speared on skewers that are stuck into the sand to roast in front of the fire.  From the plancha, or griddle, come big shrimp (I so love those bright red carabineros) and whole fish such as sea bass, golden bream and sole. Specialties include cooked-to-order paella, whole fish baked in a salt crust or on a bed of potatoes with onions and wine. (The last two are priced by weight of fish, costing about €40 per kilo, or about $50 for a two- pound-fish, weighed with the head.)

Roasted pepper salad with fish.

But we were not after the expensive fish, but the classic at chiringuitos on the Málaga coast, where I live,  pescaito frito, fried fish. We ordered a fritura, a mixed fish fry (two of us shared a single order costing €12 (under $16).

We had our taste buds primed for coquinas, tiny wedge-shell clams, but were disappointed that they were not available. So we opted for mussels instead, which come from the northwest Galician coast. They are cooked, marinera-style, with olive oil, sliced garlic, wine and parsley.

A typical fish fry consists of boquerones, small, fresh anchovies; calamares, rings of squid; salmonetes, tiny red mullet; small sole (sand-dab size), and baby hake. The small hake, called pijota or pescadilla, are often curled into a circle, with their tails caught between their teeth, before flouring and frying.

The procedure is simple. Dredge the fish in flour, then shake off the excess. Local cooks use a coarse sieve to shake off excess flour. Deep-fry each type of fish separately in hot olive or vegetable oil. Drain briefly, then serve all the fish, piping hot, heaped on a platter with lemon wedges.

Mixed fish fry with fresh anchovies, squid, red mullet and baby hake.
As much as I adore fresh anchovies, I have to say that my most favorite little fish is the red mullet. And, in early May, before the beach season is in full swing, it was relatively easy to find parking space on the Paseo Marítimo and stroll along the beach to our lunch destination. This was chiringuito heaven!