Fish, Feasts and Fun in Torre Del Mar on the Costa del Sol
By Jen Jones
While traveling through the south of Spain, we met an old friend in the seaside town of Torre Del Mar, near Malaga on the Costa del Sol. Like most beach towns, this one is situated right on a sandy stretch of beach and contains all the trappings of a seaside area you would expect–restaurants, shops, bars, sun and sand. What it doesn’t have are a lot of tourists as this area seems to have been overlooked by the many ex-pats who vacation along the Spanish coast. There is a long stretch of bars, restaurants and discos along the beach front called El Copo. As is usual in Spain, most things close in the early afternoon and re-open around 8:00 PM in the evenings and are open til the wee hours. If you go, plan to eat an early lunch or you won’t get anything to eat until later in the evening.
Open Air eating
One of my favorite places to eat are the lovely Chiringuitos, which are open air restaurants on the beach specializing in seafood. We had a wonderful lunch as you can see in the photo which consisted of my favorite dish, gambas al pil pil, or shrimp in boiling oil with hot peppers. You can see there are two of these in the metal dishes on the table. Lovely, fresh shrimp cooked in olive oil with a little sprinkle of dried hot peppers. The crusty bread is for dipping into the oil and eating with the shrimp. We also had boiled shrimp with the heads on, a wonderful white fish lightly grilled and, boquerones fritos,which are battered and fried fresh sardines. You can also get boquerones cooked lightly without frying which we ate along with some wonderful fried baby squid. It was a feast! I ate until I couldn’t possibly take another bite. The day was beautiful and sunny, of course which it always is on the Costa del Sol and as we ate we gazed out at the beach and lovely blue Mediterranean Sea. I highly recommend a meal at any of these wonderful restaurants on the beaches. The seafood is practically out of the water that day. Wonderfully fresh and delicious!
Fish market of La Caleta de Velez
After lunch, we decided to visit La Caleta de Velez, a port town nearby. This is still very much a working port town with a marina and the local commercial fishing operation. We decided to visit the fish market as it was late in the day and boats were beginning to come in and unload their day’s catch. The fish are sorted on the boats by type and size and placed into large plastic buckets and carried into the warehouse. Once inside, the fish are weighed and batched for sale.
The batched fish are placed into plastic or Styrofoam boxes for sale. Each box has a note on it as to what type the fish are, the weight of the box and which boat it came from. Lots are displayed on a large screen in the salesroom and the buyers all have handheld devices which allow them to bid on the lots of fish by simply pressing buttons. Once bidding has closed the buyers pay for the fish they have purchased and have the lots are loaded onto their trucks for delivery to shops and restaurants around the area. A very interesting system! We marvelled at the different types of fish we saw, some of which we recognized (shrimp, squid, anchovies) and some of which we had no idea as to what they were. Standing there watching the fish being sold really indicated how fresh the seafood was in the area. Much of what was purchased that day would become dinner that evening. This sale takes place every day except Sundays so the fish are always very fresh.
The fishermen have small storage rooms at the fish market where they keep fishing supplies and we stopped and watched as one of them mended a fishing net. I imagine that it has been done this way for hundreds of years.
Next to the fish market is a marina for pleasure boats. Boating and sailing in the Med is hugely popular and the Costa Del Sol is Europe’s waterfront for this activity. Inquiring at the marina office, we learned that there is a seven year waiting list for a boat slip throughout the south of Spain, and there are many, many marinas and more being built. We admired the beautiful boats and sleek racing lines of some of the sailboats docked there.
Our visit to the area was in September, which is considered ‘off season’ there but the weather was still beautiful and crowds were long gone–a great time to visit!