Every great city has a central market, and Malaga’s is Atarazanas. The name came from its Moorish history and translated from Arabic into English means, “place where ships are repaired.” It is a fitting name as Malaga’s Atarazanas was one of the most important shipyards of the Moorish Caliphate. The original shipyard possessed seven towering marble arches. Today one impressive 14th-century grey arch courtesy of Spanish architect Joaquin Rucoba welcomes visitors at the main entrance. If you are visiting Malaga for the day or with a cruise, the market is a perfect stop. The twenty-minute walk from the port is scenic and close to the centre of town.
One of the most fantastic things about travelling is the luxury to explore the foods of each place I visit and see something different from what exists at home. I am very interested in how people nourish their bodies and understanding a culture’s relationship with food. It all starts with the local market. And there I stood, in the stalls of Atarazanas, feeling like a local, discovering the smells and enjoying the opportunity to see how locals eat. It is not about convenience, and nothing is prepackaged, it’s fresh and local. Everything from produce to fish is spread out on tables and selected by piece. Locals pick their tomatoes on ripeness that fits their taste. Fish (or meat) is filleted on the spot depending on the menu that evening. Here are some items you will want to explore:
My Spanish grandmother used to say a Spanish table is decorated with olives, and we saw mounds of olives decorating every corner of this market. Spain has a long tradition of olive production, and every meal can incorporate olives. Spanish spaghetti with olives, chicken stuffed with rice and olives, tuna empanada loaded with olives. All favorites of mine. The gordal and manzanilla olives, often stuffed with pimiento are typical olives found on Spanish tables. If you ask the attendant, they will provide you with olives for tasting by scooping some samples from their big plastic containers loaded with brine. I sampled many olives on our tour.
The sampling of chorizo was a requirement for me on this day, and it all tasted excellent. Chorizo is traditional Spanish pork sausage marinated with paprika to create its distinct flavour. It can be sweet or hot as well as cured or fresh aka “soft”. Cured chorizo is typically eaten as an appetizer or tapa while soft chorizo is fattier and used for cooking (I like both). As a child, the bread man would drop off baguettes of bread and hang them in bags outside our front door (kind of like the milkman). For lunch, my mother would slice a chorizo in half and place it into the frying pan. She would serve it hot and crispy between the sliced baguette. The paprika and olive oil of the chorizo would stick to the bread almost like butter. It was oh so good.
Close to the chorizo we found our first sampling of Spanish ham “jamon”. It was highlighted by the pigs hooves hanging from the ceiling (yes, I see how this can sound weird). The Spanish take their ham very seriously and will pay top dollar for good quality jamon. The grade of jamon is determined by the type of pig and how it was raised. Jamon Iberico (a black-hoofed pig) considered the caviar of ham, is the most prized meat. These pigs graze in the pastoral region of Dehesa and feed on a plentiful diet of sweet acorns. This acorn diet gives the jamon a unique fatty marble that in your mouth seems to melt the fat from the meat ( the sign of a superior jamon). As well, it boasts a high level of healthy fat similar to that found in olive oil ( bonus). In Spain to get the best jamon for Christmas, a family will place their order up to 6 months in advance (that’s serious business).
When visiting Atarazanas do not overlook the different types of fish (yes they will have heads) on display. Spain’s location on the Iberian peninsula surrounded on three sides by water ensures that fish and seafood are fresh, plentiful and, therefore, a staple in the Spanish diet. The variety on offer is unprecedented, with layers of fish sprawled on tables for the locals to inspect. I grew up eating fish and tasting everything put in front of me. Bacalao salt cod, octopus salad and baby eel in garlic sauce are all items found on a typical Spanish menu (I have had them all). But you won’t find them drenched in marinades. Fresh fish should never taste fishy or need to hide in a marinade. So a pinch of salt and the generous drizzle of olive oil is often all that is needed.
If you are looking for something interesting to write home about, look for razor clams, these scary looking creatures that resemble Halloween fingers are delicious grilled with a taste similar to other mollusk meat.
Tips: Markets are for early risers. This market closes at 2 pm although most stalls begin to pack up at 1 pm. Open Monday – Saturday. If you see something that you like, just tell the vendor, and he will pick the best pieces. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language hand gestures will do just fine.
Local guide Victor Garrido of We love Malaga Tours accompanied us on our visit. He provided the history of the market, and a prearranged food tour through the stalls.
Calle de las Atarazanas, 19, 29005 Málaga, Spain