The following is a guest post from Jacob Goldberg, thanks so much for sharing your Almadraba experience with us Jacob.
I’ve eaten better in the last few days than I have in the few years!
I’m in Andalucia with Manni and Fernando from TOMA & COE. These guys are great and are showing us around some of the most fantastic places to eat in a quaint little town called Vejer. We’re here to go and watch the world famous Almadraba tuna fishing. This event is extremely exclusive but Manni and Fernando have pulled it out the bag to get us in, just a handful of people are allowed to watch and it only goes on for 1 month a year.
We started in Vejer a beautiful little town painted white with terracotta roofs up on a hill with some spectacular views over the neighboring hills and rice paddies. Manni had booked us into a stunning little boutique hotel called Califa right on the main square, with just enough hustle and bustle to sit a watch as people go by but not too much to disturb our siesta later!
We decided to go out for lunch and en route we walked past a sherry bar which Manni couldn’t resist taking us into for a glass of fantastic crisp dry Manzanilla from the Atlantic coast accompanied by some spicy late spring snails (on the house!) which were surprisingly good!
We continued on towards our lunch spot, but on walking past the Mercado San Francisco food market we just had to go and investigate. This is essentially a designer food market with beautiful blue and white mosaic tiling all over and little food stalls throughout. We stopped for a glass of delicious local white wine, some Iberian ham and semi cured payoyo goats cheese. Wonderful.
We continued on determined to make it to lunch this time! And finally stopped at a traditional little place that a friendly but slightly portly Spanish chap pointed out to us, what a great choice it was. Incredible grilled red peppers and cured tuna, chipironcitos (tiny friend squid) retinto beef tenderloin grilled perfectly medium rare and an unbelievable bailey’s panna cotta for dessert, all washed down with some gorgeous Merlot and a wine from Granada.
After a thoroughly enjoyable siesta feeling refreshed and ready to seek out the town’s best food again, Manni took us for a sundowner with the most amazing view of the hills and then we slowly made our way over to the restaurant for dinner soaking up the warm evening ambience and hearing from Manni about the various sights that we walked past.
Dinner was exceptional. In a place called Casa Varo, we were welcomed by Juan, a man who knows his food. This place is famous for its tuna and given that we were going to watch world famous fishing the next day we couldn’t help ourselves. Juan is an excellent host and spent time explaining all the different cuts of tuna and the subtle differences in flavor and texture. We had tuna sashimi with wasabi and pickled ginger, it was undoubtedly the best tuna I’ve ever eaten, soft and delicate it melted in the mouth and tasted so delicious. Followed by a tuna tartar and then a tarantello of tuna on the grill. It was exquisite. We washed it down with a few bottles of Albarino white wine, coffees and chatted away into the night.
The next day we were up at the crack of dawn and straight down to the port to meet Captain Ignacio who escorted us out to sea in his boat to go and watch the fishermen catch the best tuna in the world with a technique dating back 3000 years. Funneled by a massive sequence of nets into a dead end made by linking the 6 or so fishing boats together the tuna are then counted by divers to ensure the quota is upheld and the tuna are not overfished. If too many are in the net then they release some before any of them are caught. About 80 were caught this day and as the nets are lifted a team of divers and expert fishermen kill the tuna with shot gun harpoons in a quick and humane way to reduce the stress on the fish. They are then lifted out of the water by cranes and loaded into the cargo hold and send back for processing. Ignacio explained everything and was a charming host. The experience was truly incredible and humbling to see as the fish are often bigger than a person. When we got back to dry land we were taken to the processing factory where we saw how the cuts and separated by a team of people in record speed so the fish are caught, processed and then frozen within about 2 hours and about 70% are then sent to Japan for sushi.
After this incredible experience and with our tummies rumbling, Manni and Fernando took us to our next destination, lunch! We went to a beautiful spot overlooking the sandy beach with a faint scent of the sea in the air. I had smoked tuna to start, a delicious and subtle flavor which really complimented the fish followed by a barbecue seared tuna loin on a bed of vegetables with a wonderful romesco sauce. Dessert was a gorgeous chocolate orange flute and layered Argentine dulce de leche cream with meringue. With our bellies full and big smiles on our faces we parted ways with our delightful guides with big hugs all round.
This was an unforgettable experience in Andalucia with some great company, incredible food and fantastic experience watching the fishing. It was expertly organized, planned and put together by Manni and Fernando from TOMA & COE who I can’t thank enough! Highly recommended!!