International Writers Magazine: Food:
Best $5.00 Meal I Ever Had In Spain
beach at Malaga was our filming location. At that time, Malaga was
not the house next to house, hotel next to hotel, Coney Island of
the Spanish Mediterranean Coast it is today. How many years ago
was it? There were just two beachfront hotels and "Dr. Zhivago"
was being filmed there, which is why we had scheduled Malaga as
part of our European filming itinerary, to take advantage of their
down filming week which permitted us to hire some of the crew and
cast without paying travel or per diem costs from our small budget
regional television commercial.
My story begins
the Saturday of that week. With our filming completed I was taking a
weekend off at the beach, including this morning stroll.. On the beach
ahead of me, was this man dragging two childrens play wagons,
with the wheels replaced by wooden runners, With long ropes, he hauled
his wagons from an open outdoor motored fish boat to the entrance of
a small facing the sea restaurant. How small? I could see six, two-people
fold out tables with chairs lining two walls, almost overwhelming its
In the middle of
the tables sat a huge bubbling cauldron, positioned over burning wood
logs. I learned that fire never went out. And the fish soup in the cauldron
never stopped bubbling. On one wall was a chart in color with exes,
he said, marked the fish he caught. Exed were John Dory, Bream, Hake,
Goby, Sate, Mullet, Flounder, Dolphin, Scad Sea Bass, Bluefish, Grouper,
Puffer, Snapper, Mackerel and Sea Trout. With fascination, I watched
as he pulled from one wagon a chest of melting ice, in which were six
fish he had netted that morning. Nothing fancy here. He chopped off
head and tail, sliced the body into about one inch filets and toss all
into the pot.
From the chart, I identified a large Sea Bass, a Snapper, a Spanish
Mackerel, 2 Puffers and a Goby. From the second, wagon, containing sea
water, came whichever crustacean found its way into his traps. Some
lucky days, it was a Spiny Lobster, others small Octopus was on the
menu, except there was no menu. And from sands near the waters
edge, came buckets of clams, some as meaty as our New England Quahogs.After
carefully showering sand off the shell fish, they found their way into
the pot. This pot, other eaters remarked, was refilled daily, seven
days a week. There was no down day for this fisherman nor his pot.
From a paper sack on the counter came six mashed, tomatoes, casually
tossed after the fish. From another, three sweet onions, rapidly diced
and shoveled in on the side of his small, obviously sharp hatchet. As
were three smashed cloves of garlic. A handful of coarse salt and a
tablespoon of sugar joined the bubbles. And as final ingredients, from
shakers I later read, was added tosses of Cayenne, Chili, paprika and
a handful of Bay leaves. The mouth-watering. arousing aroma that permeated
that small space had to be 5-star.
Since I had watched all the action, I got the first table for lunch
that day, where I learned of his non-existent menu. What you were served
lunch or early dinner was a huge bowl of bubbling fish soup, The good
stuff from the bottom plus two mussels from a smaller pot on an electric
burner, covered with a ladle filled with broth, after he had scooped
the scum from the top and deposited with a wrist flip into a small metal
container on the floor alongside the cauldron. Each bubbling bowl was
delivered without benefit of towel or mitt, by his calloused, gnarled
hands. My wife should have been there, she always sends soup back to
the kitchen to be "warmed up". This was as hot as soup could
my bowl came, the other tables were already filled and I could hear
voices of people outside, waiting. Everyone seemed to know Gino,
the owner, and aside from myself was a local. No way would I attempt
to dip into that bubbling plateful. Though I could see at least
three chunks of whole fish amongst the floating fish flakes plus
three already opened clams and the two mussels. While the soup cooled
following the leads of others, I broke off a piece of the quarter
loaf of the Spanish version of a French bread (served with a dab
of butter, I learned, when he remembered to stop at the market),
placing it in my spoon which I dipped into the now beginning to
cool broth, and cautiously took a nibble.
Oh my! What a taste.
A rich full bodied fish taste, not only from the broth but the slivers
of his blend of floating fish. Soon between sips of a local white wine
from a demi bottle (Coke was the alternative drink, served with a glass
into which an ice chip had been dropped). I began to make great dents
in my fish bowl.
The fish, the clams and mussels disappeared with appropriate sighs of
go to the pot to refill their bowls, I realized the rule was "Eat-All-You-Want",
but refill your own bowl. I managed two bowls at lunch and another two
at an early (for Spain) dinner at 6. When ready to leave, I noted the
accepted practice was to put your bowl, spoon and glass into a bucket
of sudsy water on the platform outside the door, after leaving on the
table what you thought the meal was worth. Walking away, I noted a couple
of dozen people waiting, some lounging on beach chairs, taking the sun.
The next day, Sunday, my last in Malaga, I did a final lunch at Ginos.
When I prepared to leave, obviously Gino thought I had laid too much
money on the table (equivalent to U.S. $5.00).He motioned me back, holding
up his hand "to wait". From a fresh bread, he cut a "Hero"
sandwich sized chunk which he sliced open, then scooped a piece of fish
from the pot, letting its broth drain till it was almost dry before
he slapped it on the bread making a sandwich which he wrapped in newspaper
and presented to me, smiling.
-Back at the hotel, as a late afternoon snack, along with a cold beer,
I finished the sandwich with relish. A great tide-me- over till the
Hotel restaurant opened for dinner at nine oclock, where I spent
five times what lunch had cost, but didnt enjoy it half as much.
© David Russell September 2008
inspired Monets Paintings?
Looking at his body of work, it would seem that everything he saw
that was water related found their way onto his canvases: boats, ports,
shorelines, stormy and calm waters; with obvious palette changes as
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