What could be better than eating a plate of seafood with the sand running through your toes and the sound of the waves in your ears – that’s what you’ll get when you eat at the chiringuito or seafood beach bar in Spain.
These traditional restaurants are typically right on the beach and in the good old days it really was just a few tables on the sand under a makeshift roof, with the fish grilled on charcoal set on the top of an old fishing boat that had been filled with sand.
Nowadays, things are a bit more sophisticated and you’ll find yourself stepping up off the sand into the wooden floor of the restaurant, but the fishing boat barbeques are still there and typically used to grill rows of sardines on a wooden skewer.
If you’re settled on the beach for the day, you’ll be in and out of the chiringuito – buying drinks and ice creams, and taking a leisurely lunch or evening meal of great tapas or seafood dishes. The menu can be pretty varied but if you’re eating anything but seafood or paella, you’re really missing the point. There won’t be too much that’s fancy here – just super-fresh fish that’s quickly cooked, with brisk service and plenty of family groups enjoying their holiday meal.
I ate at a couple of different chiringuitos on my recent short break to Southern Spain, staying on the Costa del Sol at the holiday resort of Benalmadena.
The first was at La Gavotina, just one of a string of seafood restaurants that you’ll find if you walk down from the coastal road onto the beach promenade that runs all the way along from the Los Mollinitos (windmill) roundabout to the Puerto Marina.
As we’d met up with English expat friends at 7pm we were impossibly early for eating by Spanish standards, so we decided to sit at the beachside tables of the chiringuito to have a drink in the evening sun while we checked out whether we’d like to eat there.
At 8pm we settled into one of the restaurant tables with only a few young families for company but by the time we left at 10pm the place was almost full, the charcoal in the boat was stoked up and the accordion player was doing his rounds.
The next day we ate our lunch on Spanish time at around 3pm with my Spanish friend Ana at a restaurant that a friend had recommended especially for the boquerones fritos. These are large anchovies, cleaned and beheaded then deep fried in batter and delicious with just a squeeze of lemon.
I was initiated into the art of eating the boquerones; first you pick one up and carefully eat the fish from one side, then take hold of the tail to peel away the backbone, and eat the other side of the fish. The technique worked wonderfully well. Of course if you were polite, you might want to do it all with the knife and fork but this is a place where the enjoyment of the food comes before such niceties.
Our friends told us these were far superior to the small sardines grilled on the fishing boat charcoal, which they never bothered to gut. Observing a few diners painstakingly removing the bones, head, tail and guts for only a tiny mouthful of fish, I could see their point.
My friend Ana had a plate of Calamar friend in batter, with rings of the squid accompanied by tiny ones fried whole, which were also delicious and there were plenty of families being served large pans of paella. Our chosen venue for the best boquerones fritos around (according to the local knowledge) was at a restaurant on the other side of the road from the beach at Los Boliches in Fuengirola and if I ever find their business card again I’ll tell you more…
Update: I found the business card! It was La Carihuela Chica, Plaza San Rafael, Edificio Don Alberto, 29640 Los Boliches, Fuengirola Tel 952 66 06 73
But really just look for the chiringuito anywhere on this coast that’s packed with Spanish families enjoying their seafood and paella! That’s all the recommendation you need.
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesday hosted at Wanderlust and Lipstick – do head over to for Gac fruit from Vietnam and more foodie delights
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