Our first foodie day trip took us to Vejer de la Frontera about an hour south of Cadiz, which according to the Sunday Times is ‘the most food obsessed little town in Andalucia’.
The town itself, a peak of white Moorish houses perched high up on a hill, has that typically Spanish ‘lost in time’ feel. Due to the seemingly random layout, wandering the warren of cobbled streets provides an exciting experience, as what appears to be a completely dead end abandoned street will suddenly open out into a bustling square with cafes and shops.
We paused for a pick me up of the recommended ortigas fritas (deep-fried sea anemones). Galas words of anticipation, ‘I’m very intrigued by these,’ sums them up perfectly. Admittedly, the thought of eating those blobby wormy looking things you find at the bottom of the sea is a bit strange. However, for seafood enthusiasts, they are very similar to fried whole baby squids. The batter was more like a fried breadcrumb shell, and biting into them is a gooey experience. After finishing the platter we decided that yes, we did like them; although I wouldn’t recommend to fussy eaters nor to those who aren’t too keen on seafood in general!
Onwards for something sweet to follow from Pasteleria Galvan for a taste of the town’s speciality tortas vejeriegas. The shop was opened in 1942 by Jose Galvan whose mission was endulzar la vida a sus moradores (to sweeten the lives of the villagers). The walls are plastered with old photos and articles, including details of rationing from the post war era, when Galvan asked for 100kg of sugar a month to make 30,000 pieces. That’s a lot of cakes, enough to feed the whole town!
And feed the whole town they do: my inquisitiveness paid off as, after peering in to the van outside being loaded with cakes galore, we got talking to a vejeriega (a local) who explained that they were being transported to another shop in the new town and to various bars and restaurants. This friendly chap turned out to be the grandson of the founder himself, who in turn pointed out his father inside the shop and his brother loading the van. In fact, the whole family is involved.
The speciality tortas vejeriegas are a biscuity, cakey snack made with cinnamon, flour, lard and sugar, traditionally taken for merienda (the Spanish afternoon snack). With an almost chalky layer on the outside and crunchy in the middle, every bite was an experience. They wouldn’t be my favourite choice in a cake shop, but they were still tasty and again very intriguing.
With an hour to spare before our bus home, we decided to have a late afternoon glass of tinto (red wine) in a local bar. We were greeted by a table of rowdy old local men playing cards: very cliche but very much authentic! One of the more bizarre experiences of my life, we sipped our tinto (only 1 euro!) and watched the film Flipper dubbed in Spanish with the bar man and some electricians.
It may have been the heat, or the sheer randomness of the experience, but when we left the bar we were rather tipsy and ambled down the hillside to catch our bus giggling away and stopping off to pick up some wild fennel for a future dinner and some giant corn stems to use as walking sticks!
So, our first adventure was a huge success, and back in time to cook a dinner of calamare a la plancha (calamari cooked on a hot plate).