British food and travel writer, blogger and photographer, Fiona Dunlop, was in Malaga last week ahead of a six-day gastronomic tour of Andalucía and following the launch of her new book, Andaluz.
'Secret Andalucía' is the first tour Fiona is giving with the Torremolinos-based company, Toma and Coe; she explains that the owners of the company got in touch with her having read an article she had written for a UK newspaper about the area.
The ambitious schedule starts in Malaga with a visit to the Atarazanas market and includes trips to Frigiliana and Antequera in Malaga province as well as the Alhambra in Granada and the cave town of Guadix. It takes in what Fiona says is Europe's "only caviar farm" based in Riofrio, also in Granada province, as well as some time Almeria.
"It seems like a lot to pack in to six days but the people on the tour are all American this time and they are used to travelling long distances. Andalucía seems big to Europeans but for Americans it really isn't," explains Fiona, justifying the distances involved in the tour. It also includes picking olives in Antequera. "While we are visiting a caviar farm, I have made sure that the tour doesn't just include high-end gastronomic experiences," explains Fiona. She goes on to say that for her it is important to have experiences of "all levels" and the tour, which she will be repeating in spring 2019, aims to introduce the group to the vast range of culinary experiences to be had in the region.
A connection to Andalucía
Fiona highlights that she wanted to include "often overlooked" Almeria in the tour and adds that it is to be Spain's Capital of Gastronomy in 2019, which is similar to the UK's Capital of Culture initiative, but with the aim to promote the culinary traditions in different provinces.
The experienced traveller is no stranger to Andalucía and researching tours, as she has written a number of National Geographic guide books and has travelled extensively not just through Spain but all over the world. She says that her passion for travel was sparked at an early age when she and her family travelled a number of times between Australia, where she was born, and the UK, where her family is originally from, by boat.
However, she admits to having a "connection" with Andalucía, which stems from her parents owning a house in Mojacar in Almeria province when she was younger and then travelling through the region "in a 2CV in the late 1970s".
Her first food book, New Tapas, was published in 2006 and the inspiration came, Fiona explains, from "long journeys driving through Spain to write a guide book". Instead of sitting down to a full meal in a restaurant every night, Fiona discovered the ease of sitting at a bar and sampling the local tapas, like the locals. The book was translated into a number of languages and from there she went on to write books about north African and Mexican cuisine.
Her latest book, Andaluz, brings her back to the part of the world she confesses to being "most attached to," and aims to promote the influence that the Islamic period has had on Andalusian cooking. The book contains over one hundred recipes, the majority of which contain only ingredients that would have been available during the Al-Andalus period. "That means no tomatoes, no courgettes and certainly no mangoes or avocados," reveals Fiona. "There are lots of fish dishes and almonds, chickpeas and spices, which were introduced by the Berbers during that time; they are used heavily in the recipes," says Fiona, admitting that there are also recipes for gazpacho and porra, which obviously do include tomatoes. "You can't really write a book about Andalusian cuisine and not include gazpacho and porra," she admits.
Researching the book, which also includes interesting aspects of Andalusian history and culture, started about two years ago and Fiona visited a number of chefs, including Spanish, British and French, all living in the region.
She says that among the many things she learned, one of the most fascinating was about a 13th-century manuscript complete with authentic recipes from a Cordoba chef, Pepe Garcá Marin, who has since died, who himself introduced the recipes into his own restaurants.
Apart from the spring tour, Fiona admits that she needs "some time to breathe" after the publication of Andaluzand has no more plans for books on the horizon.
She continues to write travel articles for UK newspapers and divides her time between the UK and Cordoba province, where she also owns a house.