An 'espeto' consists of fresh sardines threaded onto a skewer, sprinkled with salt and oil and cooked over an open fire; but to make a good one isn't an easy task.
It requires time, dedication, knowledge of the product and being able to place the skewers in exactly the right spot and at the right angle over the hot coals. Not so hot that the sardines burn nor too cool so that they stay raw inside.
Pepe's Beach in Estepona got everything right and won first prize in the third Ruta del Espeto (espeto route) organised by this newspaper's elder Spanish sister Diario SUR and sponsored by the Sabor a Málaga brand, with the collaboration of Cruzcampo and the Costa del Sol beach bar association. Avante Claro, a restaurant in La Cala, won the public vote.
There were five restaurants in the final of the competition which had to win over the judges by preparing two espetos on-the-spot and taking no longer than 15 minutes.
The last stage of the competition was held at the iconic Balneario in Malaga city and the finalists were Restaurante Los Delfines from Benalmádena; Pepe's Beach from Estepona; La Cepa Playa from Fuengirola; Las Acacias from Malaga city and Avante Claro from La Cala del Moral.
Diego Periáñez, the owner of first prize winning Pepe's Beach, said he was very excited about the award, especially as his father, after whom the business is named, died just a few days before and did not see the achievement.
The chef in charge of cooking the winning dish was Mamadou Sou, an 'espetero' originally from Senegal. He highlights the time it takes to cook the perfect espeto: "Every sardine is different, each one requires a certain amount of time," he explained. Mamadou believes that the fire is the key. "It needs to be gentle so that the sardine cooks slowly."
During the award ceremony, the director general of Prensa Malagueña, Antonio González, said that the aim of the route was "to promote this product and also in the hope that SUR has contributed a grain of sand towards boosting the recovery of tourism".
The first vice-president of the Diputación Provincial, Juan Carlos Maldonado, highlighted the importance of "valuing a dish that is practically part of our heritage".