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José Manuel Serrano selling his coconut macaroons. Pepe Ortega
'Come and get your coconut macaroons, folks!': The unique call of a beach trader in the south of Spain
Business

'Come and get your coconut macaroons, folks!': The unique call of a beach trader in the south of Spain

On La Barrosa beach summer doesn't start on the 20 of June with the solstice, but when José Manuel Serrano throws his basket on his back and starts handing out happiness in the form of these sweet treats

Pepe Ortega

Chiclana

Tuesday, 25 June 2024

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You've already eaten your beach snack and you're laid down on your towel to soak up the sun. You close your eyes and then a cry breaks through the murmurs of people chit-chatting and the waves lapping on the seashore. "Come and get your coconut macaroons, folks!" At that moment, your face breaks into a smile. It's the first time you've heard it this year and that can mean only one thing: summer has just begun. On La Barrosa beach in Andalucía's Cadiz province summer doesn't start on the 20 of June with the solstice, nor when the San Antonio fair ends, but when José Manuel Serrano (a Chiclana local, born in 1975) throws his basket on his back and starts handing out happiness in the form of these sweet treats: coconut macaroons.

Stifling heat

The heat in the El Surtana bakery is stifling, but there is a lot of work to do. Manuel Guerrero, José Manuel's brother-in-law, pours in the shredded coconut and stirs vigorously. "The process is all manual. We make around 25 kilos of macaroons a day" , explains Manuel, who in the mornings works as a builder. Meanwhile, José Manuel keeps an eye on the oven to get the macaroons just right. They hope that it will be a good summer and that their greatest enemy will appear as little as possible. "With the easterly Levante wind, the macaroons harden up and we can't even make them; not the case with the westerly Poniente wind," says José Manuel.

Manuel Guerrero pipes out the coconut macaroon mixture ready for baking. Pepe Ortega

Side by side they start filling trays and trays of macaroons to get them ready for the big day. When José Manuel walks along the beach, his brother-in-law will have help from the macaroon maestro: Rafael Serrano, José Manuel's father and seller of coconut macaroons in La Barrosa since 1965. A man whose macaroons have carried the name of Chiclana to so many places and whose contribution to the town has been recognised by the town council of Chiclana with the Insignia de Oro de Sancti Petri 2016. "My father is fifty times better than me," says the son with a chuckle. This family business was started by his grandfather and has passed down the generations to him.

The sweet scent of baking pervades the neighbourhood. The macaroons are ready and a few locals come to sniff around the bakery. Everything is ready: the white uniform is hanging in one of the rooms like a football team kit and the basket with the megaphone is waiting for its moment to be filled up with macaroons and make itself heard.

The macaroons are cooked to perfection. Pepe Ortega

The day begins

It's 10.30am in the morning and José Manuel has already set his basket down at the Red Cross centre. The first customers and curious onlookers come to buy breakfast and to see what the macaroons are all about. It couldn't be a better day: the sun's out, it's warm and there's a bit of a westerly wind blowing. As the hours go by, the beigeness of the sand will be peppered with the many colours of the beachgoers' sunshades. An hour later, with more people on the beach, he leaves his shoes at a fellow trader's stall and steps out onto the sand to start work in earnest.

He presses the red button and the first "Sultanas de coco, señores" is heard. The voice coming out of the megaphone is that of his father. "I cannot change that sound, it's the essence of us. When he became hoarse, he spoke with the town hall and they set up a megaphone for him, and then, after handing sales to me, I got the megaphone." In this way, father and son can still keep selling macaroons 'together'. Still, there was a time when the two did work together on La Barrosa beach. "For four weeks, he would do the first run and I would cover the second. Then he had to leave it to me because he couldn't do it any more." Rafael Serrano passed the baton to his son at the age of 52. "It is a source of pride that my father is 'El Surtana' and I am the son and this is not going to be lost; it is a very happy thing for me", says José with a smile. He is equally proud that the tattoo on his arm reads 'Sultana'.

In addition to the product itself, they have become a symbol of La Barrosa simply because of the way they are. "Man! We really missed you the other day", says the first customer to come up to us. "I'm going to take a photo of you with my mother, we've been coming here for so many years", says a holidaymaker from the north of Spain. "Congratulations on winning the Champions League," is how a regular customer greets him, although he claims to have macaroons from all teams, apart from Real Madrid.

José Manuel has friends all over Spain and knows most of his customers, who are happy to see him and ask him about his father. "My father is in the bakery with my brother-in-law helping him make the macaroons", he replies. He has not yet finished the first trek round the beach and he's left with only half a basket. In one of the restaurants on the promenade he keeps enough macaroons in a fridge to fill two more baskets. He still has lots more work to do and the heat is cranking up.

There's an art to selling macaroons on the beach. " At first I was embarrassed, but then I got the hang of it. I have the knack now and everyone says so. When people see me, they say: 'look, here comes 'El Surtana', here comes the man to shake things up on the beach'." Neither can he hit the button too much because people get "cheesed off" with too much publicity. Then, with the infernal heat and the weight of the basket, it's a lot to keep walking on the sand. When the tide is low, there aren't many problems, but when it's high, walking along the beach on dry sand with more than 15 kilos on your back is the best work-out. "People tell me that my calves are getting very strong," he says with a laugh.

This first day of a whole summer of selling ends around nine o'clock at night, and tomorrow there will be more. This is a trade that has become a hallmark of La Barrosa and that will hopefully continue to bring joy to holidaymakers and locals alike for many years to come.

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