In search of the best sardines on the Costa del Sol

A row of the traditional espetos being cooked on the beach.
A row of the traditional espetos being cooked on the beach. / D. MALDONADO
  • Forty-three local restaurants are competing to see who makes the best 'espeto', sardines threaded onto skewers and roasted over charcoal in the open air

Almost 140 years ago Miguel Martínez Soler, known as 'Migué el de las sardinas', became, by chance, 'the father of the espetos'. This fisherman from El Palo was the first to skewer sardines on a piece of reed and roast them over a fire on the sand next to his famous bar La Gran Parada. He not only established a way of cooking the fish that intensifies its flavour and preserves its properties, but his humble restaurant was the precursor of chiringuitos (beach bars) on the Costa del Sol, one of the gastronomic icons of the province.

Despite the simplicity of the method, achieving a good sardine espeto is not an easy task. The espetero - who appears to be a kind of superior being capable of withstanding the high temperatures even in the most intense summer months - must invest time, "listen" to the product and keep the embers at the right point to achieve a perfect end result. It is an art that every year conquers and reconquers diners from all over the world.

There are different basic principles that every self-respecting espetero should know, such as that the spine of the sardine should always be below the skewer, otherwise, when turning it over the meat of the loin would soften and fall. It is also important to control the intensity of the embers so that the fish do not remain raw or become dry, a sacrilege.

These and other issues are those that are taken into account in the IV Route of the Espeto by SUR and Málaga en la Mesa, which hopes to find the best espetos in the province. The initiative is sponsored by the Sabor a Málaga brand with the collaboration of Cruzcampo and the Asociación de Chiringuitos de la Costa del Sol. It aims to draw attention to this local speciality and support its bid to be declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco.

Forty-three restaurants along the Costa del Sol are taking part in the event, which runs until 25 July. Customers will be able to enjoy an espeto and a drink for between five and seven euros in each establishment. They will then be able to vote for their favourite.

Click here for a list of participating restaurants and more information:

The restaurant with the most votes will win 1,000 euros' worth of advertising in Malaga en la Mesa. The judging panel, which includesSUR's gastronomy critic Enrique Bellver, will select five finalists to prepare and cook an espeto in 15 minutes. The winner of the Mejor Espeto will be awarded 3,000 euros' worth of advertising.