‘Since it’s foundation some 3,000 years ago, the history of Cádiz has been inextricably linked with the sea. Situated at the tip of Europe, and bathed by the waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it has long been linked with sea trade. Attracted by the abundance of fish and raw materials, the Phoenicians were first to arrive. However, it was under the Romans that fishing was really developed. They improved and constructed more ‘almadrabas’ to catch the red tuna migrating through the Straits and improved the salting industry and the production of garum, a highly prized and extremely expensive fermented sauce made with fish intestines that was very popular amongst wealthy Romans. This led to the importance of the Cádiz area and it’s ports be being acknowledged throughout world. ‘Gaditana’ is the term used to describe the people and products of Cádiz.
The remarkable influence of the Phoenicians, Arabs and Romans cannot be denied, but without the high quality of the unique local native produce, it is unlikely Cádiz would have ever become such a rich and powerful port. The long coastline and the richness of the waters, with it’s abundant fish and shellfish has been a fundamental influence in the gastronomy of the province.
Fish species in the waters of Cádiz
The fish species in the waters of Cádiz include, besides the famous red tuna, bass, gilthead, mackerel, mackerel, sardines, octopus, snapper, croaker (corvina), squid, sea bream, grouper, mullet, dogfish, redfish, cuttlefish and bream. Shellfish is also widespread, with prawns, shrimps, crayfish, lobster, different types of clams, cockles, murex, sea snails, spider crab and others all available in the fish markets.
Little fried fish
The wide range of fish dishes in the province of Cádiz includes “pescaíto frito” (literally translated as ‘little fried fish’), a selection of fish deep fried in extra virgin olive oil. Much in demand by both locals and tourists alike, there are numerous ‘freidurías’ (fried-fish shops), bars and restaurants offering this typical dish, which might include cuttlefish, hake, shrimp or prawns, roe, anchovies, dogfish, shrimp omelette, croquettes, empanadillas and others. ‘Pescaíto frito’ is also sold in very popular paper cones, to be eaten at home or whilst strolling along the street or beachfront with companions.
“Cazón en adobo” and “Tortillas de camarones”
There can be no doubt that all the fish and shellfish from the Bay of Cádiz are worthy of mention. The quality and range of both traditional and modern dishes is impressive, but several stand out because of their unique flavours – “cazón en adobo” (dogfish in a traditional rich sauce), also known as “bienmesabe” (‘it tastes good’)”, “tortillas to camarones” (small prawn omelettes) and the prawns from Sanlúcar. These are probably the four greatest treasures that the sea has bequeathed to the gastronomy of Cádiz.
Both the ‘cazón en adobo’ and the ‘tortillas de camarones’ are fried in virgin olive oil. The cazon is cut into fingers and marinated in a sauce made with laurel, garlic, paprika, oregano, parsley, cumin, white vinegar, water and salt, producing a dish with a unique and special flavour. The ‘tortillas de camarones’ are a mix of spring onion, very cold water, parsley and flour, with small, live prawns. The mixture is then deep fried in extra virgin olive oil in very thin, small omelettes and best served quickly with a splash of olive oil. Delicious!
Prawns from Sanlúcar de Barrameda
‘Los langostinos de Sanlúcar’ (prawns from Sanlúcar) are one of the most sought-after delicacies in Cádiz. Part of the prawn family, they are large and transparent, but with orange, almost red, horizontal stripes. They are to be found in the Guadalquivir estuary, just next to the Doñana national park, which is considered to be one of the most important unspoilt areas in Europe. The brand ‘Langostinos de Sanlúcar’ is protected with it’s own quality mark and applies only to prawns from the Gulf of Cádiz (Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Chipiona and Rota). Eaten boiled or grilled, these prawns occupy a privileged place amongst Spain’s gourmet products.
It is impossible to know exactly how many traditional and modern dishes are prepared with the products from the coast of Cádiz that reach the marketplaces in the towns. Although some chefs prefer to visit the ports and select the fish as it is unloaded from the fishing boats, most is purchased in the local markets. The markets are probably the best place for most of us see and purchase some of the finest produce from land and sea of the province of Cádiz.